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A Religious Life Doesn't Make Your Problems Go Away

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a single woman in her late 20s who came back to religion two years ago.

My parents never got married and didn’t stay together very long. My whole family has communication issues. We aren’t comfortable with being open and vulnerable. I went to therapy for years and, thank God, I’m continuously growing, but I feel it isn’t going fast enough. I want to get married, but I still get involved with men very quickly. I’ve been very sexually active.

The reason I have trouble staying away from relationships is that I have a strong need for validation. But now I want to wait until I find the right match.

I’m used to living such a free life; how do I not sleep with anyone until I get married?



Dear Gabriella,

Thank you for your brave question. Even though this is an anonymous forum, it’s still quite a big deal, psychologically, for you to put yourself out there like this.

I have a feeling that you’re not the only one who deals with this challenge, yet so many people are afraid to seek help. I hope your question will help others realize that they’re not alone and that they can reach out to others without being judged.

So let’s get to it.

As a rabbi, I can tell you that sometimes, we assume, about ourselves or others, that if we start to lead a religious life — if we dress, eat and live a certain way — then all of a sudden, all of our problems will go away. For some, the problems do disappear for a little while, but inevitably, they come back.

Leading a religious life doesn’t make all of your problems disappear. All it does, hopefully, is help you realize what your problems are and motivate you to solve them.

I agree that you need to solve this before you can honestly date for marriage. So let’s talk about a solution.

Because of the extremely sensitive nature of your question, I consulted with my good friend, Assael Romanelli, a certified couple and family therapist from Jerusalem.

One framework we could use to understand your challenge is addiction: you want to cease doing something, but you feel powerless to stop. Addictions are real and they’re all around us.

But the thing about addiction is that it often has an underlying cause. People often become addicted because they’re trying to nurture a void. In your case, you already know what that is: you use men to get the validation you never got from your parents.

So let’s go for the cause, not the symptom: how else can you fulfill your need for validation?

In the short term, finding a space — friends, a work environment, volunteering — where you get validation in a healthy way is a good start. Let the people in those environments know — explicitly — that you thrive on positive validation, and I’m sure they’ll only be too happy to give it to you.

In the long term, you want to attain self-validation — the internalization of the voices that have validated you in the past. Usually, this happens at a young age, with your parents. But if you never got it from them, it can be obtained later in life with a lot of hard work. You need to form a relationship with a trusted counsellor, with whom you can make the same old mistakes, reflect on them and try again, until a new you emerges.

Your newfound religiosity can also help drive that process. God is the ultimate validator. The problem is that we can’t hear God’s validation on our own. But when we study deeply and internalize how much God values our every positive action — and forgives us when we make mistakes — the validation of living a good, sanctified life becomes very real to us.

I hope this helps, and I wish you well on your journey.

Rabbi Yisroel Bernath

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