Dear Rachel,

I am married to a good and kind man, though I simply no longer feel the kind of love I should feel toward him. I feel stuck and that I am forcing myself to stay in the marriage, since I just don’t think what is needed is there. Is there anything you can do when you have fallen out of love?

Denver, CO

Dear J.M.,

It’s interesting really, this concept of ‘falling’ in and out of love. The very word “falling” implies something hard, fast and inevitable. Unfortunately, so much of how we perceive love is what we have seen in the movies. We’ve heard these romantic tales told again and again throughout our lives with different characters and different background music. But, we often forget that these are fairy tales and have nothing to do with what love really is.

In Hebrew the word for love is “Ahava.” Because Hebrew is a holy language, the structure of the word, down to each letter serves to define its essence. The root of Ahava is Hava, which literally means to offer or to give. It also shares a root with the word, Ahav, which means to nurture, or to devote completely to another. So the essence of the Hebrew word Ahava (love) is not an emotion, it’s an action. Love in its purest form is not something that happens to us, it is a condition that we create when we give of ourselves.

If we look at the Hebrew word for “giving,” it is “Natan.” Which is spelled, nun, tuf, nun. Whether you read it backwards or forwards, it reads the same. Implicit in the Hebrew word for giving, is the essence of what giving is all about. When we give away, we always get back. It is a beautiful circle, and a secret to creating love in any relationship.

In order to cultivate a sense of love in a marriage we need to work at it. And while the work very well may lay with the both of you, we must begin with ourselves. A young boy once asked his Rabbi why man was created with 2 eyes. “With the left eye you should look at yourself, and see where you need to improve yourself. And with the right eye, you should look at others lovingly, always seeking out their best qualities.” We have to be willing to take a good hard and honest look at ourselves and see where our work lies in the relationship.

If you feel “out of love” then, try doing something to help create it. Try performing one loving act a day towards your husband and see what happens. It could be as simple as offering to drive him to work, or making him a cup of coffee, or preparing a special dinner he likes, or buying a little gift, or getting dressed up and offering to take him out for a date… The idea is to do something just for him, without any thinking about what you may or may not gain in return. Just give a little everyday and see if that brings about any changes in your feelings towards him. You can view it as an experiment if it helps you to see it that way, a little “love-experiment.”

We are commanded to “love others as we love ourselves.” And personally, I find it difficult to understand how it is possible to love something more than I love myself. I’d do almost anything for myself. But, I, like you, have a daughter. And I know that there is nothing in the world more important or sacred to me. There is nothing I wouldn’t do or give for her. Loving her, doesn’t take away from my love for my husband, or my mother or my friends, or even myself… because true love is selfless. That’s why we are able to love others as ourselves, because, true love originates from the soul, not the body. When we approach loving another from a deeper place, a place beyond our physical wants and needs, we are able to tap into the very essence of what loving is.

When we look at love as just another of our bodily needs; a need to be cared for and nurtured and a need for intimacy, we may find achieving love difficult and elusive. But when we look at love as transcendence that links our deepest self to G‑d and everyone around us, then, we are approaching love from a soulful place, a selfless place. And that is what true love “ahava” is all about.

You mentioned in your letter that you do love your husband “as a person,” that he is “good and he is kind.” That is a wonderful start; a fertile ground to grow from. This kind of love that you describe is what our Rabbis call a “watery or calm-love,” like the kind of love we share with a brother or sister or with a child; it comes easy because it is innate and predictable and solid. But the love that characterizes the relationship between husband and wife is called a “fiery-love.” It’s a love that is acquired; it hasn’t always been there and it is never consistent, casual or calm. This is the level you are currently lacking and the one you want to achieve.

So again, to work towards that goal, I suggest that you try one loving action a day towards your husband and don’t worry so much about “falling” in love right now. Concentrate on “giving” love. I am very hopeful that the “growing and rising” in love will follow.

Please be in touch and let me know about your progress. I wish you much strength and clarity and success in your endeavour,