For the week ending 26 December 2009 / 8 Tevet 5770

Happily Married

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Name Withheld

Dear Rabbi,

I would like to know how to be happy in marriage. What are the things that a wife should do to make her husband happy? I thought that cooking nice meals, having a nice Shabbat table, caring for the sleep/good rest of one another was a way to express love. However, there are things missing and I cannot find the answer by myself. I come from divorced parents so I did not have a role model of what a married couple should be. Please help me.

Dear Name Withheld,

Being happy in marriage is one of the most fundamental sources of fulfillment a person can attain. But since it depends on so many variables, it’s hard to give a patent answer that would apply to everyone. So I’ll try to limit my response to the way I understand your particular question, with the hope that it will help others as well.

You seem to seek to please your husband through caring for his physical needs such as meals and rest. This is your way of expressing your love for him. Indeed, according to Jewish Law, a spouse, man or woman, is required to fulfill certain needs of the other, such as food, clothing and shelter.

The Torah also recognizes this as a way of expressing love. On a purely simple level, one seeks to provide for the needs of those one loves. Love can also be catalyzed through this giving. Therefore, the Hebrew word for love, “ahava” – based on the word “hav” which means give – makes love “giving”. What’s more, the numerical value of “ahava” is 13, which is the same as the numerical value of “echad” meaning oneness. By giving in love, a couple becomes unified as one. Furthermore, mutual giving is double “ahava” or 26, which is the numerical value of G-d’s name, denoting a state in which their relationship is infused with the Divine Presence.

Nevertheless, in many ways, it’s easier to provide for the material needs of a person than to provide for his emotional needs. Thus we often get wrapped up in expressing our love by doing for, or providing for, our loved ones at the expense of providing their emotional fulfillment. This often has the unfortunate result that the very acts intended to express love actually mask it. We’re convinced our acts show love; but our loved ones don’t “feel” loved. It is therefore extremely important to be attentive to your husband’s emotional needs by investing the type of planning, time and energy you would in providing for his physical needs.

Of course, a healthy, love-giving relationship is expressed not only on the physical and emotional planes but also on the intellectual and spiritual planes to which everything mentioned above applies as well. Try your best to initiate and maintain the types of discussions, interactions and experiences that will be intellectually and spiritually stimulating to both you and your husband. By sharing a more multi-dimensional and multi-faceted oneness, your relationship will certainly be enriched – particularly to the extent to which you bring G-d into the picture.

Having said all that, another pitfall in over emphasizing the physical manifestations of love such as “doing for” or “providing for” is that this can become stifling and suffocating. When this is the case, not only do our actions mask the feelings we intend to convey, they actually may repel the one we love. Our constant and intense doing and providing threatens our loved one’s privacy and independence. Our giving then becomes taking. And in truth, this applies to all planes of the relationship.

Therefore, love-giving requires not only proactively providing for the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of our loved ones, but also by giving them space, room and time to explore and celebrate who and what they’ve become as a part of us while apart from us. Ultimately, it’s this part of me/part from me dynamic, reaching back to the creation of Man his separation into Adam and Eve, which enables a husband and wife to experience happiness and fulfillment in marriage by growing together side by side.

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