After a whirlwind courtship, with tears of joy in her eyes, my friend Linda announced her engagement. Admitting that they seemed like a very unlikely match on the surface, on a soul level, she said, they had fallen deeply in love and were moving forward. What Linda didn’t know as she stood under the chuppah was how short-lived her joy would be, how quickly her loving assumptions would be put to the test, and how soon her dreams of their happy life together would shatter.

It wasn’t long after they were married whenLinda went from being idolized to being despised Linda approached me again—this time with tears of confusion—and confided in me that everything this man professed to love about her before they were married, was now utterly objectionable to him. Instead of pursuing her with a passion, he was now avoiding her as much as possible. Linda went from being idolized to being despised, and with every passing week, the distance between them widened as her efforts to reconnect were rebuffed.

Married, but Alone

And so, my friend found herself, as do many women in an emotionally distant relationship, with the singularly sad status of “married, but alone”—bearing the obligations and constraints of marriage, but without the connection, support and loving relationship of a partner.

In simplistic terms, we think of failed marriages as ending up in divorce, while successful marriages do not. That does not take into account the “invisible divorce,” where partners stay together but lead parallel lives. Sometimes, this is a mutual decision, where partners consciously or unconsciously choose this coping mechanism as an alternative to actual divorce. As cheerless and unsatisfying as that might be, it is nothing compared to the pain of a spouse who yearns for connection, but can’t overcome the psychological barriers that shut out love.

A New Look at Adam

I always had an unfavorable view of Adam when he blamed Eve for his decision to disobey G‑d. After all, any husband who can’t man up and own his behavior, especially as he is throwing his wife under the bus, is not an endearing figure. But this year, perhaps because my poor friend Linda has been on my mind, I am noticing aspects of the narrative that actually support dynamic and happy marriages.

Rarely do we shine the spotlight on Adam as he was hearing the proclamation of his fate: expulsion from the Garden of Eden. He could have continued to blame his wife for this regrettable outcome and engage in the behaviors that naturally flow from resentment and fault-finding, such as stonewalling and creating emotional distance. He could have left her “married, but alone.” Rather, the text continues by telling us Adam did something unexpected; he changed her name. No longer was she referred to as Isha (“Woman”); now her name was Chava (“Mother of All Living”)!

Thus, when the Torah described their marital relations as “Adam ‘knowing’ his wife, Chava,” the word “knowing” is not a euphemism. For the root of intimacy is this: “into-me-see.” Inside each of us lies our deepest and most vulnerable core, a place we have difficulty letting others see. Real intimacy, therefore, is based on both knowing and being known at this deep level, the seat of our dreams and desires, as well as our fears, especially the fear of being unlovable if we completely bare and expose this inner realm.

Reaching Your Potential: A Team Sport

Had Adam had physical relations with Isha—a female being with no separateWithout true intimacy, we can’t experience our full capacity to love identity other than being a projection or derivation of Adam—it would have been a mere physical act. However, when Adam recognized the nature of his wife as a separate and distinct person who embodied remarkable qualities he did not possess, he was able to “know” her. And just as importantly, he could be “known” as well. For when we achieve this level of intimacy, where we can know and see into the soul of our beloved, we can begin to know ourselves fully.

Without true intimacy, we can’t experience our full capacity to love or be loved. When we ride along the surface, we not only fail to achieve our relationship potential, we fall short of realizing our own. Nowhere is it truer than in the case of an intimate relationship, where reaching your potential is a team sport.

Beyond the Shock of Discovering Your Spouse Is Not You

In the case of my friend, Linda, when the chemicals of infatuation wore off, her husband was shocked to realize that she had a real and separate identity different from the projection he had fantasized. Every couple faces this challenge, as it is an inevitable stage of relationships, but not every couple seizes the opportunity to begin the courageous process of growth. This takes time! Dreams and nightmares, values and fault lines take time and patience to learn. Souls do not unfurl and reveal their complexities in an instant. Rather, understanding deeply our partners' highest hopes, their darkest nightmares, what they value and where they struggle, takes time and patience.

In a moment of shame and embarrassment, Adam was defensive. Who among us is at our best when we are triggered? But after the deed was done, he made a different choice. And from this, we can build our relationships on the foundations of humility, respect for differences and compassion. It is open-eyed intimacy that takes the bumps and challenges of relationship and converts it to the currency of a lasting and soul-satisfying marriage that endures for a lifetime.