The First Two Years: A Marriage Survival Guide
More Muslim marriages in North are breaking up in their first year than ever before, according to the scholars in North America who are having to cope with the increase in marital disputes and divorce cases.
The first five to seven years are the most challenging of any marriage. They are the time that the couple spends getting to know one another better and adjusting to each other's habits and personalities. Below, are some of the main problems couples face in the early years, and some possible solutions.
A number of problems are caused simply by the fact that the couple and their families go not discuss crucial issues beforehand. Some of these include:
• Whether or not the wife will work outside the home?
• Will the couple wait to have children?
• Which city and country will the couple live in after marriage?
• Will they live with his parents or have their own house or apartment?
These and other relevant issues need to be discussed and decided in the beginning stages of the marriage process.
One of the biggest problems is the tug-of-war between couples over who is in control in the relationship. This has led to a stalemate in disagreements, as well as bitter feelings. Many couples today are refusing to compromise within moderation when differences arise. While from an Islamic perspective, the husband is given the leadership role in the marriage relationship, this does not mean that he can run the family life like a dictator. Allah (SwT) instructs in the Quran that:
الرِّجَالُ قَوَّامُونَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ اللَّهُ بَعْضَهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَبِمَا أَنْفَقُوا مِنْ أَمْوَالِهِمْ ۚ فَالصَّالِحَاتُ قَانِتَاتٌ حَافِظَاتٌ لِلْغَيْبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ اللَّهُ ۚ
"Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel others and because they spend out of their property; the good women are therefore obedient, guarding the unseen as Allah has guarded…"(Surah 4, Verse 34)
It must be remembered that Islamically, a leader is one who serves, manages, provides and nourishes. A leader must also have humbleness and humility and deal with all of those under his care and protection with justice and equality.
A husband exercises the right kind of leadership by listening to and consulting with his wife.
Also, a husband is bound to follow the rules of the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (S) and the Ahlul Bait (as). So differences in opinion should be referred back to these sources (and of course the Religious Scholars in our local community), instead of becoming a source of tension and problems.
Not only is it the duty of the head of the house to make sure that the material needs of the family and order are kept, but it is also his duty to protect himself and his family from the fire of hell:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ
"O' you who have true faith! Save yourselves and your families from the fire which is fueled by people and stones and is guarded by stern angels who do not disobey Allah's (SwT) commands and do whatever they are ordered to do." (Surah 66, Verse 6)
Therefore, the head of the house must make sure that he has the proper Islamic knowledge to keep himself away from the hell and more importantly, guide his wife and children to the straight path and keep them on this road. In this regards, the husband has four important duties:
1. To invite his wife and children and any others under his care to obey Allah (SwT). The husband should call his family to follow the religion and encourage them in this regard.
2. Teach those under his care their religious duties and obligations ñ of course this means that the husband must first and foremost know his own religion and beliefs. If he is not well acquainted with his religion, then he must employ the services of the local Masjid and the scholars and either invite them to his house or go to the Masjid for Islamic classes.
3. Encourage the family members to perform good deeds (Amr bil Maruf), as not only is this one of the obligatory acts in our religion, but it will also help the family both in the short term and long term. If they know their responsibilities and are continuously guided to them, then peace, harmony and tranquility will rule throughout the house.
4. The father must also make sure and remind other members of his family to stay away from evil and sin (Nahi Anil Munkar). Again, this is a part of our beliefs and without doubt, that home in which people are not plagued with committing sins and evil acts is one in which Allah (SwT) looks favourable upon and blesses the inhabitants of it.
Once upon a time, "divorce" was the seven-letter word most Muslim couples avoided using. Today, amongst many Muslim couples in North America, it is one of the first recourses turned to when conflicts occur in a marriage.
It should be remembered that out of all of the things that Allah (SwT) has made halal (permissible), divorce is the one He hates the most. Couples need to look at several other alternatives before turning to this drastic measure. The Prophet of Islam (S) has told us that:
ما خَلَقَ اللهُ شَيْئاً عَلى وَجْهِ الأَرْضِ أَحَبَّ مِنَ الْعَتاقِ وَلا خَلَقَ شَيْئاً عَلى وَجْهِ الأَرْضِ أَبْغَضَ مِنَ الطَّلاقِ.
"Allah (SwT) has not created on the face of this Earth anything more beloved by Him than freeing a slave, and He has not created anything on the face of this Earth more despised than divorce."
The couple should seek the help of older, wiser and trustworthy elders and Scholars who will try to help them resolve their differences. Allah (SwT) tells us in the Quran that:
وَإِنْ خِفْتُمْ شِقَاقَ بَيْنِهِمَا فَابْعَثُوا حَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهِ وَحَكَمًا مِنْ أَهْلِهَا إِنْ يُرِيدَا إِصْلَاحًا يُوَفِّقِ اللَّهُ بَيْنَهُمَا ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا خَبِيرًا
"If there appears to be discord between a wife and her husband and if they desire reconciliation, then choose arbiters from the families of both sides. Allah (SwT) will bring them together; Allah (SwT) is All-Knowing and All-Aware." (Surah 4, Verse 35)
Generally, the couple needs to make a sincere and concerted effort to try and work things out before divorce is even considered.
It is unrealistic to expect the issue of sex and sex-related problems to mysteriously disappear once a couple gets married.
In the sex-saturated culture of North America, couples tend to place very high expectations of each other in this area. They also expect instant results.
In reality, it takes time, commitment, disappointment and investment to establish a sexual relationship in marriage which is in tune with the needs of each partner.
It's important for Muslim couples to walk into marriage with proper information about sex and sexual etiquette from an Islamic perspective (the book Marriage and Morals in Islam, by Hujjatul Islam as-Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi is one such valuable resource). They both need to know what is halal (permissible) and what is haram (forbidden). They should also keep in mind that spouses must never discuss their sexual relationship with others, unless it is to get help for a specific problem and that too one must get it from the right person.
On a similar note, it is important for both the husband and the wife to remember that they need to make themselves physically attractive for each other. Too many couples take marriage to mean an excuse to now let themselves go. The couple or one of the partners may gain too much weight, or may not care about hygiene or their looks in general.
The universal teachings of Islam also instructs the husband and wife to maintain cleanliness and beauty for the spouse. The Prophet of Islam (S) has commanded us that:
إِنّ اللهَ جَمِيلٌ يُحِبُّ الْجَمالِ وَيُحِبُّ أَنْ يُرى أَثَرَ النِّعْمَةِ عَلى عَبْدِهِ.
"Certainly Allah (SwT) is Beauty and He (only) loves beauty and He loves to see the effects of (His) blessings and bounties on His servants." (Al-Kafi, Volume 6, Page 438)
The Prophet (S) has also told us that:
إِغْسِلُوا ثِيابَكُمْ وَخُذُوا مِنْ شُعُورِكُمْ وَاسْتاكُوْا وَتَزَيَّنٍوا وَتَنَظَّفُوا فَإِنّ بَنِي إِسْرائِيلَ لَمْ يَكُونُوا يَفْعَلُونَ ذلِكَ فَزَنَتْ نِسائُهُمْ.
"Wash your clothes and trim the excess hair on your bodies and brush your teeth and beautify yourselves and keep yourselves clean, since certainly the Children of Israil never did these things and thus, their women committed adultery." (Nahj al-Fusahah, Page 72)
We quote one final hadith on the importance of keeping clean and looking nice for one's spouse where the Prophet (S) has been described as:
كَانَ رَسُولُ اللهِ يُنْفِقُ فِي الطِّيبِ أَكْثَرَ مِمّا يُنْفِقُ فِي الطّعامِ
"The Messenger of Allah (S) used to spend more money on perfumes, than he used to spend on food." (Wasail ash-Shia, Volume 1, Page 443)
Thus, both the husband and wife must take the time out of their schedules to maintain proper hygiene, to look nice for one another and other such things related to their physical appearance. Our beloved Prophet (S) has recommended husband and wife both to do these things.
The first few years of marriage are not just a period of adjustment for the married couple, rather, it is one of getting used to in-laws as well.
Husbands, wives and in-laws need to practice the Islamic rules of social relations with each other. These include avoiding: sarcasm, backbiting, calling each other by offensive nicknames, and instead, making a special effort to respect each other as a family.
More importantly too, comparisons need to be avoided, since every individual and every couple is different. Therefore, wives should not be compared to mothers and sisters and similarly, husbands should not be compared to fathers and brothers. In-laws should not be compared to parents, and so on.
In addition, there should be regular, healthy contact between spouses and in-laws. This can mean visiting each other at least once or twice a month, or phoning regularly if distance makes it difficult to get together.
We should remember that many times in the Quran, we have been ordered to maintain our family ties and relationships and one of the greatest sins in Islam is to sever ties with family members. However at the same time, the husband and wife must maintain a balance between the time they spend with parents/in-laws and with themselves:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ وَإِيتَاءِ ذِي الْقُرْبَىٰ وَيَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنْكَرِ وَالْبَغْيِ ۚ يَعِظُكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ
"Surely Allah (SwT) commands (people) to maintain justice, kindness, and proper relations with their relatives. He forbids them to commit indecency, sin, and rebellion and (Allah) gives you advice so that perhaps you will take heed."
(Surah 16, Verse 90)
In another verse of the Quran, Allah (SwT) instructs us as such:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اتَّقُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ مِنْ نَفْسٍ وَاحِدَةٍ وَخَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا وَبَثَّ مِنْهُمَا رِجَالًا كَثِيرًا وَنِسَاءً ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ الَّذِي تَسَاءَلُونَ بِهِ وَالْأَرْحَامَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلَيْكُمْ رَقِيبًا
"O' Mankind! Have fear of your Lord who has created you from a single soul. From it He created your spouse and through them He populated the land with many men and women. Have fear of the One by whose Name you swear to settle your differences and have respect for the wombs that bore you. Allah (SwT) certainly keeps watch over you."(Surah 4, Verse 1)
Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They live happily ever after. This is the plot of many Hollywood movies, where everyone is "perfect". Real life is very different.
Couples may enter marriage with high-flying romantic ideas and expecting their partner to be the ideal human, however all humans have good and bad points. Husbands and wives have to learn to accept each other, warts and all and since we ourselves are not perfect, how can we expect that form someone else?
Making a schedule may seem like an end to spontaneity but that is not true. It allows you to establish your own lifestyle and rituals as a couple. It is especially important if both the husband and wife are going to school and/or working. In this scenario, a schedule helps in setting time aside for each other, during a fast-paced week of work and studies.
Some rituals couples can establish may include:
• Praying at least one prayer together.
• Performing the recommended supplications such as Dua-e-Kumayl, Dua-e-Tawassul, Dua-e-Nudbah, etc... together.
• Attending a study circle together once a week.
• Deciding on a weekly menu.
• Having a pancake breakfast every Saturday morning.
• Setting aside one day on which no work or studying will be done.
• Setting a day when both the husband and wife will clean up the house.
• Setting a time to discuss finances and a budget.
• Making a phone call to your spouse during the day.
• Deciding on a particular day and time once a month at least to visit each other's parents.
By discussing and setting up these rituals, couples learn how to talk to and feel responsible for each other. They also learn to become a team instead of two people living in the same house with separate lives.
Muslim men who have grown up in North America may find marriage restricting. After all, before, they could hang out with their buddies and come home around 11:00 p.m. and no one would say a word. After marriage though, they have to be home by 7:00 p.m. if not earlier!
While marriage comes with responsibilities and a tighter schedule, the benefits are also there. It takes time and patience to realize that in the end the benefits (i.e. a life partner, children, etc.) are greater than the restrictions.
Friends are a joy and a good friend is someone you want to be close to for the rest of your life. But friends are often the source of many marriage conflicts. Too much time spent with friends - either hanging out with them or being on the phone - means time lost with one's spouse.
Also, friends, especially if they are of the same age group, may give the wrong advice on marriage, due to their own inexperience in the area.
Some possible solutions to the friend dilemma could be:
• Working out a "friends time" at least once a week where the husband and the wife meet and/or talk with friends privately.
• Developing friendships with other married couples so spouses can befriend spouses (but keeping in mind the separation of the sexes).
• Islamic activities fall in a similar category. Young Muslim activists may think they can keep attending those three-hour Islamic discussions as they did before marriage.
Too much focus on outside Islamic activities takes one away from spouse time. Give Islamic activities their due, but within a balance of everyone's rights, including those of your spouse.
A number of young married couples are notorious for not keeping secrets, especially those related to sexual matters, and thus expose their spouse's faults. This is not only unacceptable - but it is un-Islamic as well.
Couples should seek to hide each other's faults. They should seek advice on marriage problems from a "marriage mentor", someone who is older, wiser, trustworthy and has the best interests of both parties at heart. The Holy Quran tells us that:
هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَهُنَّ
"They (your wives) are a clothing (covering) for you and you too are a clothing for them."
(Surah 2, Verse 187)
The functions of clothing are numerous, however one of them is to cover any defects or faults a person may have on his or her body and thus, the husband and wife must act, just as the Quran commands us, as "clothing" for one another, meaning a cover.
How much should be spent on furniture, the house, food, etc.? These are staple issues of any household and can lead to a tug-of-war between husband and wife.
To keep spending in check, husbands and wives need to draft a budget and stick to it. The household will run more efficiently and that's one less source of conflict in a marriage.
A special note to husbands: in the beginning of marriage, husbands tend to shower their wives with gifts. They do this as an expression of love and because they want to provide for their wives. However, as time passes and they keep giving, they go into debt or experience financial difficulty. As well, wives get used to a certain level of comfort which husbands can no longer afford.
Providing for a wife (and later on, a family) is not just reserved to material things. It includes spending time with them, and treating them with equity and kindness. In fact, most wives would prefer this kind of provision over expensive gifts.
A number of couples think being married means always being together and serving each other on hand and foot.
Wives may initially take over all the household chores, not letting the husband help or even do his own things (i.e. ironing his own clothes). They later regret this as household responsibilities increase and their husbands become dependent on them for the smallest things.
Husbands may think getting married means being with their wives all the time. This later may lead them to becoming irritable and cranky.
The key is to focus on being caring, fond of and accepting each other and giving each other sufficient space, yet at the same time, being there for one another. Doing this provides a necessary balance in a relationship which is so close both physically and emotionally.
قالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ (صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيهِ وَآلِهِ وَسَلّمَ): مَنْ تَزَوَّجَ أَحْرَزَ نَصْفَ دِيَنِهِ
The Messenger of Allah (S) has said, "He who marries has safeguarded half of his religion."