When I was a new bride – starry-eyed, idealistic, and ‘gaga’ over my new groom – an older married friend of mine put her arm around my shoulder and took me for a walk. She wanted to prepare me for what, in her opinion, “marriage was really like.”
She shared with me the concept of the “seven year itch,” a psychological term that suggests that happiness declines after around year seven of a marriage. This idea scared me stiff. I couldn’t fathom it. It couldn’t be true.
I did a little research and discovered that the phenomenon was indeed real. In a New York Times article, researcher Dr. Larry A. Kurdek wrote that he found that couples often began their unions with high levels of marital quality, but that it appeared to decrease twice: once rather steeply over the first four years and again after about seven. (The pattern of change was the same for both husbands and wives.) He also reported that couples with children experienced the steepest declines.
“Great!” I thought as I looked down at my growing belly, swollen with my first pregnancy: “I am doomed!”
Desperately trying to not be another statistic and desiring the marriage of my dreams, I wanted to understand why nearly half of marriages today are ending in divorce. I threw myself into marriage classes, read every magazine and article I could get my hands on, participated in workshops, and eventually trained as a teacher in the field of intimacy to help others like me who wanted their marriage to defy the statistics.
I discovered that the number one reason for divorce is infidelity.
You think that this can never happen to you. You think you would never go down that road. No, not me! Not my spouse! We are so committed. We are different.
However, the reasons people cheat on each other are not so simple. There are many reasons why even a relatively good relationship takes an unfortunate turn.
Usually it starts in the bedroom: boredom and lack of intimacy – both physical and emotional. It’s a slippery slope. She’s exhausted. He’s never home. One is a workaholic. The kids always get in the way. It becomes complicated to get it together. Blame it on technology, social media, Facebook… the excuses are endless. The bottom line is that the marriage starts going stale. Once the couple realizes they need help, it is often too late.
You don’t need to look far to feel the pain and disconnect between spouses these days. Sadly, marriage can be such a lonely place. Relationships are suffering everywhere. If it’s not you, then it’s your sister or best friend. It’s all around us.
But think back to when it all started. Every couple stood under the wedding canopy and had so much love for each other. Very few couples entered marriage thinking it had a good chance of failing.
Remember those first dates? The excitement, the butterflies in your stomach when you realized that this was the one? The conversations that lasted hours into the night… It was magical. It was real. It was not just a figment of your imagination.
If you don’t remember it so easily, pull out your wedding album and photos from your early years of marriage. Yes, you were both so young and carefree, with no grey hairs or wrinkles. It might feel like ages ago, before life slammed you with stresses and bills to pay, and thank God, the blessings of children, aging parents, and real life…
Take a good look at the pictures. See the energy, the excitement, the passion and the love you two had. Those feelings can be reclaimed. How?
The mikveh can play a huge role.
Our sages tell us that the night a woman immerses in the waters of the mikveh and returns to her husband, “she is as dear to him as on the day of their wedding.” The excitement is renewed, month to month, year after year. Each month she is “dear to him as a new bride” (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer).
Years ago, I was flipping through an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine at a doctor’s office and I couldn’t believe my eyes. A famous (non-Jewish) sex therapist was suggesting that couples abstain from intimate relations for a period of two weeks followed by a period of togetherness and intimacy for two weeks. She was basically describing the Jewish structure of family purity as the key to keeping passion alive in a marriage.
I nearly jumped out of my chair with excitement. Yes, let the world catch on to this! It works! After all, God Himself, the One who created us, set these laws in place from the very beginning. He knows us. He loves us. And He wants our marriages to succeed.
The couple starts anticipating mikveh night, counting down as the excitement builds. Every month they experience a night as special as their wedding night. In never gets old or stale. They re-experience that magic, that intense love.
I’ve been married for nearly two decades. I won’t lie and pretend that it has always been smooth sailing. We’ve had our share of hard days or weeks over the years.
But every month as I leave the mikveh, I feel renewed and excited, oblivious to all else. I look up to the Heavens and thank God for this gift, appreciating the brilliance of Jewish observance as I excitedly skip to my car, butterflies in my stomach and all.
I am rushing home to meet my groom. Like the very first time.