This time of year, we are presented with spiritual tools necessary to develop an intimate relationship with God. As a marriage and intimacy counselor, I believe these same tools can be used to create an intimate connection with our spouse. Throughout the Torah, Hashem compares His relationship with His nation to the spousal relationship. Matan Torah is compared to a groom betrothing his beloved bride and Shir haShirim is understood as a love song between God and His beloved people. We find yet another expression of spousal connection in the Hebrew letters of Elul which stand for ani lidodi vidodi li (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine). I’ve identified three elements that are integral to the teshuva process and also significant in developing a healthy relationship with our spouse.
Developing Intimate Communication
During this period, when our thoughts and actions are focused on “returning” to God, we also have the opportunity to return to a place of better communication with our spouse. According to the Rambam, the central aspect of teshuva is vidui – verbal confession. With our powerful tool of speech, we are encouraged to formulate ideas, feelings, thoughts and comments, in order to return to Hashem.
Similarly, our mouths are also the most important tool when it comes to returning to our spouses. Just like a newlywed couple whispers at their sheva brachot, ask yourself, “Do we whisper to each other? What do we speak about with one another that is private and intimate?” The importance of intimate conversation is brought out in the observance of hilkhot niddah. Halakha recognizes that developing an intimate relationship is not only physical. It is equally, if not more significantly, to be found in sharing intimate dialogue. Through sharing thoughts, values, ideas and feelings, we grow deeply connected to another. This parallels the goal of the teshuva process with Hashem.
There is no single recipe for a good marriage; so many different variations work, but in every variation, good communication is a vital component. For couples who have not yet mastered the intimate communication skills that sustain a marriage long term, a marriage and intimacy counselor can offer vital assistance.
One of the three main pursuits during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva is prayer. In his discussion on tefillah, Rav Kook explains that prayer is meant to be an intimate conversation with G-d, built on struggle. The root of the word tefillah means to struggle. According to Rav Kook, as we cry out to the Almighty, we are not trying to persuade Him to change. Rather, we must look to change ourselves during the process of tefillah.
Couples often come into marriage counseling looking to “fix him” or “change her”. However, as in prayer, marital change begins when we first ask ourselves, “What do I need to work on? What about me can be different in order to effect change in the relationship?”
Recalling (and Creating) Shared Memories
In the section of Zichronot during the Rosh Hashana Mussaf, we recall how Hashem fondly remembers the forefathers and mothers as well as the “devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me in the wilderness” (Jeremiah 2:2).
When thinking of this beautiful verse, I am reminded of what it means to be dating, engaged or newly married. There’s an intimacy, a closeness that others are not allowed to penetrate. Over years of marriage, this intimacy sometimes fades or even breaks down. The Rosh Hashana prayers encourage us to fondly recall our shared memories with our spouse as a building block for a more intimate relationship.
Not only can recalling shared memories help build intimacy, but creating a “Date Night” tradition can help couples create new memories. “Date Night” is a set time each week for you and your spouse to enjoy each other. During “Date Night”, banish all discussion of work or your home and family life. It could be 20 minutes to two hours of time together, just the two of you, as it was in the early days of dating.
Just as Hashem set aside this time in the calendar for us to forge a meaningful relationship with Him, so too must we set aside the time and energy to do the same within our most sacred partnership. In order to enjoy a good marriage, we must realize that it takes work! As with anything worthwhile in life, an investment of time and energy is what yields results.
The time period of Elul and the Yamim Noraim is an ideal time to work on developing a closer relationship with our spouse.
Read our blogs on the popular minhag of women’s immersion in the mikveh before Yom Kippur here:
Tefillot Before your Erev Yom Kippur Tevilla
Reflections on my First Tevilla on Erev Yom Kippur
Women Immersing on Erev Yom Kippur
Abby Weisz, LCSW, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, Psychotherapist, Sex Educator and Intimacy Counselor. She gives classes and runs the Jewish Intimacy website, providing resources for Jewish couples seeking guidance in the sphere of sexuality and intimacy.