FAQ and A
with Rabbi Shmuley
Dear Rabbi Shmuley,
I’m concerned about marriage. My parents divorced recently, even after being married for 24 years. Half my friends’ parents are divorced as well. I’ve been living with a woman for three years. She is now threatening to bolt unless I get married. Can you give me a convincing argument as to why marriage is important?
Affectionately, Tormented Tommy
My parents divorced when I was just eight years old after a stormy marriage. But I still believe in marriage because it’s only marriage, and a happy one at that, which can provide for life’ most necessary component, namely, the need to be the centre of someone else’s universe. Louis XIV of France was known as The Sun King. It’s this glorious title that we all aspire to. We all want to be sun kings. We each want to have a planet revolving around us.
The first rule of life is this: everybody wants to be a somebody, and nobody wants to be a nobody. But you can either be a somebody based on your possessions ‒ your
job, your money, your contacts ‒ or based on your relationships, you are someone’s beloved for whom they have given up all others.
From our earliest childhood, each of us feels ourselves to be special, unique, irreplaceable, and distinct. Only if someone feels themselves to be special will they feel the need to survive, live, prosper, and contribute to the world that unique something that only they can give. Created in His image, each of us wishes to be like G-d. We want to be the one and only.
Marriage is the ingenious institution which gives us each a moon which revolves around our sun, someone who has placed us at the center of their existence. When a celebrity steps off an airplane and thirty thousand fans greet them at the airport, they feel mighty special. But then, off the same airplane steps Mr. Jones. There aren’t thirty thousand people waiting for him to disembark. In fact, there is only one lone woman – Mrs. Jones whose been waiting for her husband to return home. And while everyone walks by, even when the celebrity walks by, she still waits. To her, Mr. Jones is even more important, more thrilling, than the world’s biggest pop star. And when Mr. Jones reaches the arrivals gate and sees his wife’s smile and excitement, he feels as special as one of the most famous men in the world. The secret of happiness in life is this: it doesn’t take 30,000 adoring fans to make you feel special. All it takes is one. But that one must believe that you are the most special and must demonstrate that feeling by establishing an exclusive relationship with you. And that’s all marriage is. Marriage is a statement that a man makes to a woman and a woman to a man that, for the duration of their lives, they would rather spend their time together with each other than with any other person on the planet. You will never even put kings and princes before each other. If you were to disappear from the earth tomorrow, the world might not miss you or notice your absence. The President may not order a 21-gun salute. But that one person to whom you are
married will find it difficult to continue and you will be in their thoughts always. Thus, marriage affords us a degree of immortality.
Friends can make us feel special for a time, but we are still not absolutely central to their lives. They have their own lives to get back to, their own worries and concerns. But the life of our spouse is our life, and vice versa. Even the love of parents, cherishing and warm as it is, ultimately proves impotent as we mature. We want to feel important to someone who is not genetically coerced into making us feel that way. We want to be chosen by a stranger of equal status. We want someone to choose to love us, and this is what marriage is all about. Before you marry your spouse, you are utter strangers to one another. But this stranger is prepared to take your last name and share every detail of your life because you are sooo special.
Make that beautiful statement to your woman, Tommy. Once you do, you will no longer be tortured Tommy, or tormented Tommy. You will be Tremendous Tommy, the guy whom, with the woman he loves, has created his own universe.
Sincerely, Rabbi Shmuley
Dear Rabbi Shmuley,
I don’t feel very close to my wife, and our lovemaking sessions seems artificial and inhibited. We just don’t seem to connect. Can you give me some straightforward advice that would make us feel closer when we make love?
Signed, Lonely Larry
I can tell you one thing which you can try immediately: follow the advice of the ancient Rabbis of the Talmud and make love in the dark.
In the same way the body has material needs, among which are food, clothing, and shelter, it likewise has sensual needs. Hugging, lovemaking, and sensual stimulation are not a luxury, but a necessity of the body. But I believe that the modern age is causing the body terminal, sensual deprivation. Our bodies may be healthy, but they are hardly alive, becoming more and more like unfeeling stones. Sex is a celebration of the senses and provides for five sticky points through which a man and woman connect and become one flesh. But instead of feeling closer after lovemaking, most couples experience sensual disconnect. They’ve made love, but when it’s over they don’t stick. This reason is that they are only firing on one cylinder. They are making love only with their eyes. Today, we promote the sense of sight to the virtual exclusion of our other senses. This is the age of magazines and television. The age of the spotlight and cosmetics. A man or woman’s looks determines their attractiveness in its entirety. Gone are the days in which a woman’s cassolette, the scent of a woman, could drive her man wild. Likewise, an appreciation, say, for the erotic quality of sound and the human voice has been drowned out in the den of light. While sleazy phone sex operators exploit the erotic nature of the human voice, married men and women almost never make sound an integral component of lovemaking and expressing affection.
Even the sense of touch no longer sends us to the moon and back. Husbands and wives caress in the bedroom, but they do so without feeling each other. No inner vibration is being communicated and no inner harmony is achieved. The proof that
this is so is the all-too-common complaint that wives make that their husbands have no clue as to how to love them. Instead, wives have become traffic cops, barking directions to their men as to what feels best. Men once knew this kind of thing instinctively, but their instincts have been blighted by their obsession with looks. Men today no longer see or appreciate women as sensual creatures. The women’s looks are all that matters. I find it amazing that so many men complain to me that the ancient Rabbi’s prohibition on a woman singing in public is farcical. “A woman’s voice is not erotic. What were the Rabbis talking about?” This just shows you have sensual the Rabbis were and how desensitized we have all become.
Another tragic consequence of the promotion of looks is that we are more inhibited than ever before. We all feel deficient in our appearance and undertake every artificial enhancement to try and look better. Deep insecurity has become commonplace in most relationships as women feel they have to lose a few more pounds and men feel that they have to glue hair on to their balding scalps in order to remain lovable.
There is a solution, however. Make love in the dark. Practitioners of Kosher Sex unite! Around the world, a moment of silence is held as a vigil for the loss of a great personality. Likewise, a daily moment of darkness should mourn the loss of our sensuality. But more than merely commemorating it, darkness addresses it. Immersing ourselves in a moment of darkness, or shutting out the sense of sight and the vast “noise” of light allows all the other senses to come to the fore and be fed. Turning off the lights will also allow us to shed all inhibition and free our inner spirit so that we have wild passionate lovemaking unencumbered by the anxiety of what we look like.
There is too much physical light in our relationships, leaving no room for spiritual light. Light shows people’s flaws and they feel exposed and vulnerable. Notice that
darkness is something which we experience in three dimensions. For the same reason that sight is more important to most of us than sound, darkness is a more vivid experience than silence. Darkness is palpable. Immersed in darkness, we feel all our other senses that would normally be hidden by the light suddenly springing to life. Sounds become louder, touch becomes deeper, and scents reach down to the depths of our soul. In darkness, the sense of touch brings glorious sensations precisely because it is sudden. The touch is spontaneous rather than being expected. The element of surprise makes all the difference. Darkness is also the perfect place to entertain fantasy in a relationship. It invites the mind ‒ our principal sexual organ ‒ as a participant in lovemaking.
The best way to reinvigorate a marriage is for couples, every night, to experience each other fully while being enmeshed in darkness. Each and every light in the bedroom should be extinguished. Revel in the sense of delight that touch, sound, even rates of breathing, bring.
Yours sincerely, Rabbi Shmuley
Dear Rabbi Shmuley,
I am dangerously close to swearing off dating all together. I hate everything about it: waiting for phone calls, desperately seeking eye contact at the bars and art museums, and worst of all – the tortuous event we commonly refer to as a “first date”. Inevitably the following ensues: fifteen minutes talk about weather and latest news, then I tell him what I do, he feigns interest in my fun and foibles as a Marketing Director, then tells me about his latest: trial, patient, web venture, consulting project, blah, blah, blah. Worse yet – four dates later and we are usually
on the same exact page, the only difference being level of physical contact. Does it get any better than this? I am beginning to wonder. What can I do to dig myself out of this rut?
Bored Beyond Belief
My prescription reads as follows: as soon as you can, without waiting for a vague sense of security that this will be “the one” ‒ open up your heart to your partner. Cut out the small talk, take off your body armor, and talk to your date about what you truly are feeling. Adam and Eve were the archetype of the man and woman who fell in love in Paradise. The Bible says that they were naked, which doesn’t only refer to physical nakedness, but emotional nakedness. They had no airs or pretensions, no anxieties or fears. How could they? They had not endured any negative experiences that would have impelled them to close up. They let down their guard. So often modern couples today substitute physical nakedness for emotional nakedness, a debilitating mistake which you guard yourself against. Rather, reveal what you know about yourself already: your dreams, your ambitions, your fears, and your pain. The part of you that others rarely get to see. And, reveal what you would still like to find out. Take a risk ‒ and reveal something you have never told anyone before. Doingso‒exposingyourvulnerability‒willopenupawholenewlevelof intimacy. You may fear that exposing your vulnerabilities will make you less desirable to your “beau”, and yet I would wager that the opposite would prove true. Instead of feeling burdened by this new level of intimacy, you will begin to see the other as a human being with a heart and soul and a history, which will greatly increase their viability as a potential lifetime partner as well. To be sure, practice what I call “incremental revelation.” There’s no need to say too much too soon and
opening the floodgates too early can send someone scampering off. But your path should be one of increasing openness and discussing issues of deep import. Reveal to your date the inner side of your personality, but do so slowly, so that boredom doesn’t ensue from your becoming a “known quantity.”
All of the Best, Rabbi Shmuley
Dear Rabbi Shmuley,
After a rather tumultuous three year courtship, I married my first love, who is also at times, my greatest adversary. During the three years we would reunite, then break up, get back together, then Splitsville again. I know, I know – why would I have married this man whom I couldn’t even date consistently? Well, he is the only man I have ever found to whom I am drawn beyond my own control. During each break-up we both dated other people, and inevitably ended up back in each other’s arms, driven by the sheer boredom of being with someone you like, but do not love. I love him, I do, but I worry now about our endurance. I have read a number of your essays about finding the passion in a lukewarm marriage, but how about any advice for making a marriage extend beyond the passion?
Bright Flames Burn Fast
In my years of counseling couples, I have encountered two kinds of marriage. There are the couples that trust each other implicitly. They are each other’s
confidants and most trusted companions. So what’s the problem? They have little or no passion. They have great conversations, but at night the phones come out and the TV goes on. Clearly, this is not the problem you have. But the other side to this may ring a bell. The antitheses to “best-friend” spouses are the husbands and wives who are lovers. They have lots of fire. But no water. There have a wonderful physical life, but rarely any comforting or soothing moments. They bicker constantly. They have little trust for one another. The intensity of emotion they feel for one another does not engender a more intimate bond. They are constantly arguing and making up, with great passion and fervor. Soon, they may even become addicted to the drama. Even if they could have calm waters, they would repudiate the serenity in favor of another storm. Their marriage is based more on attraction than on compatibility. Sound familiar?
For any marriage to be a success, it must somehow bridge the gap. A marriage requires both the fire of passion and the cooling waters of friendship, to be a success. We all want our spouse to be both our lover, but also our best friend. Someone who sends us careening through the rafters in the ceiling, but also serves as a comforting companion. A truly fulfilling marriage has both passion and intimacy, involving both the body and the heart.
Easier said than done, right? Here’s some advice, for which full credit must be owed the Bible itself. Over three millennia ago, the Torah offered this solution. Every month there must be two weeks devoted to fiery love (no problem, right?), and two weeks devoted to watery love (perhaps a bit more of a challenge). Two weeks devoted to physical love, and two weeks for intellectual communication and emotional intimacy. While husband and wife are permitted to each other and indulge in lovemaking for two weeks, they forge deep emotional bonds, riding on the crest of positive emotion that comes in the wake of physical intimacy. But following the Women’s cycle, when menses begin, the two weeks are up. For the
next two weeks they maintain a period of strict sexual abstinence. During this time they will be able to capitalize on all they have achieved through their physical union, transmuting the relationship into a deeper emotional and intellectual plane. They develop the friendship side of the marriage and focus on discovering the personality rather than the flesh.
Trust me. Good things come to those who wait. Over the twelve days of separation, love for one another reaches a certain crescendo, erupting when you may once again unite in fiery physical bliss. The result is a celebration of synthesis every month, as well as a stronger, more profound knowledge of your spouse, which allows for deep friendship beyond the passion.
Fire and water are indeed opposites which cancel each other out. That’s why the Bible ordained for couples to have two weeks of fire, followed by two weeks of water. Couples should therefore be like a sailboat, tacking in the wind. Two weeks of physical closeness, which brings in its waves two weeks of emotional openness and verbal exploration. This way, after all the excitement that two weeks of love can induce, you can commute that passion toward working through the problems that separate you, and hopefully finding a watery and calm solution.
Dear Rabbi Shmuley,
My parents divorced when I was ten years old. For the most part, I have reached adulthood a well-adjusted, relatively content individual – save for this one hang- up: marriage. Needless to say – it’s a biggie — especially as I near my mid-thirties.
I realize now that my parent’s divorce instilled in me a deep cynicism regarding the practice and institution of marriage. I cannot imagine that two people can ever make a life together work in the “forever” sense. How can I overcome this jaded quality, and banish the images of my parents’ traumatic separation so that I can move on with my own life?
People with divorced parents are very often (and understandably) skeptical about their own potential for successful romance. Indeed, studies show that they are 50% more likely to divorce than children who were raised by parents who stuck together. I suggest that an essential way to open your own life up to the potential and capacity for love is to come to terms with your parent’s example by talking with them genuinely and intimately. Set aside a day, take your mom out to lunch, and see if she can shed any new light on why things fell apart. Next week, do the same with dad. Be careful to respect their confidence, and yet persist in seeking to reveal deeper answers than those which were given to you as a child. You are likely to discover a truth that everyone should recognize: love may be perfect, but people are not. Take this time to revisit your parent’s separation ‒ it may be painful, but it will help you immensely to see that it was your parents themselves: their personalities, their desires, flaws, and often their inability to compromise or find common ground, that led to their breakup, and not the very institution of marriage itself. It is ironic that children discuss every subject under the sun with their parents, other than their parent’s marriage. Since your parent’s union is the one that you have witnessed every day, it is the one you should be studying more completely than any others. And hopefully, once you shed more light on the subject and come to terms with its antecedent causes, you will see your parents’ divorce for
what it is: an occurrence that was brought about by conscious choice of two loving yet fallible individuals which in many instances could have been averted. And if it could not have been averted, if one of the partners was guilty of something that was unforgivable, then you will at least know what you must avoid at all costs within your own relationship. But what you must certainly do is overcome your fear. For love and fear are antithetical opposites that cannot coexist. The quintessential posture of love is hugging and openness, creating a circle with your arms. But the posture for fear is bringing the extremities in to protect the torso. Love is based on the promise of the future while fear is based on the pain of the past. It’s time to get past that pain and learn to live in hope once again.
All the Best,