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The Internet and Intimacy
Rebbetzin Feige

The Internet and Intimacy

A husband is having an e-mail relationship with a woman he has never met and who lives oceans away. Is he "cheating" on his wife?

by

A woman writes:

My husband is having an e-mail relationship with a woman friend. I consider it a violation of boundaries, but he insists it is just a friendship. Because this person lives in another country, there is no physical contact and it could indeed be labeled a "friendship."

I do not want to forbid my husband from having a friend. But, I feel that the nature of this e-mail correspondence is creating a violation in my marriage -- it is private, instantaneous, and it makes it easy to confide innermost feelings. It is detracting from the intimacy I used to feel with my husband, and I feel that there is a third person now living in my house.

I have a friend whose marriage is ending in divorce because of an online affair. Another friend is aware of a correspondence but is waiting for time to tell. Could you please comment on this growing phenomenon, and perhaps give guidelines as to what is appropriate and what is not? I am confused and uncertain.

Intimacy in marriage is generally misunderstood to be merely physical.

The physical is only one chapter of the intimacy story.

The Jewish perspective informs that the physical is only one chapter of the intimacy story. The other critical elements that make up the full equation consist of the mind, body, soul and heart. Indeed, if any of these dimensions are missing, the relationship is deficient.

PROHIBITIONS

Jewish law prohibits intimate physical relations between husband and wife if they are not on a par emotionally. There are nine conditions under which physical intimacy is prohibited. Among these are:

  • If the couple has quarreled and are still at odds with one another.
  • If either one is thinking of divorce.
  • If either is drunk.
  • If either one is thinking of another person of the opposite gender, etc.

These are all situations that speak to hearts and minds that are not totally committed to and engaged with each other.

Nachmanides, a 12th century commentator, in a letter written to his son in preparation for his wedding, underscores the emotional component of intimacy without which, he states, the conjugal human experience is lowered to one more consistent with animal behavior.

When the focus is a physical one alone, it is a flagrant contradiction of the Hebrew term for intimacy, which is yedia, "knowledge." As in: And Adam knew Eve, his wife.

The definition of "knowing" expands cohabitation to thorough understanding of one's spouse's feelings, concerns, fears, doubts, and vulnerabilities. Nachmanides notes that yedia, "knowledge," flows from the loftiest of human resources, the mind.

GARMENTS OF THE SOUL

Kabalistic works as well as other sources, teach that the soul of the human being clothes itself in three garments by which it manifests itself in the world:

  • thought,
  • word, and
  • deed.

Thoughts are the crucible of our expressed emotions as well as our behavior. Where is a person really at, ask Chassidic sources? Not necessarily where one is physically standing, but rather where his thoughts take him.

A noted Hassidic rebbe, at the conclusion of a Sabbath service shook the hand of one of his congregants with a Shalom Aleichem "Welcome Home." The congregant, in great bewilderment, protested that he hadn't traveled anywhere. The rebbe responded, that while physically he had been present during services, his mind and his thoughts had been on his business trip to Europe; now that his thoughts had returned him to the here and now, the rebbe welcomed him back.

While the e-mail relationship is not a physical one, it occupies the focus of his thoughts.

While it is true that the email relationship in which the writer's husband is engaged is not a physical one, it obviously occupies the focus of his thoughts and thereby constitutes a breach of intimacy between husband and wife.

Shared feelings and communication are the currency of intimacy. To the extent that a mind that is preoccupied with another of the opposite gender, it is not "there" for his spouse. The better part of him is absent, and the exclusive intimate relationship has been compromised.

BUILDING A BRIDGE

I would recommend that the couple choose to speak with someone they both trust -- therapist, rabbi or wise friend. The wife should divest herself of rancor and defensiveness and focus instead on ways to bridge the gap in their relationship. How can they create an emotional environment that is safe for sharing and confiding to each other their innermost feelings? How can they bring friendship back into their marriage?

The husband needs to understand that resorting to the Internet to meet this particular need of friendship is "a copout" and "easy fix." It's an avoidance mechanism that precludes putting forth the necessary effort that a marriage requires. A good marriage demands renewal and constant infusion of new energy.

An e-mail relationship is an exposure to a small part of a person. It creates an out of context impression of that person. It is exposure to that individual with none of the myriad of the nitty-gritty daily life stresses and pressures that challenge all of us and invariably reduce us in size and stature in our spouses' eyes. The e-mail correspondents share none of these. Their relationship is uncontaminated by real life. As such it is a mere fantasy and illusion.

Recognizing that there is something significant missing in a marriage, confronting it, and addressing it with the willingness to put forth the requisite hard work can make the relationship stronger than ever.

Published: December 16, 2000


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Visitor Comments: 18

(18) Anonymous, March 4, 2011 5:46 PM

internet cheating

Your article on email cheating or internet cheating it seems a growing sin. Married have problems throughout their marriage but the facebook.internet technology has become another vehicle in which sin can grow out of contexts. Prayer is the only way to deal with it i believe. God is the only one that can heal a marriage.

(17) Anonymous, January 4, 2011 10:40 PM

Cheating on a wife through e-mail

I just saw this and it rang true. Any mate who turns to another of the opposite sex with the intent of sharing emotional or sexual intimacy is cheating. There is a turning away from the partner' and going to a stranger for what should be discussed within the partnership. It can place the omitted partner in a competitive situation without them being aware of it. If they are, it heightens insecurity, distrust and most of all, rejection and betrayal. A good relationship is based on mutual trust. In the case of a third party involvement, one of the partners has no access to what is being discussed or how, leading to a feeling of distrust, being manipulated and worse, an inability to respond. Issue an ultimatum and throw out that computer.

(16) Anonymous, November 8, 2007 4:02 PM

e-mail relationships

I am in the midst of this right now with my husband. He has gone so far as to discuss our private life with several women. I am just heartbroken about this. I feel so betrayed. We have had our share of problems over the years. And we are equally at fault. I want to keep my marriage going. He is not sure what he wants. It seems to change every day for him. I keep praying that Ha Shem will heal both of us and restore us to each other. This article helps me to see what I can do, and to understand what I am dealing with. It helps me to work on the changes I need to make in myself. The rest I leave in G-d's loving hands. Bless you for this article. It gives me hope and direction and courage to work harder on me and on my marriage.

(15) Anonymous, February 14, 2006 12:00 AM

I disagree with part of your comments

I disagree with a portion of your comments regarding emotional affairs. I agree that there may have been a problem in the marriage at some point to have a spouse (either male or female) to look for attention, intimacy or a relationship outside of the marriage. However, a spouse should not try to fulfill their needs with an emotional affair. Not only do these email relationships usually start this way....but often one will find at a later date that there are other relationships closer to home. This type of behavior is how affairs begin! Emotional affairs whether it is internet or work related, neighbor,etc. are a betrayal of trust and marriage vows between two people. It is very normal for a wife or husband to have issues with defensiveness and anger. It is a terrible grief issue for one to bear to find out that one's spouse has been acting unloving, sharing intimate details with another person and growing further and further apart due to his or her "flirting" or looking for attention elsewhere instead of at home. With enough time emails can turn into fact, and not just fantasy or illusion. To think that one can simply work on these type of issues by bridging the gap in the relationship is not enough. The spouse truly must leave their new partner completely in order to "work on their relationship." How can one attempt to recreate a healthy environment or confide their feelings and trust if emails or meetings continue?

(14) Anonymous, May 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Thought provoking

Well written . The logic appears acceptable .

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