Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch has done something revolutionary in his book Getting Closer: Understanding and Treating Issues in Marital Intimacy: A Guide for Orthodox Couples. Despite the plethora of colons in that lengthy title, the book itself does a very good job of serving as a primer for newlyweds and newly-confused couples navigating the complex territory of an unforeseen circumstance that could destabilize a marriage. This circumstance would occur within the realm of sexual dysfunction, and could be either physical, emotional or psychological in nature.
Getting Closer includes in its table of contents intimacy through the lens of adult attachment styles, different forms of therapy, desire disorders, intimacy after pregnancy, postpartum depression, infertility, childhood sexual abuse, internet addiction and cyber affairs and then physical sexual dysfunction and male sexual disorders. The book does a great job of introducing the reader to many types of intimacy-based issues, although it is clear that further research and reading would be warranted.
In his introduction, the author explains that he has seen many couples, and oftentimes, while couples feel comfortable talking about emotional difficulties, they do not report that they are having a sexual problem. It is easy to understand why couples hesitate to share this information with a therapist, but this can lead to their suffering in silence while feeling isolated from one another (Schonbuch 2). The author's intent is to create a sensitive, Torah-based book for Orthodox couples to "help them to decipher and resolve the painful role sexual dysfunction may be playing in their relationship" (2).
Schonbuch does a great job of outlying basic medical information about sexual dysfunction and its types. However, I take issue with some of his methods. His first method is to focus on EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy) throughout the whole book. Though he does sometimes mention other types of therapies, they receive short shrift. I think it would be helpful for him to make sure all of the different psychological approaches couples could use to resolve their difficulties rather than honing in on only one. I am sure there are some couples who would benefit more from CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) for instance, rather than EFT.
I am perplexed by Schonbuch's decision to first list all of the emotional or psychological intimacy disorders rather than the physiological ones. If you were to have an ear-ache or a tooth-ache, first you would see the doctor or the dentist to check whether anything was physically wrong. Only if they were unable to find anything would you then proceed to wonder whether you might be having these symptoms due to neurological or psychological issues; perhaps you are a hypochondriac. Similarly, it is odd to me that Schonbuch decided to hone in on Desire Disorders before introducing us to his Guide to Physical Sexual Dysfunction. I think it would have made more sense to reverse the order. A woman with vaginismus may well think she has SAD (Sexual Aversion Disorder) when she reads the symptoms listed under Desire Disorders, and may stop reading the book before discovering that she is actually grappling with a physiological issue.
I also find it odd that when Rabbi Schonbuch was interviewed, he said "It’s not easy for them [people dealing with sexual dysfunction] to talk about, which is why I wrote the book. Instead of bringing up these painful topics, they’d be able to read about it. Because honestly, sometimes, no matter how good the therapist is, some people can’t be relaxed enough to talk about it. Here, they can read it on their own and decide how to address their problems from there," yet at the same time, he does not provide a resource list within the book itself. At the back of the book, he writes:
- Finally, there are a number of key resources for Orthodox couples seeking marital therapy for emotional and sexual dysfunction. For an updated list of therapists and resources, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com.
I admire Rabbi Schonbuch's initiative. He saw a need for a book detailing the issues that Orthodox Jewish couples face in their intimate lives, and he wrote it. However, the book he wrote should not have been published in its current form. It is a fledgling, waiting to be more seriously researched and bulked up. Doctors who specialize in these areas of sexual dysfunction should have been consulted and quoted, their works and contact information listed and cited in the back of the book. A resource list should have been included. The possible forms of therapy should have been outlined and listed without such a deep focus on EFT. Rabbi Schonbuch has written a book that details his own experiences treating and dealing with these couples, but his experiences are not exhaustive or summative. A better, more developed version of this book would reflect that reality and provide sufferers with more options, techniques, therapies and better ways to seek help.