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Intimacy in Marriage
Rebbetzin Feige

Intimacy in Marriage

Physical intimacy is a barometer of the relationship as a whole.



Dear Rebbetzin,

My husband and I have a very good marriage. However, I don't feel my husband "wants me" as much as I wish he did. Even though we are intimate about once a week, I initiate it most of the time. We are young and not married for that long. He says intimacy is stressful for him because I expressed unhappiness about our intimacy in the past and he feels too much pressure now. Since then I’ve showered him with compliments and have told him how much I like being with him. He says he is very attracted to me but I’m still unsure how to get his attention and not be the one to initiate. What can I do? Thank you.

Rebbetzin Feige’s Reply:

My dear reader,

Intimacy in marriage is very important and sorting it out is crucial to the relationship. From a Torah perspective, intimacy between a husband and wife can be the most powerful expression of love between two people. The biblical mandate for the couple to be “one flesh” speaks to holistic union of heart, mind and soul. The Torah view stands in stark contrast to other religions that consider physical intimacy a contamination of the soul, albeit a necessary evil for the sake of procreation. It is for these reasons that in certain sects, spiritual leaders remain celibate and are enjoined from the marriage relationship. Contrarily, the elite spiritual leader in the Jewish religious hierarchy, the Kohel Gadol (the High Priest), only qualified for that position if he was married.

The objective of intimacy in Judaism is not exclusively for procreation, but seen as integral and necessary for the well-being and felicity of the relationship. The Torah considers marriage and all that it entails a sacred bond. This is signified by the names attributed to betrothal and marriage, “kiddushin” and “n’suin”, which mean, respectively, “sanctification” and “uplifting”. Moreover, our sages teach that when a husband and wife live together in peace and tranquility, the “Shechina,” the Divine Presence joins them.

Emotional intimacy will create and shape the nature of the physical encounter.

The quality of intimacy in marriage, my dear reader, is generally speaking, a product of the overall interaction between spouses. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Respect, love and caring are the essential components that must be cultivated and become integral to the union. It is the emotional intimacy that will create and shape the nature of their physical encounter. One cannot expect to be unavailable, inattentive, and insensitive by day and still unite successfully and meaningfully at night.

In an effort to create a context for a mutually satisfying relationship both emotionally and physically, consider the following basic requisites:

  1. the ability to recognize one’s emotions and those of the other
  2. the ability to articulate one’s feelings to oneself and to the other
  3. the ability to share dreams and aspirations
  4. the ability to cultivate an affect of excitement and passion towards life

Additionally, emotions are influenced by physical events, as well as psychologically precipitated ones. So, rather than trying to reach someone exclusively through verbal and intellectual means, the body can often be the primary pathway to connecting, i.e. holding hands, hugging, caring touch, and even non-verbal communication (posture, gesture, facial expressions, etc.).

It is through touch that a baby first experiences relationships as safe or risky, warm or distant, comforting or anxiety provoking. This need does not disappear as we age; a caring touch is important to all of us.

Related Article: Dear Emuna: Intimate Matters

It is probable that the power of physical affection to cultivate a richer emotional life can effectively mitigate one’s struggle with emotional deadness, repression, and apathy. Something happens in our hearts when caring comes skin to skin, not just words to ears.

Understand as well, dear reader, that there are gender differences that you would do well to recognize. Maimonidies identifies respect as the primary male need. This translates into his being seen as the authority figure, “the man of the house,” looked up to and even revered. Supplying this affect nourishes and supports the male ego. Right or wrong, easy or difficult, like it or not, the reality is that this constitutes the hard drive of the male persona. It is part and parcel of the way he is constructed. Your critical comments at the start of your marriage, dear reader, undermined your husband in his most vulnerable area- his manhood. Clearly, you have regretted your remarks and have worked hard to make amends, but to rebuild trust takes time and patience. As in all areas of life, it takes so much effort to build and only a moment to destroy.

I would advise you dear reader to build and intensify emotional intimacy – reach out to him in the many languages of caring articulated above and in the following daily expressions of respect that are often ignored:

  1. Greet him at the door when he comes home
  2. Make your home a happy and upbeat place (a happy wife reflects positively on a husband). It empowers him and makes him feel equal to the task of providing for her needs.
  3. Hang up the phone when he comes through the door. Regardless of whom you are speaking with, say loudly enough for him to hear “my husband has just walked in and I will call you back later.”
  4. Look good for him. Check your makeup and clothing when you know he is about to arrive, looking as good for your husband as you would when you go to work, meet the world, etc. It makes sense but is often disregarded because we assume that our spouse is stuck with us anyway, so what the heck? Wrong!!
  5. Let him overhear you praising him to your family, friends, etc.
  6. Give him positive feedback for whatever he does for you, takes out the garbage, helps with dishes, shares an insights, etc – any act of consideration and tenderness on his part.
  7. Try not to become defensive or vent your anger in the heat of an argument. If you manage not to respond or lose control, you will avoid much heartache in the future. Bide your time and when it blows over, you can share your hurt feelings calmly using the expression “I feel” rather than “you make me feel.” The outcome will be that instead of driving a wedge between you, your relationship will deepen.

If the above points do not produce the desired results in a reasonable period of time, I would urge you to avail yourself of professional intervention. Seek a highly recommended therapist who will objectively evaluate your situation and make appropriate recommendations.

Physical intimacy, as you intuited, is most often a barometer of the relationship as a whole. It provides the couple with the energy necessary to engage life productively and effectively. Therefore, it behooves all of us to pay close attention, watch for danger signals in the relationship and respond accordingly. Good luck in your efforts to get back on track.

March 25, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 51

(29) Anonymous, June 16, 2016 5:07 PM

Comment on Obvserver

This is a very well written and thorough article. However, I must agree with observer, that it might very well be that the wife is doing everything fine, and that the husband has a problem with which he must deal, and due to the "male ego" he might be very reluctant to recognize a problem, or to accept help from a professional to deal with this problem. And it might be very unfair to be blaming the wife for this unfortunate problem when really it's not due to her own actions. On the other hand, I think it was absolutely essential that the Rebbetzin address the issues that might be going on from the wife's side, only because our natural reaction to a problem is to blame the other person. And this is a dangerous road, especially in a marriage. If the Rebbetzin had concentrated on the husband's potential problems, the wife would have gone away critical of her husband, which is not healthy in general and certainly not in this specific situation.

Also in response to Anonymous, I think that whatever works for you and your husband is great. The RamBam lays out for us such schedules for couples based on the occupation of the husband. However, I think it very important to clarify to anyone else reading this, that this model is not usually recommended nowadays. It can place a strain on a marriage if a couple isn't interested in intimacy and feels obligated, or what if the couple is interested, and it's not the designated night? The most important part of intimacy, as long as other halachot are in place, is that it be done out of happiness. Scheduling intimacy can take away from this happiness, and make it a "chore." Like I said, this works for you and your husband, which is fantastic, but for most couples this is not ideal, in my opinion.

(28) Observer, November 18, 2012 7:56 PM

Nice answer with a MAJOR ommision

All of what you write is nice. But you have put all of the blame on the wife, which is quite unfair, as the real issue may have nothing to do with her, despite her husband's explanation. (I'm not saying that he's lying, but he may very well not be telling - or even aware of - the real issues.) There are two other issues that absolutely must be looked at in this context. Firstly, his health. A guy can look like he's in reasonably good health, but still have borderline issues affecting his libido. Is he tired a lot? How involved is he in other activities etc. The other thing you need to look at is what else is going on in his life? Is there an issue with your family or his? Maybe a boss at work that's being toxic? Or just enough stress and pressure that it's depressing his desire. If either issue applies, then she can be the best wife in the world, but it simply is not going to help.

(27) Anonymous, March 29, 2012 4:30 PM

Heres a suggestion: Before we got married - my husband and I were told to set up specific days - twice a week to have physical relations. That way husband doesnt think about "it" all day - yes tonight , no tonight??... and noone has to initiate - that can be really uncomfortable. BH this has worked out fantastic !!!! Of course - you have leeway , if anyone is realy busy - you push off for next day, or you skip. But on usual basis - we know our schedule - and I work around it , make sure I dont overwork that day , or I try to be more attractive that day. Let me know what y'all think of this.

(26) Daniel, March 28, 2012 10:10 AM

Why does it matter who initiates?

It sounds like the whole problem here is that the wife initiates "most of the time". Why is that a problem?

Anonymous, March 30, 2012 3:43 AM


Because it makes her feel not wanted- that's why. And that's not the only problem- her husband is holding back.

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