Many married couples struggle to find meaningful ways to follow the laws of Taharat HaMishpacha (Family Purity). For some, the physical separation required during the niddah period prompts them to feel less connected – as if G-d removed their ability to communicate their love for one another. As a couples and sex therapist and Madrichat Kallot, I help couples discover effective ways to connect when physical touch is not permitted. One excellent book I use to help teach this is The Five Love Languages, by Dr. Gary Chapman.
More than 25 years ago, Dr. Chapman discovered that, while expressing love for one another, couples used one or more of 5 distinct pathways, which he named “love languages.” These love languages are:
- Words of Affirmation – Speaking loving messages. These include, “I love you,” “You mean so much to me,” “Thank you,” “I’m so proud of you,” “You did a great job,” “You are beautiful/handsome/hot/incredible/special,” and more.
- Acts of Service – Doing nice things for one another. Examples include washing the car, making the bed (especially when it isn’t your job), taking out the trash, waking up first to give the baby a bottle, loading the dishwasher or running an errand. This can also be expressed through non physical “gifts,” such as an offer to let your loved one take their Shabbos nap first.
- Quality Time – Being together. Those who speak this love language feel loved when they are with their partner. They go on walks, have long talks, go on vacations, and share the couch while watching Netflix. Even if they don’t say a word because they are doing their own thing, the fact that they are near one another speaks volumes.
- Gift Giving – Presenting each other with physical gifts. These can be expensive gifts, like a designer watch or diamond bracelet or something from the grocery store like a favorite ice cream. For some individuals the act of spending money on them is treasured as well as the thought and time that goes into finding the right gift.
- Physical Touch – Physical connection exists on a spectrum. You can brush up against a loved one and send tingling vibes, hold hands or hug for comfort, or connect through intimate and sexual touch. People who connect this way, the niddah period can be especially challenging.
In his book, Dr. Chapman discusses the negotiations couples must have when they speak different love languages. Imagine if you only spoke French and your spouse only spoke Mandarin. Both of you could express affection, but the other person wouldn’t understand. Send loving messages in your spouse’s love language is crucial so they “hear” you clearly. Don’t know your love language? Take the quiz at the end of Dr. Chapman’s book. The results may surprise both of you!
What if you and your spouse have different love languages?
If your love language is “Physical Touch” and your spouse communicates with “Quality Time,” you are likely to have misunderstandings if you don’t know the significance of each other’s love language. As a couple’s therapist I recommend that you set aside time to visit your loved one’s world and learn their language. Hedi and Yumi Shleifer, two incredible Jewish couples’ therapists, refer to the act of visiting a partner’s world as “Crossing the Bridge,” because that is exactly what you are doing. You are going from your world, where one language is spoken, into their world , where a different language is used.
Think about the last time you traveled outside of the country. What plans did you make ahead of time? Perhaps you researched what to pack, and downloaded Google translator to your phone so you could speak some of their language. When you cross the bridge into your loved one’s world, try to use their language.
What do you do if the laws of niddah and the harchakot prevent you from using a desired love language?
Some couples feel lost when the laws of niddah set in each month because one of their primary languages – that of “Physical Touch” – is suddenly silenced. This type of challenge to your communication can promote tension between you and your partner, and you and halacha. The good news is that it can also offer an opportunity to experiment with the non-physical love languages above. If your language is physical touch, try words of affirmation and see how that feels. Or experiment with Acts of Service or Quality Time. Discuss the languages you want to try with your spouse, so you can use them to support one another. You may actually find that you like that language — or even prefer it! At the very least, you will expand your ability to be loving and grow your language literacy. What a nice souvenir to bring home from your visit to your partner’s world!
As an olah I know first hand how hard and frustrating it can be to have my language taken away. I also know how much I have learned and continue to learn about adopting a new way of communicating. With regard to hilchot niddah, it may feel at times that G-d is taking away your love language, and this is not easy. But viewing the days where physical touch is not permitted as a challenge to take on as a team, as opposed to viewing it as a struggle to survive, will enhance your coping mechanisms and “couples endurance.”
Jodi Wachspress is a Couples and Sex Therapist who lives in Modiin.