Is intimacy the purpose of marriage?

*The article below is an excerpt from the above Sefer

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Is intimacy the purpose of marriage?

Some people view intimacy as the entire purpose of marriage, and as the revolving factor around their relationship as a couple. This belief is held by many in the secular world and also by some members of Orthodox Jewry, including Rabbis and psychologists, and is preached to students by some Chasan and Kallah teachers. As a defense for their claim, they quote various saying of the sages which point to the fact that the purpose of marriage is having children and intimacy.[1] Practically, however, it is very difficult to entertain this perspective according to Torah, and often this perspective can serve as counterproductive to Shalom Bayis. While all consent to the fact that intimacy is the climax of the relationship between the husband and wife, and helps build a family, it does not serve as the only purpose in the decades of married life that a couple share together. The day to day interaction between the couple is also a vital and unique part of the marriage, independent of intimacy and having children. The couple spending quality time with each other on a day to day basis, and supporting each other in their different challenges in life, is an independent function and purpose in marriage. Furthermore, the feelings of love that develop and grow between the couple are meant to be independent of intimacy. Intimacy is meant to be the climax of the expression of the love that was developed between the couple in-between the sessions of intimacy, and is not meant to create that love. Meaning, if one only loves their spouse during intimacy, then it is the intimacy that creates the love, not the love that creates the intimacy. This is not the way that it should be, and seemingly is where many in the secular world have got their philosophy on marriage wrong, and unfortunately this has crept into the philosophy of Orthodox Jewry as well. Entering marriage with the proper philosophy, that it is not centered on the act of intimacy, can serve of much benefit to the couple. Especially in the following areas:

  1. Spending quality time together: The couple will try to place emphasis on spending quality time together during all days of their marriage, independent of whether intimacy will or will not take place. Thus, even when the wife is impure the husband will spend time with her, and even when they’re old and no longer active in intimacy, they will still be by each other’s side as true partners and friends. Even if, G-d forbid, the spouse has a medical emergency which prevents them from being intimate, their spouse will love and care for them just the same. Those however who view the entire purpose of marriage as the act of intimacy, won’t see a true need or purpose in spending quality time with their spouses at times that intimacy is not meant to take place, and they may become disinterested in their spouses if intimacy ever becomes unfeasible. The Rebbe and Rebbetzin were a living example of the above proper philosophy, as even in their very old age, and with the Rebbe’s enormous schedule of responsibilities, the couple made a point of spending quality time with each other every day.[2]  
  2. Till death do us part – dealing with lack of physical attraction: “Till death do us part” is a common phrase recited at secular weddings, although unfortunately, often it is more of a lip service then an actual philosophy of life. When marriage revolves around the act of intimacy, then the moment that intimacy becomes boring, uninteresting, unattractive, or unfulfilling, then the person feels that the marriage is falling apart, and it leads them to become distanced from their spouse. For example, if with years of marriage and having many children the wife has gained weight, and is no longer as attractive as she was when they first got married, then this may inevitably affect the attraction and enjoyment of intimacy between the couple. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the marriage has to grow apart and that there must be a diminishing of closeness and love between the couple. It is all dependent on one’s perspective. If enjoyable intimacy is viewed as the purpose of the marriage, then indeed the lack of enjoyable intimacy can deteriorate the relationship between the couple, as the purpose of their marriage is no longer properly attainable. However, when one views the purpose of the marriage as love and bonding of the couple independent of intimacy, then the understandably painful reality of a non-enjoyable experience of intimacy will not affect the main relationship of the marriage, or the expressions of love and bonding that the couple can do daily independent of physical intimacy. True love is a love of the other person’s soul and existence, for which, intimacy should be a mere tool of expression, and not its definition. This attitude will help couples grow strong together despite the various challenges they may face in facilitating intimacy. Furthermore, when one truly loves the soul of one’s spouse, the lack of physical attraction will not inevitably affect the level of enjoyment during intimacy, as the intimacy is a mere tool to express the love and passion that one already has. It is only when the attraction is uniquely for that of the body, that intimacy can inevitably deteriorate when that body is no longer found to be attractive. An expression of the correct philosophy can be found in the Talmud,[3] in which Rebbe Elazar the son of Rebbe Shimon stated that despite the enormous obesity of him and his wife, they are able to be intimate being that love pushes the flesh, thus causing their stomachs to be pushed aside.
  3. Physiological and psychological dysfunctions in intimacy: There are many women, for one reason or another, who face various difficulties in enjoying intimacy. Some of these difficulties are physiologically based and some are psychologically based. Whatever the case, couples try to do whatever they can to fix the issue and allow intimacy to become an enjoyable experience. The question however that needs to be pondered is regarding how much of an urgency is this matter and how much of an issue should couples make of it. Obviously, if a wife suffers from a sexual dysfunction that causes her to feel pain during intimate touch, then this is a real impediment which needs to have a solution found, and the couple should aggressively pursue resolution through professional intervention. However, when the couple has the correct philosophy of marriage, and intimacy is not its center but rather a tool of its expression, then they will not allow a dysfunctional “tool” of expression to destroy the center of their marriage and relationship. Even more so is this philosophy in need when the couple does not suffer from any pain in intimacy but simply feels that they are not reaching its maximum potential of enjoyment and climax. Secular society has created a dysfunction out of a woman who is unable to reach climax during intimacy [i.e. orgasmic dysfunction], and as a result many couples feel that if the wife does not experience it during intimacy, then they’re doing something wrong in their union. However, in truth, the psychological feelings of love expressed and received during intimacy are its main purpose and importance, and a physiological lacking does not have to interrupt that very important goal which they can achieve. This does not come to diminish the benefits involved in the wife reaching climax and having the ultimate enjoyment during intimacy. It simply comes to put things into perspective, that the couple should not feel that their marriage or intimacy is a failure just because that is not being accomplished. Likewise, the couple should measure and weigh how much effort they really need to exert in order to “fix” the issue, and if professional intervention is really a necessity. An example for this matter can be learned from the correct attitude towards infertility. A couple’s lack of ability to have children is an immense pain which only someone who has gone through can understand. It is a true and real psychological suffering that should never be underestimated, and it is only natural that the couple do whatever they can to fix it. Nonetheless, practically today we direct couples in such situations to remain married even if they will not be able to have children, even though having children is one of the main purposes of marriage. There even exists a Torah based philosophy in which the couple accepts that their marriage is not for the purpose of having children, and accept their fate without allowing it to ruin their relationship.[4] The life of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin were a living example of this, and they wed and remained happily married despite the fact that prior to their marriage they were Kabbalisticly warned that they would not be able to have children.[5] All the more so then should couples who have children but suffer from a dysfunction during intimacy, not allow it to deteriorate their relationship and the love that they should share for each other.

[1] See Shabbos 33a

[2] Related in a Teshurah that so said the Rebbe to his doctor; See also Igros Kodesh 12 letter 3912; 21:254; 16 letter 6133

[3] Bava Kama 84a

[4] See Zohar Vayeishev 188b; Sha’ar Hagilgulim Hakdama 3; Sh’lah Hakadosh p. 381 [Parshas Ki Seitzei gloss from Rav Shlomo Alkabetz] writes in the name of Rav Shlomo Alkabetz that Hashem sends certain souls into the world for a specific Tikkun, or leadership positions, which exempts them from having children. Not only do they not need to have children, and will not get punished for not having children, but even if they have children, the children will not spiritually be considered as theirs for any purpose. This is why Ben Azaiy did not have children, as his purpose was solely for Torah learning.

[5] Personally heard from Rav Asher Lemel Hakohen, who personally heard from Rav Shmarya Sossonkin, who personally heard from the Rebbe’s father Rav Levi Yitzchak, that he was puzzled at the suggestion of the Shidduch between the Rebbe and Rebbetzin, as according to Kabbalah their root souls could not merit having children. If I recall correctly, Rav Sossonkin was acting as an emissary of the Rebbe Rashab to discuss the Shiduch with the Rebbe’s father, and during that occasion, the Rebbes father said what he said. To note, that in the collected letters of Rav Levik we find many letters addressed to the couple with a showering of blessings for children, hinting to the idea that Rav Levik was aware that an impediment existed.  

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