Have you ever wondered, what makes marriages go cold? Men and women typically start off so much in love, so much excited by one another. Yet all too often, in a few years, they are virtually strangers living as one. Couples who at the outset were full of conversation, sit across the table from each other with nothing to say except as it concerns the children they share or matters of the home, like bills that need paying or repairs that must be made. No one shares matters of the heart.
I think that a verse in this week's parsha of B'chukotai may give us some insights.
The Torah at the outset tells us of the reward and punishments that will devolve upon the People of Israel for adherence to or disobedience of the mitzvot. After a long list of wonderful blessings that G-d tells us that He will bestow on us, including victories over our enemies, bounty of the field, peace and security, etc, the verse reads, "And I will place my sanctuary in your midst and I will not detest you." It continues "And I will be for you for a G-d and you shall be My people etc."
Now what's surprising here is that in the midst of a wonderful litany of gifts all of a sudden we read, "and I will not detest you".
Why should G-d detest us? We are keeping the Torah? We are doing His will? And what kind of blessing is not being detested? Being detested would indeed be a terrible, curse but that doesn't make its opposite a blessing. Why should we expect to be detested?
I think the answer here tells us something profound about relationships and intimacy.
When we marry someone we are attracted to the wonderful qualities they posess. We also may love many of their ways, the way they smile, the way they express themselves, the way they dress. We find them beautiful both inside and out, both the spiritual and the physical.
As we get to know someone we discover parts of them we do not like. Sometimes we are turned off by what we perceive as a character flaw. Most often we find ourselve not liking personal mannerisms, maybe they laugh too loud, or maybe they are a bit sloppy, or maybe they are forgetful etc.
Most of the mannerisms of our partner that we discover we don't like we knew when we married them. They are not really surprises. What we didn't know is how much those behaviors would bother us. When we were dating or even in the early stages of marriage we over-looked the pieces of our partners behavior that displeased us. Only after we married and lived in an intense intimacy of husband and wife did we find that the very things that we found cute, or at least non-offensive, now become hard to take.
Why is that? The answer is that intimacy places a focused lense on every aspect of our significant other. It magnifies both the good and the bad, the desired and that which we don't like. As we grow together, over time we find that increasingly we have difficulty tolerating certain dynamics of our spouse, dynamics that we thought would not bother us, at least not to this extent. So what happens? In some instances the mannerisms of our spouse become to us so abhorent that we say we cannot live with them any longer. We then go on to get a divorce with all the heartache that entails.
More commonly, in order to mitigate the effect of the behaviors of our spouse that we don't like, we reverse the process. We become less intimate, less connected. Bit by bit we detach. Once we are emotionally detached the behaviors of our spouse are no longer under the microscope. We no longer react to them with a heightened sensor. But at the same time in our detachment we lose that which gave life to the marriage, the intimacy between us and our husband or wife. The cost of preserving the marriage is the death of the relationship. It's a pretty steep price to pay.
This is what the Torah is telling us in the 'bracha' that "I will place my sanctuary in your midst and I will not detest you." Israel, G-d's beloved, may keep the Torah and perform the mitzvot, but they will inevitably have their flaws. No one is without unattractive aspects of their personality. Thats why Hashem gave us the Torah in the first place, to help us with our defects. G-d is telling us that even though He will live in our midst and we will have a profound intimacy, yet He will not be negatively affected by our character lackings. Yes, we will have shortcomings but they will not compromise the intensity of G-d's relationship with us. Unlike the husband and wife in our vignette, Hashem will maintain the closeness and not be turned off. Our intimacy with the Divine will remain fresh and alive.
Would that it were so easy for us to make a similar pledge to our life's partner.
If only we could tell our husband or wife that no matter what we find we don't like in them, we will never experience their behavior intolerable and never grow distant to preserve the marriage.
No, for us to make such a pledge it would require more from us than a good will. We would have to confront our own attitudes as much as those of our spouse. We would have to talk about things we don't like about them and listen to what they have to say about us. We would have to reflect together on the mannerisms and nuances that seem so small at the outset and yet, like a cancer, grow and ultimately rob a marriage of its life energy.
People always say communication is the key to a good relationship. But the question is communication about what. The Torah this week teaches us that what we need talk about is the hard stuff, the stuff that gets in the way between us and our spouse.
The very things we are afraid to talk about is the stuff we need to discuss to preserve our marriage. And that kind of talk, while scary, is a matter of life and death for the relationship.
Do we want intimacy? Of course, both with Hashem and with the one we love. Hashem is perfect. There is no flaw in Him to distance us. And He promised to remain intimate with us even with our shotcomings. To maintain intimacy with our love, will require us to recognize that its natural to find aspects of the one we are married to intolerable. Our choice is whether to grow distant in silence so as to preserve the marriage or risk openning up so as to assure the relationship has life.
I, for one, would prefer a live relationship to a dead marriage and I am willing to do the work, uneven and scarey as it may be. What about you? Its never too late!