Dear Ziva,

I've been married for almost three years and my husband and I have been blessed with a beautiful daughter who is now a year old. I know I’m very fortunate because in every respect my husband is a very decent man who shares my values. I feel guilty for not being content with my situation, but the terrible truth is that I’m unsatisfied and bored.

I used to feel so excited by, and in love with, my husband. My heart would beat faster when he walked into the room. But in the day-to-day tedium of marriage and parenting, I can’t access even a fraction of the passion I used to feel for him. It feels as if our romance is dead. I’m never in the mood for intimacy in the bedroom. I even find myself enjoying my time with my friends more than I do my time with him.

We each seem to put much more energy into our careers than we do into our relationship. We've also become very critical of each other and much less tolerant than we used to be of each other’s annoying habits.

On top of all this, I’ve noticed that recently he seems to be in constant communication with one of his female colleagues. They text each other outside of office hours all the time and he says they’re discussing matters related to their work, but I find it hard to believe there isn’t some mutual attraction in the mix. I’m bothered by this but I’m not even sure if it’s actual jealousy or just human territoriality and pride.

So what do you think, Ziva? Being in love was the most glorious experience of my life. I’m not ready for that to be over forever. I’m only 30 years old! Should I separate from my husband while I’m still young and pretty and our baby will be less traumatized than an older child would be? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a passionless marriage. I want a flame that will never go out.

Lisa

Dear Lisa,

You are indeed very fortunate! A man you were deeply in love with felt the same way about you, and now the two of you are married with a beautiful child. That in itself is far, far more than many women are lucky enough to experience in a lifetime.

And after decades of counseling young people about their relationship troubles, I can tell you that you’re very fortunate in other ways too. Though I consider marriage a holy union that should be protected at nearly any cost, sometimes there are truly harrowing problems that raise the question of whether a woman is better off staying with her husband or separating from him. I have heard firsthand of marriages plagued by excessive drinking, substance abuse, gambling addiction, lying, cheating, embezzling, philandering, anger management issues, even physical or severe emotional abuse. There are husbands who refuse to earn a living. Husbands who never stop working, so that the woman is effectively a single parent. And the list goes on.

Your letter includes no such deal-breakers. Your husband, by your own description, is a very decent man who shares your values. This alone would be reason enough to make a life with him, even without sparks flying all over the place. But the sparks were there with him, so he is even someone you must find highly attractive.

I understand the excitement of new love and the allure of novelty. When we first fall in love with someone, it’s as if they can do no wrong. The rush of romantic feeling is nothing short of intoxicating – in more ways than one. Scientific studies have shown that bodily chemicals such as oxytocin, phenethylamine and dopamine are released when we’re attracted to someone. The effect is similar to that of amphetamine. We feel excited, energized and blissful.

But as with any drug, the “high” doesn’t last forever. Real love – and a lifelong partnership – takes more than just physical chemistry to sustain. Any relationship expert will tell you it takes effort, attention, investment and work.

#If you leave your husband for a new love, sooner or later that excitement will taper off too, and you’ll be in the same place you are now.

If you leave your husband for a new love, sooner or later that excitement will taper off too, and you’ll be in the same place you are now. Do you want to subject your child to a new man and home every few years? When your own beauty fades, as it eventually will, do you want a deeper love that will endure nonetheless? I trust that you want stability and consistency for your child, as well as a lasting commitment for yourself. And so the question becomes: what specific action can we take to sustain our feelings of affection and tenderness over the long haul?

In Judaism, we believe that action can be more important than feeling, and moreover that feeling follows form. In his book Zachoo, Rabbi Nachum Diamant writes about a man who didn’t love his six-year-old son. In fact, he felt nothing but dislike and resentment toward the boy. In distress, he approached the rabbi for counsel, and the rabbi relayed these words of wisdom: when we give, we become attached.

Our modern western culture encourages us to view happiness as something we passively experience when something wonderful happens, or is given, to us. But more often, ironically, the opposite dynamic is at work: when we give, we create happiness, both for others and for ourselves.

I suggest you heed this counsel within your marriage. Do something special for your husband every day. Make a list of the qualities of his that you treasure and share it with him. Cook him one of his favorite dinners. Give him a massage. Warm his towel in the dryer while he’s in the shower.

It works! I recently gave a different married man this very advice and the next time I ran into him, he was smiling and happy, holding a shopping list his wife had given him for Rosh Hashanah. “I feel like a puppy dog,” he said sheepishly. “It makes me so happy to see her smile. Everything is so much better between us!”

I consider your letter very timely indeed. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of a lasting flame; let's resolve to do our utmost to kindle the light in our own homes, in every sense of the phrase.

Much love,
Ziva