Fifteen Tu B’av Tips for Creating, Renewing and Maintaining Marital Passion
Originally posted in the Eden Center blog
The 15th of Av is considered a joyous day in the Jewish calendar. In ancient times, this date was celebrated as a matchmaking day, when the daughters of Israel would dance in white dresses in the vineyards. Talmudic sources cite several other significant events related to this date, including the lifting of a ban of intermarriage between the tribes of Israel.
In modern days, Tu B’av is considered by some to be a holiday of romantic love and as such, a perfect day for singles and matchmaking events, romantic dates, engagements and weddings.
For couples already married, whether for one year or fifty, the exciting feelings related to the initial stages of dating, flirtation and courtship might seem elusive.
What better day is there than Tu B’Av to reflect on ways to keep your connection loving and romantic? In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, I have prepared 15 tips to keeping passion alive in your marriage, and not just on Tu B’Av.
- Don't be ashamed to be the initiator. Initiating and creating intimacy with your partner means risking feeling rejected, a feeling often associated with shame. However, vulnerability is essential to intimacy. It is about being honest about our feelings, fears, and needs.
- Go on a date with your spouse. Discuss your thoughts and opinions about politics and current events, what your personal and professional life goals are and even study something together. Do not talk about the house, the kids or errands. Get dressed up and look into each other’s eyes, and not at your phones. Stay curious and focused on getting to know your partner better and really, really listen.
- Be compassionate and empathic. Research shows that empathy in relationships is, indeed, sexy. Feeling cared about and understood is a great feeling and it increases feelings of security. To be empathic requires you to step in to your partner’s shoes and connect to what they are feeling. To accomplish this, you need to stay non-defensive and remember that you are not responsible for what they are feeling, nor are you required to find a solution.
- Don't be ‘shomer’. Many Orthodox couples are puzzled that one or both of them actually felt more desire before marriage, when physical touch was ‘off limits’ then after, when it isn’t only allowed, but expected. The reality for many couples is that they feel pressure related to a ‘100% off’ and ‘100% on’ cycle and this may inhibit either partner from initiating a hug or even using affectionate names, for fear it will be misconstrued as an invitation for intercourse. Every once in a while, pretend that you are ‘breaking shomer’ and just kiss or fondle each other, with the agreement that going any further is off limits.
- Be playful. Pretend, play out a fantasy, try something new, or play the game Monogamy. But hold on to your sense of humor, as it could get awkward.
- Say thanks. Expressing genuine appreciation doesn’t cost anything, but can make both you and your partner feel better about your relationship. And, research shows that gratitude increases relationship satisfaction and intensifies the feeling of being connected.
- Express yourself emotionally. Ambivalence over emotional expression (AEE) is a measure of the extent to which a person is comfortable with the way she or he expresses emotions. Studies demonstrate that lower AEE scores, meaning, feeling more comfortable expressing emotions, is correlated with greater relationship and sexual satisfaction.
- Express yourself sensually. Whether you are sharing a dessert, expressing a loving emotion or giving or receiving touch, if you feel pleasure, express it verbally. Try to overcome your inhibitions and make noises if you feel excited. Your partner will love it.
- Focus on your partner. David Schnarch, author of ‘Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships’ offers the following: “focus on engaging your partner during sex. Pay attention to what he/she seems to be thinking and feeling, rather than simply trying to bring him or her to orgasm. Try to establish a deeper emotional connection. Emphasize the special relationship you're trying to develop, rather than getting lost in your sensations.”
- But also, know what you like, and tell him/her. People can be shy or inhibited about sharing what they enjoy, both in and out of bed. But letting your partner know what feels good for you, is your gift to him/her.
- Send flirtatious text messages. If you are married more than fifteen years, you may have missed out on the rush accompanied by SMS/WhatsApp emojis and innuendos that signify that your potential partner may be interested. Recreate the ‘butterflies in your stomach’ feeling but don’t forget to delete the more intimate ones in case the kids look at your phone.
- Create physical, emotional and mental space for intimacy. This means honoring the time you planned to be together without giving in to distractions such as email or laundry- yet, it also means showing up with authenticity, such that if you are feeling distracted, distant or disconnected, say so.
- Work on positive self and body image. You have to love yourself to feel free loving your partner. Studies show that having a positive body image, and positive genital self-image, improves sexual function in men and women. Each partner should take the time to learn about and nurture their own bodies and be comfortable with themselves, in order to feel comfortable exposing themselves to their partners.
- Stay emotionally connected. If you are feeling reactive or defensive, be calm, authentic and non-blaming in communicating your feelings. If you have hurt you partner, even without intent, express genuine remorse. All couples fight, but make sure to recover.
- Stay un-enmeshed. Remember that you are two separate people and you don’t have to share emotions, or opinions, or always want to do the same things. Healthy boundaries, autonomy, and the space necessary for developing outside hobbies and friendships keep the relationship infused with vitality and interest.
May this day, and every day, be filled with the joys of intimacy, including passion, connection, commitment, and pleasure.