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Love and Knowledge: The Basis for a Great Marriage

August 2, 2020 | by Rabbi Jonathan Bienenfeld

If you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?

“And Adam knew his wife, Eve.” You may well know exactly what the Torah intends when using this particular term. If written in the modern day, a winking emoji would likely follow. “Knowing,” in the Biblical sense, refers to the act of cohabitation between man and woman, but the Torah speaks in delicate terms and avoids describing the matter directly.

But why this term specifically? Why would the Torah take an act so purely related to the physical body and couch it in terms of the mind? What does intimacy have to do with knowledge?

The answer may be found in the research of Dr. John Gottman, an expert marital therapist and author of the best-selling book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” Gottman speaks of the importance of what he calls “Love Maps,” a working knowledge of one’s spouse replete with information about who they are and what makes them tick. When difficulties arise between spouses – and they most certainly will – it is our knowledge that helps us weather the storm.

This works in at least two different ways. First, it creates a certain “buy in” to the relationship that demands that it be taken seriously and not casually dispensed with. We’ve spent so much time getting to know our spouse, our knowledge of them is so robust, that we automatically default to saving this relationship rather than letting it fall apart. Love maps force the question: Do we really want to start such an involved process all over again with someone else? A lack of knowledge, on the other hand, creates for a more superficial relationship that we are more likely to wish to move on from as soon as trouble arises.

Another, yet more important, advantage of Love Maps is that they nurture a better relationship in and of themselves. Think of your knowledge of your partner as the surface area of the relationship. The wider the surface, the more points of contact that exist, and the more opportunities to understand, appreciate, and love. We move beyond a relationship predicated purely on infatuation – or even worse, mere convenience – to one that is characterized by a true understanding of who he or she is, their thoughts, dreams, and life story. As Dr. Gottman writes, “Without such a map, you can’t really know your spouse. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?”

Possessing detailed knowledge of your spouse is the difference between living parallel lives in a shared space and living a unified life, joined by the deep knowledge we have of one another.

Perhaps this is precisely why the Torah uses the term “knowing” to connote intimacy. If physical intimacy has become the peak of what a relationship offers, we’ve veered dangerously off course. The Torah reminds us that it is knowledge of the other that offers the most satisfaction and creates the most promising future for a relationship and marriage. Intimacy is but one dimension of coming to fully know the other and creating a powerful bond. But what we seek is more than skin deep; we seek knowledge and understanding of who our partner is and what they’re about.

Can you articulate your spouse’s greatest personal ambitions? What about their professional ones? What activities they find most meaningful? Most stressful? Their pet peeves? Their favorite activities or worst fears? If money was no object, where would they live and how would they spend their time? Seeking out the answers to these questions – in increasing detail throughout life – transforms a relationship from a passive state of being into an active pursuit of understanding and, ultimately, admiration. Possessing such a detailed knowledge of your spouse is the difference between living parallel lives in a shared space and living a unified life, joined by the deep knowledge we have of one another.

If love is something that you fall into, you can just as easily fall out. But when love is something that is intentionally crafted, strengthened through every bit of knowledge we glean about our spouse, that love is perpetually fortified, even in the face of life’s stresses and setbacks. Knowledge is indeed power. Not the power to exploit or manipulate, but the power to will fuel your relationship far into the future.

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