BereisheetJewish Home and Family Life

From Back-to-Back to Face-to-Face

Nurturing a Face-to-Face Relationship

Kabbalah teaches us that before God “sawed” Adam and Eve apart,[1] Adam’s male side was back-to-back with his female side. Psychologically speaking, this is also the level of consciousness that most marriages begin with; each spouse being unaware of the other’s needs, emotions, and expectations. Clearly, if we are looking to create truly meaningful relationships—beginning with our soul-mate—we must learn to communicate with others in a face-to-face manner.

In a back-to-back relationship, each partner is involved in fulfilling their own interests. Although each participant is physically in the relationship, they are both in very distant places emotionally. By contrast, in a face-to-face relationship, each person carefully takes the needs and considerations of the other into account. In a marriage, this involves taking a real and concentrated interest in the welfare of one’s spouse.

While each person’s back is more or less identical, the face is unique and exclusive to every individual. Thus the psychological state of living “back-to-back” indicates a lack of interest in the uniqueness of the other; or a general insensitivity to the relationship as a whole.


In a back-to-back relationship, a “good” partner is defined as one who fulfills his basic obligations. In a marriage, this means being a ”good” wife or a “good” husband, but not necessarily focusing on the uniqueness of the other. Both partners are playing according to the rules, without focusing on the “facial features,” or personality traits that make them different from all others. In such personal interactions, public perceptions, and social mores also greatly shape the relationship. Since each partner is focused on the superficial aspects (or back-side) of the other, they are also far more concerned with how the relationship as a whole appears to others. Unfortunately, as we have witnessed too many times, this outward focused mindset may also (God forbid) lead to disloyalty to the relationship itself.

Fostering Personal Consciousness

By contrast, when there is face-to-face consciousness, the focus is on the spouse’s best interests and wellbeing. Instead of fulfilling the basic obligations, and demanding my own “rights” in return, the only way to truly relate to their essential character, is by having their innermost considerations in mind. This of course includes both the spouse’s physical and emotional wellbeing, as well as the willingness to direct my own behavior to meet them on their own ground. By redirecting my orientation solely to the true nature of my partner, I will also merit the ultimate pleasure of seeing them happy in the relationship.

Translated and adapted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book in Hebrew, Yayin Mesameach, vol. 1 p. 39

[1] Genesis 2:21.

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