The terrible economic news that surrounds us has given a new opportunity to the family. Now that people aren't making as much money, perhaps they'll turn for comfort and security to what should have been prioritized in the first place, their loved ones. Indeed, this may be the only good thing to come from this global recession. With families tightening their belts, perhaps parents will take their kids for a hike in a nature rather that a spree in a mall and perhaps husbands and wives will take romantic strolls on a Saturday night rather than going to see a movie.
But the biggest challenge to family cohesiveness is actually something that has penetrated the innermost sanctum of marriage. There in the marital bedroom, in what is supposed to be a love-chamber, is usually a big shiny plasma TV screen. A couple's bedroom has been transformed from a temple of romance into an entertainment cathedral whose high altar is a piece of technology bringing five hundreds channels of distraction into the marital abode.
This year alone, I have received thousands of emails from couples -- many husbands, but mostly wives -- lamenting the sorry state of their love lives. Millions of women in America go every year with their husbands hardly ever touching them at night. It seems odd that we continue to see men as sexually voracious when a very significant percentage seem to have lost almost any interest in making love to their wives.
To be sure, there are many factors that have led to the obliteration of the marital libido, especially in men. I wrote about the phenomenon extensively in my last book, The Broken American Male. Men who feel like failures suffer from depression that kills of their libido. And a man who thinks little of himself thinks even less of the woman silly enough to marry him. No man is attracted to a woman whom he thinks is even less special than he is. Conversely, in my upcoming book, The Kosher Sutra, I deal with the eight secrets of erotic desire that can hopefully jumpstart even the most moribund marriages.
But for all the reasons we can look at to explain the explosion in the number of platonic marriages, the presence of a TV in the bedroom has got to the most straightforward and the most profound.
Time was when a man and a woman had each other, and perhaps a book or a magazine, as the only forms of entertainment in the solitude of their bedroom. With little else do to, they would begin speaking, sharing intimacies of what happened during their day, their desire would be stoked, and they would often enough end up in each other's arms. They might decide, while reading a book, to read aloud a particularly interesting paragraph to their spouse. This too might lead to a conversation that would draw them closer until the ambers of desire would begin to glow.
But how is this supposed to happen when there are tens of thousands of people joining them in their bedroom through the medium of hundreds of channels of television. Rather than speak, others do the talking for them. Rather than read, they are both rendered utterly passive as they simply lay there and watch mind-numbing TV until they are too tired to watch any more. Could any sane person believe that this is an appetizer for a night of romance and passion? Since when does passivity lead to activity? And how can an invasion of so many strangers into the bedroom lead to any kind of emotional intimacy? Will a couple, married for a number of years, really choose to make love when the TV seems to provide for far more stimulating entertainment?
There is a further consideration. I have been a marital counselor for nearly as long as I have been married, twenty years. I have learned something that seems to have eluded even the great Sigmund Freud, who famously said that he remains oblivious to what it is exactly that a woman wants. I have not learned this through any kind of special insight or through prophecy, even as I am jokingly marketed as 'The Love Prophet." Rather, through simple observation of the thousands of troubled wives who have sat before me with their husbands at their sides, and with their mascara running and their makeup being smudged with tears, I have discovered the straightforward fact that a woman wants to be the center of her husband's attention and grows unhappy and insecure when she is placed at the margins. Wives are devastated when they feel their husbands' attraction weakening and when everything in his life seems to take precedence over them.
But this exactly what happens every night when they finally put the children to bed and shut out the world in the privacy of their bedroom. He lies down and immediately puts on the TV. Not only is this blather put before her, but there are even scantily clad younger women invading her bedroom where she is forced to compete. Is this going to lead to any wife feeling like she is in the mood? And if and when they do make love, can she know for sure that it's her he's thinking about and not one of the women he just saw on the tube?
Three years ago, when I started hosting TLC's Shalom in the Home and was obligated to review many hours of video tape and family show reels, I brought a TV into our bedroom to make it easier to get through all the tapes. It's still there and I find endless excuses about my need to watch the evening news so that I can write my columns and broadcast my radio show. And yet, I know that my wife and my marriage have to come first.
With so many families needing extra cash due to economic downturn, the time might just have come to put the TV on eBay, say good riddance, and make an even more handsome profit through a marriage that is more loving and more intimate.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Jewish Values Network. His new book, The Kosher Sutra: Eight Sacred Secrets for Reigniting Desire and Restoring Passion for Life will be published by HarperOne in January. www.shmuley.com