For the average Orthodox couple, marching to the chuppah is akin to crossing the finish line of a marathon that began long before the spouses met.
Over the course of their lives, family, friends, Rabbonim, teachers, and mentors have coached individuals into marriageable shape so that one day they could cross the “finish line” and build the long-awaited Jewish home of their own.
All throughout the race, especially towards the end, there was a feeling of excitement as well as apprehension; what if he doesn’t make it to the end? What if she is the last one to finish or doesn’t finish at all? They may have each suffered injuries that forced them to stop moving altogether or at least slowed down to a walk. But nevertheless, the individual- along with the respective coaching committee- kept an eye on the prize with constant hopes of a triumphant finish.
At last, the day arrives and the couple gets married. Each partner is overjoyed to be done with their individual marathon course, and the subsequent week of sheva brachot feels like one victory party after another. But then the party is over, the dust settles, and perhaps the couple starts to feel like they have just begun a new, less glamorous marathon called marriage. It’s different and less familiar terrain than the previous marathon, but the spouses are excited and feeling relieved to have a running partner. Nevertheless, each of them may be questioning what they just signed up for, whether they have what it takes to last, and how to keep pace with their new partner. As they search for a map for the new course, they may feel confused, scared, and unsure how to navigate this stage of life.
Asking for help can be scary, but suffering in silence and sticking to Google searches to get a diagnosis or solution can be incredibly isolating, tiring, and ineffective. When a newlywed couple is looking for help, they may be inclined to reach out initially to a Rav, Rabbanit, Chattan/Kallah teacher, close friend, relative, teacher, or mentor, which can be a wonderful first step in addressing the issue and getting support. Speaking to someone with whom one already has a relationship can be comforting and provide a familiar sounding board. Sometimes all it takes is a little chizuk (reassurance), a book recommendation, and a warm hug of empathy.
But sometimes a couple is facing sexual issues that are too complex, extensive, or personal to rely solely on a paraprofessional for help. Going to individual or couple counseling with a licensed therapist can be an invaluable step in addressing sexual issues in a safe, non-judgmental environment where there is support, validation, and healthy guidance. Sometimes sexual issues may necessitate medical intervention; this is particularly true of sexual pain and inability to have intercourse. Sadly, many couples feel ashamed to reach out for help in sexual issues and will suffer for years before going to treatment. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Whenever I go to a wedding and I’m watching the new couple standing under the chuppah gazing at each other, I think about how in that moment, marriage doesn’t look complicated. To the observer, it can seem like an easy launch, propelled by the excitement and passion of two people who have waited years for this milestone and can’t wait to start their grown-up lives together. But in actuality, the launch takes work, particularly when it comes cultivating a vibrant sex life. Getting help for it is not a sign of failure or doom. On the contrary, it’s a gesture of strength and hope, with a willingness to do what is necessary to thrive as an intimately connected couple.
Rachel Hercman, LCSW is a psychotherapist specializing in dating and relationship issues, sexual health, and trauma. She is in private practice on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and lectures across the US. Rachel lives with her family in Riverdale, New York and can be reached at email@example.com .