DISCLAIMER: The following column is a composite of several different experiences I have had with clients. It does not depict a specific encounter. This story is not about you!

I’ve heard it said that among married couples, there is always one person who seems to love the other person more. Obviously, this would be a very hard thing to measure or confirm in any definitive way, but I suppose it’s based on a feeling. And while one can’t necessarily measure feelings, feelings can be quite powerful and take on a life of their own.

When one feels as though they love their spouse more than their spouse loves them, it can put them at a disadvantage. It can create a sense of neediness, insecurity, and giving in even when every fiber in their body tells them that capitulating would be the wrong message. It’s not a good feeling.

Alex and Jessica were such a couple. It wasn’t so much about loving one another more or less, but their perceptions surrounding how lovable they believed they were. It became apparent in various ways—from the levels of confidence each displayed toward the other, in how they spoke to each other, and the degree of deference they showed one another.

It played out as follows.

He Said

Alex is a 43-year-old ba’al teshuvah with his own architectural firm. He grew up in Boston, within a non-observant intellectual family consisting of mainly professionals. When in college, he connected with Chabad individuals, and, as they say, the rest was history. Though his family wasn’t thrilled with his changing ideology, Alex’s independent nature allowed him to go against the grain and slowly take on Orthodoxy. Though Alex does try to keep in touch with his family, he doesn’t view them as being front-and-center in his life. None of them live in New York and he didn’t see them all too often, though he has no hard feelings toward any of them. “Live and let live,” is his motto. Clearly, Alex’s self-reliant nature seemed to have served him well for most of his life. He stood by all of his decisions and choices with complete confidence.

Aside from work, Alex enjoys numerous hobbies. It was interesting to note that all of his hobbies were solitary, or if they did include another person, that person was not his wife. He enjoys gardening, playing piano, learning once a week by Zoom with his best friend/college buddy, reading, and more. Alex appeared very grateful for the life he had managed to create for himself.

When I asked Alex about where his wife and children fit into his well-orchestrated life, he was quick to say that Jessica and their four children are the foundation of his life. They make everything else possible. He loves them all very much, and their love and support give him the opportunity to live his best life. I thought that sounded very nice, almost like a Hallmark card. But in real time, I wondered what it looked like and how much effort he actually put into his family. Before drilling down into that question, though, I thought it would be best to turn my attention to Jessica.

She Said

Jessica, also 43 years old, works as an interior designer. Based on her sense of style, I wasn’t surprised to hear that. Like Alex, she, too, is a ba’alat teshuvah, though she came to it in a very different way. In high school, Jessica joined NCSY. She alluded to a less-than-fabulous home life and was looking for something more. Through NCSY, she spent many Shabbosos with a lovely, Orthodox family and fell madly in love with their sense of warmth, meaning, closeness, and joy that she experienced in their home and particularly at their Shabbos table. With time, she began to feel like an adopted daughter and took on Yiddishkeit with excitement and also with the belief that it would bring much needed “connectivity” into her life. To this day, she remains close to this family and feels tremendous indebtedness and love toward all of them.

Unlike Alex, Jessica loves to feel close to others in a very concrete way. What she was always seeking during her life, Alex was failing to give her. Her conclusion was that she simply loved Alex more than he loved her. She definitely wanted to spend more time with Alex than he appeared to want or need to spend with her. She felt that she was made to feel very needy in their relationship, especially when she found herself begging him to hang out with her. Alex explained that it wasn’t that he didn’t want to spend time with her, but he just didn’t enjoy doing the things she enjoys doing, like shopping or going to the movies, or other such things that don’t require any creativity, something Alex cherishes.

Ultimately, Jessica was always feeling as though she needed more of Alex than he wanted to give her and that he didn’t really need much from her. Sadly, Jessica shared that she wasn’t feeling loved and maybe she wasn’t particularly lovable.

My Thoughts

There are so many obvious and not-at-all obvious ways in which couples can be well-suited to one another … or not. Though Alex and Jessica did in fact have a lot in common—as ba’alei teshuvah, intelligent professionals, well-spoken and insightful—there was so much that was not in alignment. After much discussion, it became news to Alex and even to Jessica, to some degree, that she wasn’t very good at being alone. As much as Alex relished his alone time pursuing his hobbies, or just sitting around reading a book by himself, Jessica craved togetherness. When left to her own devices, she felt lost and unloved. As their children were growing older and needing Jessica less and less, the void she felt became more and more painful for her.

An important part of our sessions was devoted to the notion of love—as hokey as that sounds—what it means to each of them and what it would take to allow each of them to feel secure that they are, in fact, loved equally. I can’t say it was easy for Alex to dig into this topic. It wasn’t necessarily on his radar, and he initially had no idea why Jessica was struggling so much and feeling so much pain. With time, however, Alex was able to tap into his inner sensitivity and empathy for Jessica, and, equally important, find ways that feel authentic to him to let Jessica know that she is, in fact, loved very deeply by him.

Jessica had to do some individual work that would ultimately enable her to find her voice, express her needs, and ask for what she wanted, without fearing that she would appear pathetic and possibly turn Alex off. Jessica also spent some time exploring whether or not she may in fact be a tad needy and where that may have originated.

Together, Alex and Jessica brainstormed to figure out joint activities that would be fun for each of them and nurturing for their relationship. It didn’t have to be anything too exciting—even going for walks turned out to be a nice activity. Alex came up with the idea of finding books they could both enjoy and taking turns reading out loud to one another. At first, they felt a little silly while doing it, but eventually it became a very special activity for both of them that led to great discussions afterwards.

You might be wondering whether Alex and Jessica did or did not actually “love” one another equally. Frankly, who knows and who really cares at this point? They both clearly love one another and worked toward letting the other know that the love was there in spades!


Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295. Read more of Esther Mann’s articles at 5TJT.com.


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