Today’s daf (Eruvin 63b) contains a crucial insight into how to maintain a healthy marital relationship and it is a source that I have referenced every time I have taught Chatanim (grooms) and guided prospective and married couples.
The Gemara begins with a statement of Rav Bruna quoting Rav who taught: ‘Someone who sleeps in the same room in which a husband and wife are staying, it is about such a person that the verse states, “the wives of My nation you have chased from the house of enjoyment” (Michah 2:9)’. As the commentaries explain, this is because the presence of a third party in the marital bedroom will stop a husband and wife from acts of physical intimacy. From here that we learn that anything or anyone that impedes or disrupts marital acts of intimacy is wrong (nb. this discussion comes within a wider criticism of Yehoshua who caused the Jewish people to abstain from marital relations for one night).
However, Rav Yosef then added a further perspective by stating that it is also wrong for a third party to sleep in the same room in which a husband and wife are staying – even in a situation where the woman is in a state of Niddah (during which time acts of physical intimacy are forbidden to them). Hearing this, Rava queried Rav Yosef’s statement and remarked, ‘in the situation where the woman is in a state of Niddah, surely [a third party, whose presence prevents and thereby guards the couple from forbidden acts of physical intimacy,] is deserving of praise?!’. To this the Gemara responded, ‘[This is not necessary, and if you were to think that it is], until this point who has been preventing and guarding them?!’. Still, notwithstanding the critique of Rava’s position, it is not clear why – according to Rav Yosef – it is so wrong for a third party to be present when the couple are forbidden to engage in acts of physical intimacy.
Some years ago I encountered Rabbeinu Yehonatan of Lunel’s explanation of Rav Yosef’s teaching (see commentary on Rif Eruvin 19a; see also Maharsha here), who observes that if a person is present in the marital bedroom where a husband and wife are present – even in a situation where the couple are in a state of Niddah and cannot be physically intimate – they are ultimately intruding on a space where the couple is able to spend casual time together and share private and intimate conversations. Thus simply by being there, the third party impedes and disrupts precious and essential time that a couple needs to communicate with one another.
As mentioned, I refer to this Gemara when teaching Chatanim and guiding prospective and married couples, and while doing so I stress that they should do all they can to protect the time, space and opportunities that they have for marital intimacy, and I also stress that they should do all they can to protect the time, space and opportunities that they have for spending casual time together and for sharing private and intimate conversations.
Sadly, while couples generally understand the former, they often are less protective of the latter. Yet what they fail to recognize is that while physical intimacy is a core part of marriage, the glue that holds a marriage together are the casual moments and personal conversations that occur between husband and wife.
Today, more than any other time in history, the frenetic lives that we live, along with the prevalence of our hand-held digital devices which can often be the cause of regular interruptions during private and intimate conversations between husbands and wives, means that we need to work harder than ever to protect not only the time, space and opportunities for physical intimacy, but especially, the time, space and opportunities for having casual time together and for sharing private and intimate conversations. Most significantly, when teaching prospective brides, grooms and married couples, we need to ensure that we educate them about all aspects of intimacy which includes the importance of privacy, the preciousness of casual time together, and the intimacy of uninterrupted words.