There’s just too much information out there, more accessible than ever before. And the more it propagates, the more protective of our children we become. Thousands of years ago, no topic was off-limits. Everything we needed to know was right there in the pages of Talmudic literature. The facts of life were discussed by the Gedolei Hador in the same way they examined the laws of interest on a loan, or what age could be considered gil chinuch. Those generations of parents were probably not embarrassed to leave the book where their children would see it.
Much of our childhood and adolescence as frum Jews – in elementary school, yeshiva, summer camp, simchas, and possibly even driving lessons – are experienced in the company of our own gender. So when young adults reach the age of dating and marriage, they’re navigating unchartered territory. With the joy of starting a new life together comes the challenge of both emotional and physical intimacy. Marital Intimacy Educator and Counselor Abby Weisz is one of the first practitioners to lead the emergent trend in the Orthodox world of breaking conventions on the Jewish approach to intimacy and reestablishing Judaism’s age-old truth that advocates education and open communication.
Educate and Communicate
“The topic of marital intimacy is held in the highest esteem by Judaism,” says Abby. “It’s the key to Shalom Bayit and a healthy, loving relationship with one’s spouse. Because the topic is perceived as so private, people don’t speak about it and many couples continue to suffer. Very many of my clinic hours are spent working with clients who have had problems in marital intimacy for two, ten or even twenty years of marriage,” reveals Abby.
Abby recommends introducing age-appropriate discussions before issues crop up. “It’s important for children to feel comfortable talking about their body. Create a home where it’s ok to broach the subject. You don’t have to compromise your personal comfort level or social norms, but legitimizing and encouraging open dialogue about the body provides a healthy address and outlet. If and when a child needs information, they’ll feel safe talking to you and won’t be afraid to turn to you for guidance.” The goal is to learn to develop healthy relationships and communication skills.
There are many ways to set the scene for healthy discussion of these sensitive topics. Generalizing can steer a sensitive conversation without making anyone too uncomfortable. “Share with them that it’s common and normal to experience difficulties as young adults. Don’t push the subject but tell them that you’re happy to discuss it if they’d like to hear what you have to say.”
It’s never too late to establish an open channel of communication. “Ask friends and family for recommendations on kallah and chatan teachers who are well-informed and not afraid to speak openly. Coordinate between both teachers so that both chatan and kallah are on the same page regarding the content of their hadracha,” is Abby’s recommendation. Therapists, as well as gynecologists, often work together with these teachers to ensure a holistic approach to a couple’s questions and challenges.
Communication before Consummation
“Marriage is the first time we truly expose ourselves physically and emotionally to another person,” says Abby. “Being vulnerable and allowing our spouse to truly ‘see’ us is exactly what creates intimacy. Communication facilitates a safe space where vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.”
Many emotional and physical factors can affect intimacy. Messages from the media and distorted ideas about modesty can cause poor body image and an inability to connect to one’s physical self. If one spouse finds it hard to confront their own body, it can affect them negatively when they are confronted with their own body as well as possibly with their spouse’s body. When there’s distance in a physical relationship, it often leads to distance in the emotional relationship and vice versa.
A history of past physical trauma can also hinder intimacy. “Not only abuse,” Abby clarifies, “But any unpleasant experience relating to our body can affect our ability to experience and enjoy intimacy.”
New couples need time to develop a language to communicate their emotional needs; to learn how to express themselves when hurt without being hurtful, and understand what pleases their spouse. Many often enter marriage with the understanding that physical intimacy is simple and easy. Misinformation, heightened emotions of excitement and curiosity that vie with anxiety and exhaustion, and the technical logistics involved can start a couple off on the wrong foot. “Don’t rush,” says Abby with her characteristic approachability and warmth. “Set your own pace. And don’t be afraid speak to each other. Learning takes time and sincere effort. This is the avodah of marriage and no other avodah is more worthwhile.”
About Abby Weisz
Abby Weisz is a psychotherapist specializing in marital intimacy therapy and counseling. She has assisted hundreds of couples to enhance their physical and emotional relationship and communicate with their children about intimacy in a healthy way.
Visit JewishIntimacy.com for more information.