Love and Marriage

Dear Rabbi Fried,

I was recently married to a wonderful man; from the moment we saw each other it was one of those “love at first sight” stories you think only exists in fiction. Now that we’re married, I’m more concerned that the love should continue “at second sight.” I know too many people for whom it didn’t last, and I want to do things differently. Is there a Jewish way to help ensure that our love should endure?

Jessica

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Dear Jessica,

One reason that love often does not endure is the popular culture’s definition of “love.” In today’s terms, “being in love” is a passive response. When a guy “falls in love” with a girl, or she falls in love with him, or both, it’s something that just happens, rather than it being something they worked on to achieve. It usually begins with a physical attraction, and gets enhanced by physical acts of “making love.” 

Jewishly, this is actually a bait ‘n’ switch; the term “love” is being mistakenly used for the reality which is not love, but infatuation. Often a man and woman in this kind of situation don’t really know much about each other, their goals and aspirations in life, what’s really important to them and how they achieve their fulfillment. What they love is what they’re doing together and what they get from each other, rather than truly loving the other person. (People often say “I love fish.” I tell them, if you really loved fish, you would throw them back in the water, not eat them. What you mean to say is “I love eating fish.”)

In Judaism, “love” is an active verb, not a passive response. I have mentioned in past columns that the Hebrew word for love is ahava, which comes from the root hav, meaning “to give.” The more one gives, the greater the love that develops. 

Giving, however, is a lot harder than it sounds. In order to give your spouse what he needs, you need first to find out what’s important to him. What speaks volumes to you may be meaningless to your spouse. Imagine giving your husband a set of makeup for his birthday, or him giving you season passes to the Cowboys for your anniversary when you are a less-than-avid sports fan! This sounds ludicrous, but in many ways this is what’s going on with much of our “giving.” Often when we think we are “giving,” in reality we are just projecting ourselves on the other person rather than focusing on their needs.

A key component of everlasting love is learning your spouse’s individual, primary needs, and catering to those needs as your expression of love. Develop a knowledge of what your spouse truly appreciates. You and your spouse have essential needs. First, figure out your own essential needs. Then move on to find out your husband’s. Ask your husband what he most enjoys and appreciates receiving from you, and don’t be surprised at what you find out.

Explore what mode makes you feel your spouse loves you. Is it hearing verbal endorsements and compliments, or receiving small gifts? Is it showing affection, sharing time together, or receiving acts of tender consideration? If all these are important, which one is the most important to you? Once you figure that out, find ways to express this to your husband, while asking him to consider what’s most important to him to be given by you. We will call these the “essential love needs” that every person has.

By focusing on each others’ needs and fulfilling them, you are giving the most important gift of all: yourself! This type of giving turns love into an active verb. In this way, over the years when that initial “love at first sight” begins to wane, the love doesn’t wane with it, but grows stronger and stronger, as long as it remains an active verb. 

The Torah teaches that the first year of marriage is the time for creating the foundation of joy and love for the rest of your lives. The key is not to rest on your laurels and let the future years go on automatic pilot, but to strengthen that foundation constantly by continuously focusing on the other’s changing needs. Through continuous giving, one can grow that love into something eternal and sublime.

Mazel tov on your recent marriage and may the rest of your lives be as joyous and filled with love as they are now, and then some!

Sincerely,

Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried

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