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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Jewish tradition is replete with sources that speak about the primacy of the marital relationship. From the very beginning of Sefer Breishis, immediately after the creation of man, God says, “It is not good that man be alone; I will make him a helpmate opposite him” (Bereishis 2:18). Rav Soloveitchik explained that the aloneness that the Torah is speaking about does not refer to man’s need for a helper from a utilitarian point of view. Man does not need woman for pragmatic reasons alone. Rather, when Adam became aware of himself and realized that he was apart from the rest of creation, he began to experience loneliness. And the Torah states that a lonely human existence is not good, as it creates within man a sense of inadequacy and anxiety. In order to free man from his loneliness and give him existential meaning, God created woman.

The Torah speaks about the universal human need to connect ourselves with a mate. Only recently has science helped us to understand the extensive and deep benefits of such a connection. In the last fifteen years, hundreds of scientific studies have shown that all human beings are wired with the need to have a special kind of close connection with significant others. When we are little children, this need is hopefully filled by our parents; when we become adults the need is filled by a love relationship. Indeed, having a close connection to our love partners is vital to every aspect of our health–mental, emotional, and physical. Merely thinking about loved ones can trigger a release of oxytocin, a neurotransmitter associated with states of calm, joy, and contented bliss (Uvnas-Moberg, 1998).

Positive connection with our love partner has been shown to protect us from stress and helps us cope better with life’s challenges and trauma. Israeli researchers showed that couples with a secure emotional attachment were much more able to deal with Scud missile attacks in the first Iraq war, than other less connected couples. They were less anxious and had fewer physical problems after attacks.

A myriad of studies in the past 15 years have shown that a sense of secure connection between love partners is key in positive loving relationships and a huge source of strength for the individuals in those relationships. When we feel generally secure with our love partner, when we are comfortable with closeness and confident about depending on them, we are better at seeking support and better at giving it. When we feel safely connected to our love partner, we deal more easily with the hurts they inevitably inflict upon us, and we are less likely to be aggressively hostile when we get angry at them. When we can reach out safely to our love partner, we understand ourselves better and like ourselves more. We are more curious and open to new experiences and information and are more confident about solving problems on our own.

On the other hand, research shows that loneliness or conflict with our love partner can increase blood pressure to the point where the risk of heart attack and stroke is doubled (Hawkley, Masi, Berry, & Cacioppo, 2006). Also the more belligerent partners’ conflicts are, the higher the levels of stress hormones tend to be and the more depressed the immune system is (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 2005).

In a fascinating experiment Kiecolt-Glaser, et al. (2005) produced small blisters on the hands of women volunteers. The women were then told to fight with their husbands. The results showed that the nastier the fight, the longer it took for the women’s skin to heal.

So, thousands of years after parshas Bereishis first told us that “it is not good that man be alone,” science has begun to help us understand the physiological, emotional, and mental benefits of the connection between man and woman. Study after study now shows the power that a secure love relationship can create between the love partners and in their lives as individuals.

Why are some couples able to create and maintain a wonderful, close connection with each other, while other couples lose that connection and live with high levels of conflict or distance between them? When I ask the couples who come to me for marital therapy, what they believe the basic problem in their relationship is, each of the partners generally points to the faults of their partner as the culprit. They are convinced that they are merely reacting to the faults of their partner, and that if he or she would just change, then they would not react negatively to them. One of the partners is “too controlling” or “insensitive”; the couple has different parenting styles, they fight over money or in-laws. Whatever the “reason” given for their marital distress, the truth is that the real problem that is eating away at their relationship is that the couple doesn’t feel emotionally connected to each other.

Laura Turk, MS, LMFT, LPC, NCC, is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She practices marital and pre-marital therapy in Teaneck, New Jersey. Contact her at [email protected] or by calling her at 201 823-7933. You can also visit her website at www.marriagecounselingbergencounty.com.

By Laura Turk