Due to the steady flow of emails from readers requesting me to share about Jewish married life, I finally decided to try and approach the topic; I will try to do that in a tactful and sensitive way, carefully choosing the words I use and the details I discuss.
The Jewish married life is built around the woman's monthly cycle. As soon as the woman gets her period she becomes "impure", because the blood that comes out of her body signifies the loss of potential for the creation of new life. When this happens, it is forbidden for the wife and husband to be physically intimate. In fact, no touching at all is allowed, along with a row of other restrictions - husband and wife don't sleep in the same bed, don't eat from one plate, don't pass items directly from hand to hand, and more.
After a few days (depending on the length of her cycle), the woman inspects herself to make sure the bleeding has stopped. Anyway it can't be less than 4 or 5 days. When she did that, she will count seven "clean" days, and inspect herself again each one of those days. Then she will go and immerse in mikveh, which is like a small pool of natural water. And only then husband and wife can resume relations.
As you can understand, this isn't easy. It means husband and wife remain physically separated roughly half of the time (unless the wife is pregnant, which obviously means no bleeding is supposed to occur). Some couples are in even more difficult situations, for example if the wife has her period not once in a month, but once in 3 weeks, or if she experiences heavy mid-cycle staining that might give her the same status of being "impure". Sometimes the counseling of a rabbi is required for these matters. There can also be situations when, for technical reasons, no place can be found where a woman can do her purifying immersion. Or a husband is away from home for extended periods, and comes back only for a few days once in a while, and cannot touch his wife because his visit falls precisely on the wrong time of the month... the list of possible complications is long.
However, there are also enormous benefits to the couples that stick to the laws of family purity. The most obvious is health reasons. During menstruation and a few days after it, the womb is irritated and there's a higher risk for infections. Jewish women who separate from their husbands during their monthly bleeding and for seven days after have a substantially lower rate of infections.
The fact that husband and wife can't touch each other for nearly two weeks re-ignites the fire in the most spectacular way when this period of time is over. Physical intimacy doesn't become a routine, and the husband and wife feel like a bride and groom again, every month. I think that's one of the factors (obviously not the only one) that contribute to the low divorce rate within traditional Jewish communities.
Of course it can become frustrating. On a website for Jewish women dedicated to these matters, I've read a letter from a 40-year-old woman: "My husband and I find it so hard to stay away from each other each month! I crave the touch of my husband so much that it drives me crazy!" - they have been married for nearly 20 years. They have six children. And look at the passion between them - so very rare.
Of course, the reason Jews stick to these laws isn't because of health issues or as a means to enhance intimacy. We follow them because we believe they were given to us by God Almighty. This subject of purity in physical connection between husband and wife is a complex one, and includes a lot more than what I briefly mentioned here, but I think I will stop for now.