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The Lonely Wife

Michal Eisikowitz

You always thought you’d marry your best friend, but you’re still waiting for that “click.” How to survive — and thrive — in a marriage that feels like a mismatch

Monday, October 02, 2017

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“Finding a spouse who doubles as a best friend is a wonderful goal, but it’s not the basic definition of ‘marriage’ or ‘soulmate,’ ” says Rabbi Moshe Hauer, a well-known speaker and rav of Congregation Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion in Baltimore. “If a couple respects and appreciates each other, the relationship can still be strong and meaningful”

I t was her birthday, and a highly hormonal Simi — pregnant with her fifth, her oldest pushing five — was crabby and depleted. Desperate, she got a babysitter, jumped on the Q train, and phoned her husband at his 34th Street office. She got his voicemail.

“I need a break,” she said urgently. “I’m 30 minutes away from your building. I’ll meet you at Battery Park, then we go out to eat?”

She was whizzing past DeKalb Avenue, feeling a tiny seed of hope, when she got the text: Sry. I’m tired. Going home.

“I sat on a bench in Battery Park and sobbed,” Simi recalls, ten years later. “I’d been struggling in my marriage for years — my husband grew up in an emotionally dysfunctional home; he had serious self-esteem and relationship issues. But at that moment, I finally allowed myself to feel the pain. I’d never before felt so uncherished, so unloved.”

Elana, a 35-year-old Canadian with three children, tells a similar story of denial-and-crash. Though her husband is a good father and growing baal middos, she felt almost zero attraction to him one year into marriage: She describes him as “slow” and “socially inept.” Shabbos meals were so boring that she fastidiously arranged for guests each week — anything to avoid the loneliness.

“It took me a long time to seek help,” she reports. “I didn’t want to face the fact that I might never feel excited about my husband.”

Eventually, Elana sought the advice of a mentor, who validated her pain but urged her to connect with Hashem. “When all is said and done, it’s going to be you, alone with Hashem,” the teacher said. “That’s the only real relationship.”

Elana knew this to be true — but she was hardly comforted.

“Fifty years is a long time. The thought of living with someone that long — and not connecting — was devastating. I wanted some hope, some empowerment; instead, I got the message that I was doomed to a lifetime of aloneness.”

Elana and Simi are hardly alone: Many women experience a disturbing sense of marital mismatch, an overwhelming feeling of “Omigosh, what have I done??”

Dr. John Gottman: “Just as parents can teach their children emotional intelligence, this is also a skill that a couple can be taught”

Whether it’s financial incompatibility (he can’t be trusted with money), spiritual incompatibility (he has completely different values), or emotional incompatibility (he’s on a different wavelength; he doesn’t understand me), the feeling can be sickening, blanketing one’s soul with a deep sense of dread.

And for some, these pit-in-the-stomach emotions are compounded by guilt: “My husband is a good guy. Why can’t I just get over it and learn to love him?”

The good news, say experts, is that these feelings are normal — and hardly marriage-threatening. With the right perspective, the right tools, and a robust willingness to work, even emotions like “Help! I don’t like my husband!” do not have to be a marital death knell. 

Loneliness: Worst of All 

How common is the “Oh, no” feeling?

According to Sara Eisemann, LCSW, a Detroit-based therapist and MatchQuest columnist for Family First, almost every married person goes through the “What did I do?” stage at some point — with varying intensity.

For some, the feeling balloons into an existential loneliness — and an overwhelming despair. “Loneliness in marriage is pervasive and relentless,” Sara says. “It can feel like disconnection from life itself, even worse than not being married at all.” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 562)

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