Dear Rachel,

An old Israeli girlfriend of my husband calls him on the phone and keep on calling him "motek." I know that the word means "sweetheart" and I find it offensive. Am I wrong? Am I over reacting and should I just be quiet? I don't call any of my old boyfriends sweetheart... I don't even talk to them. By the way, we have been married for 18 years.


Dear Anonymous,

I can certainly understand how uncomfortable you must be feeling in the situation you write about.

And you have every right to be.

The misuse of one’s words is tantamount to the misuse of one’s sexual energy

The Torah teaches us that what defines us as human beings is our ability to speak, and that is why we are referred to as a medaber a “speaker.” Furthermore, there are two forms of speech, one which is verbal speech and the other which is physical speech. This is why speech is actually considered a euphemism for physical intimacy and therefore the misuse of one’s words is tantamount to the misuse of one’s sexual energy (Talmud, Ketubot 13a; Sefer Yetzirah 1:3).

When we speak, we take from our innermost essence and share it with another person. Speech is our conduit for expressing what is deep within us and through speech we can implant those thoughts, ideas and feelings within another.

So it is clear that words are powerful. And so much more so for words of endearment that can lead to emotional connections. Words can open our hearts in meaningful ways to people we may never have wanted to invite in. Words of endearment are never innocent, even if the intention of the speaker is. Even when the speaker has no hope of evoking feelings through the words, the listener may react differently. Warm words can elicit and invoke emotionally charged feeling and memories. And take you to a place that you never wanted to go to in the first place.

Such words, when said to others, are problematic because they can impact a marriage. It's not only the fear or possibility that the words could potentially lead to action; even if they do not, they could lead to problematic or inappropriate thoughts, which are in some ways even more dangerous. If words are intended to connect two people together, and the words are words of endearment, then the reaction that should be achieved is one of loving feelings for the speaker. And being that the listener is your husband, there is simply no place for him to be listening to words of endearment from another woman, nor should she be saying them to him.

Warm words can illicit and invoke emotionally charged feeling and memories

The Torah tells us that when we get married, we have a special relationship with our spouse. And certain things are reserved only for our spouses. One of these things is specifically words of endearment. We do not take these special terms and "throw" them around to others. We reserve them and keep them private, so that they serve only to enhance our marriage.

In the same way that our "physical speech" (i.e. relations) is something that takes place only between husband and wife, so too words of endearment, words of love, which are considered the predecessor to all forms of physical contact.

So what should you do now in this situation? I would encourage you to talk to your husband when he is calm and it is a time and situation that are conducive for effective communication. Explain to him how much it means to you when you share words of endearment with each other, and how much it bothers you when such words are coming into your marriage from someone else. Explain to him how all ways of affectionate communication should be reserved for each other only. Let your manner be one that is loving and not accusatory, so as to have your communication to him be most effective. Just speak from your heart, since we are taught that "words from the heart enter the heart" (another proof that no one else should be speaking words of affection to your husband!).

And remember the directive from King Solomon that "words from the wise, when spoken gently are heeded" and hopefully your husband will recognize that his conversations with his ex are causing unnecessary tension and he will put an end to them.