My friend Carol works in advertising. Last year she was experiencing the blahs in her job; she told me that she was so bored that she could hardly get up in the morning. She thought she needed to quit and start something new. However, because the job paid so well and offered excellent benefits, she endured the boredom for the compensation.
One day as she was making coffee, she heard from behind one of the dividers that her own secretary was making a bid for her job. Carol was flabbergasted. Alarm bells went off in her head, and she began to work much harder. "It wasn't just fear," she told me. "I genuinely rediscovered a passion for my work. The fact that the job could be taken away from me made it new to me all over again. When I came in the next morning, it was like coming in for the first time ever. I was exhilarated. And now, every time I start to get bored, I just remember that at any moment this job could be lost. And there it is--brand new!"
The same is true of our marriages. I had known Jeffrey my entire life. One day he came to me to confess that he was having an affair. I asked him why he was doing this to his wife. "My wife simply doesn't attract me anymore. She undresses, and I'm just not interested." I gave him the following advice. "Tonight, I want you to drive with your wife to the next town. Go into a bar, but enter separately. No one should know you're together. Let her sit by the bar and you just watch, like a fly on the wall." "Then what?" Jeffrey asked me. "You'll see," I replied.
It took some cajoling, but Jeffrey and his wife agreed to follow my advice. When they arrived at the club, Jeffrey's wife walked in alone and sat by the bar. Within moments, men started to circle her like bees swarming to honey. Jeffrey was instantly beside himself with jealousy. He finally grabbed his wife by the hand, took her straight home, and they made love with an intensity that they had not experienced since the early stages of their marriage.
It doesn't take kinky devices like these to regain lost passion. Rather it takes a mastery of our minds to rediscover our greatest blessings on a daily basis. When I was young and learning to pray in Hebrew, I came across this beautiful prayer that praised G-d for being "He who renews creation every single day." I didn't understand and argued with my teacher: "How can we say that the world is always new when that's blatantly untrue? The world is not renewed every single day, it's just always there!" He answered me in surprise: "Really, isn't today a new day? Didn't the sun rise anew? Isn't yesterday history and today original, fresh, and exciting?"
With other aspects of our lives, it's a far greater challenge to sustain passion and interest. We wake up every day and follow a routine. Our spouses, unlike our children, don't change all that much. Unfortunately, the changes we do notice are almost always negative: They're getting older, heavier, more stubborn. Yet, in "Paradise Lost," John Milton wrote, "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." The key, of course, is perspective. From G-d's perspective, the world is reborn everyday, and the same is true of relationships.
We do not get married at the altar once and for all. On the contrary, we have to renew our commitment to our partner every single day. No matter how in love we are, we all experience innocent attraction to strangers. Why, once we have chosen a husband or wife, does G-d not make us immune to the comeliness of the opposite sex? Because he wants us to reaffirm our commitment to our spouse on a daily, even hourly basis. And this is what brings passion and prevents our relationships from growing stale.
Even couples who have lost passion in their marriage often experience a completely new buzz after a geographic separation. Their lovemaking becomes more intense because their bodies are new to each other. Why are men and women who are not passionate about each other passionate about strangers? It is not because the strangers are more attractive, but rather because they represent the exciting possibilities of the unknown. The same is true of the emotional separation of an argument. Paradoxically, it often leads to ardent lovemaking.
Judaism well understands the nature of passion and for this reason has instituted a period of sexual separation, called the Laws of Family Purity. There are several reasons for this custom, but the most important is to cultivate passion by separating a husband and wife for several days each month. They sleep in separate beds and generally refrain from any kind of physical contact. The hope is that when they embrace after a period of separation, their flesh will be like new and the spark of their wedding night will continually be ignited. When we have everything whenever we want it, we lose interest fast, just as small children lose interest in toys. But any seasoned parent knows that the way to cultivate interest in old toys is to take them away for a while and then reintroduce them at the opportune moment. In this, adults are like children.
We must be constantly reminded of our blessings so that we never grow bored with them. As a marriage counselor, I have discovered that simply reminding a man how special his wife is or reminding a woman of how fortunate she was in her choice of husband is often enough to restore appreciation and passion. By pointing out the virtue of someone whom the spouse may have begun to take for granted, we cause the person to choose his or her participation in the relationship anew.
Herein lies one important role of friendship. When a good friend compliments us, it helps us see that to which we have become blind. The reason we love compliments is not only because they make us feel special but because they remind us of our blessings.