Galit, married 10 years, is convinced that her husband, Ari, doesn’t love her. “I know for a fact that he is incapable of loving,” she explains. “He never buys me gifts. He doesn’t just forget my birthday, he doesn’t even know when it is! He never tells me how beautiful I am, how special I am. I see how my friends’ husbands treat them. They practically trip over their feet trying to take care of their wives. You can see the love in their eyes. We have three beautiful children so there is no way I will divorce Ari, but I feel that I am doomed to live a loveless existence.”

Ari has a different take on things. “I know she feels that way. But she can’t tell me how I feel,” he says. “My wife is the only thing in the world that matters to me besides my children. I work hard for them. Of course I also love my parents and siblings, but not the way I love Galit. She blames me for not being more romantic. What can I say? This wasn’t what I saw at home, and it doesn’t come naturally to me. But I am totally there for her, and she knows it. When she was sick, who took her to the doctor, picked up her medicine and kept the kids out of her room? Isn’t that love? Why does love have to be only about flowers? She can see that I’m a good man, but she needs everything to be just her way. I don’t understand it.”

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Gender differences and personality differences, as well as differences in family backgrounds and cultures, can all be challenges in the development of secure adult love. One popular book on marriage, The Five Love Languages, points out that there are different styles of expressing love. While some people need to hear affirming words of love, others need gifts, touch, time or practical assistance. Certainly, people have love requirements that go beyond these simple categories as well.

For example, there is the woman who feels that her husband’s acceptance of his mother’s criticism of her means that he doesn’t love her: “Everyone who is looking at us from the outside would say that Michael is a wonderful, doting husband. But I know that he doesn’t really love me. Whenever his mother makes a critical remark about me, he doesn’t defend me. On the contrary, he tells me that she’s got a point! A man who does that clearly doesn’t love his wife.”

If Only He/She Were Different

People cruelly deprive themselves of love through their own narrow definitions of the term. Why make rules that turn one’s loving partner into a cold-hearted distancer? Yes, it’s natural to wish that one’s partner would communicate love the way one wants it to be communicated. But whether this happens or not is up to G‑d. And it seems that G‑d rarely wants it this way!

I believe that this is because G‑d put us here on earth in order to grow (not to get what we want, a realization I’m sure you have come to already). And while we really, really want our spouse to be the one to grow and learn how to communicate love to us properly, our spouse’s growth is not really the issue; it is our own growth that is really relevant. We need to ask ourselves: can we grow to understand the love language of our spouse?

Of course, it is more appealing to try to get the other person in the relationship to change, but that is not the Jewish way of solving marital problems. When we focus on changing ourselves, we open the floodgates of love. (None of this applies in an abusive relationship, where one should not accept or take responsibility for a partner’s unhealthy behaviors.)

A few Torah-based behavioral patterns and perspectives that can help you grow towards your spouse are:

  • developing gratitude (really feeling) appreciation for what one’s partner does and who he or she is)
  • growing in humility (I am not the one in charge of everyone else’s behavior and words, and I do not micromanage people to make them show love to me)
  • developing a good eye (stop staring at the glaring hole and enjoy the donut that surrounds it)

And while we busy ourselves looking for the good in our partners, G‑d will, in like fashion, busy Himself looking for the good in us!