Intimacy is vital in marriage, says Jewish author visiting Utah, and he doesn’t mean just sex

Rabbi Manis Friedman

Rabbi Manis Friedman says he and singer Tina Turner have the same question: “What’s love got to do with it?”

The “it,” the popular Hasidic author and speaker says, is true intimacy in marriage. And love, as society now defines it, truly is a “secondhand emotion,” he agrees.

“We’ve lost the art of intimacy and we need to get it back,” says Friedman, who was in Salt Lake City on Valentine’s Day to speak at the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah synagogue.

“Intimacy is not optional,” he adds. “People are more alone in the world now than ever.”

Friedman sees intimacy in marriage as true “oneness” of spouses built on empathy, self-sacrifice and spirituality. Love, as defined today by Western society, is ultimately selfish in nature, the rabbi argues.

“We get married for ‘love,’ but not really for the person,” Friedman contends. “Then we fall out of ‘love,’ and the marriage fails. A man says, ‘I love everything about my wife.’ But does he love her or just the things about her?”

Friedman, author of “Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?” and “The Joy of Intimacy: A Soulful Guide to Love, Sexuality and Marriage,” cites the following story to illustrate his point:

“There’s the story of a guy who is, God forbid, paralyzed and dies. His wife is grieving. [Someone asks] ‘Why are you grieving? He could do nothing for you.’

“She says, ‘I’m grieving because I had him, and now I don’t have him,’” he continues. “It’s not what you get from your spouse. It’s your spouse.”

And sex alone is not intimacy either, Friedman says, though it often is perceived as a synonym for it.

“Intimacy is getting past our own feelings and getting to know the other person,” the rabbi states. “You can go without sex all your life, like you can go without chocolate. But you cannot go without intimacy.”

As Turner sang, “Who needs a heart, when a heart can be broken?”

With about 40 percent of marriages ending in divorce (www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/marriage-divorce.htm), America is experiencing a lot of broken hearts — a plague of failed intimacy leading to “painful loneliness,” Friedman says.

“Intimacy is an art, not just something that happens. It must be learned, cultivated and practiced carefully. It’s time for a substantial change, because things aren’t going well.”