My recent blog post “I’m Not Attracted to my Spouse” has attracted significantly more views, shares, and responses in its first week than any of my other posts here so far. I am grateful to those who emailed or commented to say that it resonated as true and/or validated feelings for them. And I would like to address those who disagreed or raised other points or questions. Rather than replying to all the comments and emails, many of which overlap, I decided to write a follow up post answering the 10 most frequent and relevant ones:
1. Is Raizy a real person?
No. Raizy, like every “client” I write about, is a fictitious composite of multiple clients presenting a similar core problem. I am a licensed therapist, bound by confidentiality, and so it would be egregiously unethical to write up and publish a true case. So when I compose these vignettes, I try to make sure they are as clinically accurate as possible, based on more than one person, and to alter any potentially identifying information from the clients whose stories inspired them. Sometimes, I’ll get a client who says something like: “I can’t believe you wrote up my case… two years before I came to you!” These cases sound realistic because they are: realistic but not real.
2. Why don’t you say what she should do?
I never tell my clients “what to do.” I help them process and sort out their stories, thoughts, feelings, and options. And there is not a “one size fits all” formula for people in this situation; there are many important variables that need to be considered. It would be inaccurate, unhelpful, and irresponsible to sweepingly simplify this dilemma into “anyone in this position should____.” My only objective is to help people consider their choices from the most helpful perspectives they can.
The point of this article is both preventative and diagnostic: preventative in the sense that dating single people and those who advise them can learn from the experiences of others, to take emotional and physical attraction seriously. Diagnostic in the sense that others who find themselves in marriages with this problem can understand that they are not “crazy” “shallow” “selfish” or “stupid” and that they are not the only ones in this position, and there are people they can go to for help. And the solutions will look different for different couples.
3. Don’t you think the problem is that Raizy was “pushed” into this marriage?
Yes and no. I personally don’t subscribe to the idea of parents and mentors “choosing” or “pressuring” a particular marriage; I prefer that adults who are old enough to marry have the freedom to choose their own partners, based on their own self-awareness, values, tastes, timing, and needs. But many of my clients are members of communities where this is the socio-cultural, nonnegotiable norm. I therefore need to respectfully work within the cultural parameters of their realities. Many of the couples in these arranged or quick-match marriages do end up being very satisfied with their system. And conversely, many couples who had far more autonomy and self-determination with spouse selection, do struggle with these and other problems. So yes, when people are “pushed” to marry someone specific, that might increase the likelihood of issues like this, but I am contracted to treat the individual problem they identify, not the cultural phenomena behind it. We do, however, usually discuss their feelings about this as part of the therapy.
4. How can you say that religious people only think about spiritual and intellectual compatibility? Don’t you see the preoccupation with money and looks in the shidduch world?
I am not saying that “all” Orthodox mentors “only” give this advice. I am saying that some do. And yes, I definitely see the reverse problem as well. Maybe I will address that in a different blog post. The point of this one was to highlight one particular issue which seems prevalent to me, based on a percentage of my demographic. But I don’t endorse the other extreme either (or any extreme for that matter) and I think I said so in an aside in that post. They are both pitfalls to avoid, as opposed to healthy, wholesome moderation.
5. Your post is unfair to the many Rabbis, parents, and mentors who do stress the importance of attraction.
It would be, if it had said “no one in our communities ever teaches this.” But it doesn’t; it says that many teach an alternate, less helpful perspective. So for those who experienced or are doing a great job- thank you, yay, and awesome. The point of this piece to suggest a correction for those who aren’t.
6. Are you saying that people who lack attraction should get divorced?
No. I am saying it’s better to try and marry someone to whom you are attracted. And that if you don’t, difficult situations like Raizy’s may ensue. Once you’re already married, then what to do next depends on the specifics each couple and is not prescribable in a public blog post.
7. Do you think it’s possible for attraction to grow after the wedding? Especially if they work on emotional connection.
Yes, for some, but it’s not guaranteed for everyone; that’s another answer that’s personal and couple-specific. It’s certainly worth trying once the marriage is in place and if both are motivated. Therapy can be helpful with that. And attraction is not always an “all or nothing” presence; there can be some or occasional attraction, which is easier to amplify than if there is zero. But it’s invalidating and inaccurate to those who are suffering with this problem and have sincerely tried to address it, to say that romantic feelings or sexual attraction can always be created ex nihilo.
8. Do you think it’s impossible to have a happy marriage without attraction?
Impossible is a strong word, but it’s hard and sad. Happy is also a broad term; there are many different flavors and gradations of happiness, and they can be experienced in different ways through different interactions. Marital satisfaction to a large degree, depends on a variety of relationship dynamics, expectations, cultural norms, and individual differences. But a marriage sans pheromonal chemistry is certainly far from ideal; I think we should try to prepare young people to aim for better.
9. What are your thoughts about a couple where there was originally attraction, but over time one partner stopped feeling it- either because of their own changes or because the partner’s look has changed?
This is actually a very important and prevalent issue, and not exactly the type of attraction issue I was addressing in that post, which was focused more on primary appeal in the first place when choosing a spouse. But even when the union starts off with great attraction, bodies, faces, feelings, and experiences change over time, and not always for the better. It’s unrealistic to expect our 50 year old bodies, faces, and energy levels to be able to compete with our 25 year old ones. So in marriages where there is a strong initial foundation of connection, love, respect, and passion, the challenge becomes to maintain the relationship as adaptably yet sustainably as possible. This includes nurturing it by investing time, thought, communication, and effort, so that even once we lose our objectively youthful sex appeal, it can morph into something more enduring and fulfilling. Much easier said than done. But this subject probably deserves its own article (or book..)
10. Aren’t you worried that writing pieces like this will ruffle feathers and upset people who strongly disagree with you?
I’d like to say no, but to be honest, sometimes I am. Yet one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself in adulthood is permission to trade in approval for authenticity. At this point, I feel “old” enough, experienced enough, blessed enough and professional enough to take my own opinion seriously, and share it when I believe it can be of value to others. I don’t feel like I write anything especially controversial, but if others disagree or take offense, they are free to do so; I’m not the boss of them. I have admiration for and gratitude to the many brave individuals who are willing to take a stand against popular opinion when they feel they had something new or better to offer the world and help others, even at risk or cost to themselves. I respect that a lot and find it inspiring. I’m not looking to be popular; I’m hoping to be of service. I know, because I’ve been told firsthand and repeatedly, that this work, in practice, on stages, and in writing, helps people. I try to write truthfully, respectfully, and constructively, but I can’t make people like it or me; I don’t need to. The feedback is mostly supportive. The pushback doesn’t always feel great, but overall I feel blessed to know I’m living in harmony with my values and beliefs and making a difference. So I’m ok with that.