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An Excerpt from The Zimzum of Love by Rob and Kristen Bell

We’re for marriage, and we want to give you a new way of understanding marriage.

We call this way The Zimzum of Love.

Which of course raises the question, what’s a zimzum?

Zimzum (originally tzimtzum) is a Hebrew word used in the rabbinic tradition to talk about the creation of the world—not in a scientific way but more like something somewhere between poetry and metaphysical speculation. Followers of this tradition began with the assumption that before there was anything, there was only God. The divine, they believed, was all that was. For something to exist other than God, then, God had to create space that wasn’t God. A bit esoteric, but stay with me. Their contention was that for something to exist that wasn’t God, God had to contract or withdraw from a certain space so that something else, something other than God, could exist and thrive in that space. And the word they used for this divine contraction is zimzum. God zimzums, so that everything we know to be everything can exist and thrive.

We loved this word zimzum, and we were struck with how well it describes what happens when you’re married. The more we talked about it, the more we found ourselves bending and stretching this word, making it our own. You meet this person, you fall in love, and you zimzum—creating space for that person to thrive while your partner does the same for you. This zimzuming unleashes energy and creates space that didn’t exist before, generating the flow that is the lifeblood of marriage.

There is an endless mystery to this human being you are married to, a mystery in which you never stop learning more about this person you know better than anyone else.

This person has a body—a tangible physicality that you can see and admire and embrace. It’s an exotic combination of dust and blood and skin that can be weighed and measured. People also have a soul, a spirit, a personality—a vast, intangible essence that extends way beyond whether or not they are in the room.

Sometimes when people have just met or they’ve gone out a few times, they’ll tell their friends, We’re just getting to know each other.

But you never stop getting to know each other. People who have been married for fifty years regularly turn to each other and say, So, what’d you think?

To be married is to be joined at the deepest levels of your being with someone who is both known and unknown, predictable and surprising.

These surprises can bring you together, and they can pull you apart; they can be endearing, and they can also be disorienting.

K: A number of years ago, Rob wanted to move to a different part of town. A part of town where I didn’t feel safe walking around by myself. And when Rob gets an idea in his head, he doesn’t stop bringing it up—at least back then.

R: That was true.

K: But I didn’t want to move there.

R: And I did, and I kept thinking, What’s the problem? Let’s do this.

K: I was baffled that he felt so strongly about this.

That’s the maddening thing about marriage: you’re with this person who is so similar to you, from tastes to values to worldview—otherwise, you wouldn’t have married them—but then there are those moments when you wonder if they’ve lost their mind. How is it that you can be together on so many things and then all of the sudden they say something and you respond, What are you talking about?

Because of the dynamic nature of the space and the complexity of the two of you, you never stop figuring it out. This is not a cliché; this is a truth about the nature of the space between you. It’s always changing, and so you’re always adjusting, adapting, discussing, and navigating it together.

You may have the illusion that you can figure it out for good, get the right things in place, master the best methods and techniques, and then you’ll be all set—you will have arrived.

But as soon as you think you have it figured out, something will change. And you’ll need to adjust and adapt and figure it out again.

When you get married, you’re starting a conversation that never ends, a conversation that includes all of the everyday details about bringing in the recycling bin and stopping by the vet to get those pills, and did you call the electrician? And at a much deeper level it’s a conversation in which you never stop figuring it out.

You’re going to try things that don’t work.
You’re going to say yes to things that you later regret.
You’re going to spend money on something and then
later realize that wasn’t the best decision.
You’re going to have lots of conversations in which you
say to each other, Let’s not do that again.
You’re both unique, your marriage is unique, and learning
what works for you will require lots and lots of talking.

And to keep talking, you have to be honest.

K: That house in the other part of town that Rob wanted to move into? We moved there, and I tried to make it work, but I had to admit that it wasn’t working. I remember taking a trip to Arizona during that time and sitting outside on the patio and realizing that I didn’t want to go back. I knew how much Rob loved living there, but I couldn’t do it anymore, and that meant I had to tell him the truth. The thought of having that conversation was gut wrenching.

R: And so she told me. And once I got through my initial shock, I had lots of questions.

K: Which is really important. Because it’s easy to have an immediate, emotional reaction when other people are honest, without hearing the whole story and trying to see what they see or understand where they’re coming from.

R: And so we talked. And talked some more. And unexpectedly, the more I listened and the more Kristen explained, the more we ended up discussing not just the house, but the process that led us to moving in the first place.

K: And that led us into some new territory—because up until then, when we’d risked or jumped or taken a leap, we’d done it together, both of us in it all the way. Rob has a history of taking risks, and for the most part they’d turned out well. So when he started talking about this move and I had serious misgivings, I wondered whether this was just one of those times when I had to trust that he was seeing something I was missing.

R: She started talking about where we were living, but in a short time we found ourselves talking about how we were living, because it turns out that when she started telling the truth, there were a number of other truths behind that truth.

Moving, wishing you hadn’t moved, conversations you didn’t see coming, honesty loaded with implications, talking about issues that lead to more issues—with the two of you occupying the same space with your unique mix of personalities, let alone financial pressures and health concerns and work and family—you never stop figuring it out.

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