Dear Tzippora,

If I am happily married, and I believe that I am, why am I still lonely? Shouldn't a good marriage "cure" all these feelings of loneliness?

A Lonely Soul in a Happy Marriage

Dear Lonely Soul,

In order to answer your question, it is important to recognize what a good marriage can and cannot provide. A good marriage can provide companionship. It cannot provide non-stop company and unlimited attention to your needs. A good marriage can provide a partner to help you raise your family according to mutually determined goals. A good marriage cannot provide an identical twin who will always read your mind, and do things your way. A good marriage will provide you with a very special friend who truly shares your life with you. A good marriage cannot provide you with another parent, who will anticipate your unexpressed needs and satisfy all your desires.

In short, a good marriage will meet many but not all of your needs for companionship, love, and understanding. Yet, if even good marriages allow room for feelings of sadness, loneliness, and unmet needs, what is so great about marriage that the Torah writes "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18)? Meaning, on an existential level, it is not good for man to be alone; it is better and healthier to have a partner.

The answer is that marriage is not only about what we ourselves receive within the context of our relationship. Marriage provides us with an opportunity to give to another human being on a very deep level. Marriage creates an environment where even the most simple act is transformed into an act of giving – when we choose to buy the brand of toothpaste our partner prefers; when we shut off the light because our partner is into saving money or conserving energy; when we remember to buy eggs on the way home; when we don't buy chocolate because his doctor told him he'd better diet or else. Marriage is the forum that elevates our smallest, most insignificant acts into acts of chessed (loving kindness), giving each the unique status of a mitzvah.

The relationship that G‑d shares with the Jewish people is likened to a marriage. This teaches us that G‑d has committed himself to an intense and unique relationship with the Jews, and we, in turn, have undertaken an intense commitment as well. How can we possibly understand this Divine commitment, this cosmic marriage? We begin to get a taste of that cosmic partnership when we value and honor our own commitment to our spouses.

Pay attention to your loneliness. Allow it to teach you what you need to know about yourself, without assuming that it necessarily implies a flaw in your relationship. Does your internal life need attention? Do you need to develop your own personal interests or spiritual pursuits? Do you need to reconnect with family and friends that you have lost contact with? Or have you perhaps temporarily lost contact with your spouse, and allowed life to encroach upon the sacred time and space that belongs to your relationship? If that is the case, schedule some special time together. Shabbat is an ideal time to reconnect, without the modern day distractions of cell-phones, text messages, email, and iPods.

I believe that at heart, each of us has a lonely soul, and that that loneliness keeps pushing us to reach a little further in order to connect more deeply with our Creator, and with those who share our world.

Thanks for writing!