What 30 years of counseling Muslim Couples Taught me?
By Sh Jamal Said
As Muslims, it is incumbent upon us to make every effort to meet each life transition we embark on with careful consideration and preparation relying first and foremost on Allah (SWT) and the guidance He has provided us in His Book and the Sunnah of our beloved Messenger, Muhammad (S). I would like to take this opportunity to advise new Muslim couples and their families whose weddings the community has joined together to celebrate. This advice is based on over 30 years of counseling Muslim couples.
From my experience, I often find that many couples become quickly consumed with tedious wedding preparations and very little time and care is taken to receive training and education necessary for what comes after the wedding despite our calls that they attend counseling offered by our Masjid. Many couples enter marriage carrying false assumptions and expectations that carry them back to my office months and sometimes weeks following the wedding. Unfortunately, the conflicts they have experienced by that time have caused so much damage to the undeveloped relationship that counseling becomes difficult and rebuilding trust requires work that they are often not willing to do. For this reason, it is important for each individual who is considering marriage or is currently married to recognize that marriage requires hard work just like other life transitions. If a person rushed into starting a new business or buying a new car or house without any thought or preparation, most people would consider that person to be impulsive and careless. Is not marriage a decision that requires more planning and preparation than starting a business venture or making a large purchase?
Consider this verse from Surat Ar-Rum which is placed on many wedding invitations yet often overlooked,
“And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [30:21]
Indeed, marriage is a ni’mah from the many provisions that Allah (SWT) has generously bestowed upon the children of Adam. It is important to note that Allah (SWT) makes mention of a specific group of people at the end of the verse, “liqawmen yatafakkaroon”, those people who give thought.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, marriage requires thought, reflection, self-awareness, and much learning. Though many pages can be written about this topic, I selected a few practical points based on my experience in counseling newly weds:
Autonomy:It is vital for both newly weds and their families and friends to recognize that they are their own independent unit. It is normal and healthy for loyalties from past relationships to shift into the new relationship, making the new partnership the most valuable for each new husband and wife. Traditions and routines will have to accommodate for these new changes. Many couples complain about not being able to attend a yearly family Eid breakfast or travel out of state to attend every cousin’s graduation or see their friends every Friday night, which they always did when they were single. It is simply not practical and not fair to the new marriage for things to remain as they were. Spouses should engage in a selective process when choosing what is most important and each must compromise giving up some things. Families and friends should respect the decisions made by the couple and not exert pressure on them to maintain traditions and routines. With that said, couples should not cut themselves off from the world, on the contrary, I suggest that they make changes to schedule regular family visits, especially to both sets of parents, and maintain their ties with righteous and supportive friends. Some family or friends of either bride or groom might be the source of problems in the marriage so it is important to be aware that while maintaining rights. Similarly, couples should schedule weekly outings just for the two of them to spend time together.
Communication:Communicating with one’s spouse is not the same as simply talking or hearing. It requires giving and receiving meaning of words and feelings and actions with empathy, respect, and consideration. If your wife shares she feels depressed at the beginning of the marriage because she misses her family, support her. If your husband feels guilty about not being able to fulfill the wants of his parents as he once did, support him. If something is on your mind or a particular word or action of your spouse upset you, communicate it openly and honestly. If your spouse is telling you something you did bothered them, be willing to hear them out without judgment or comparisons or having a scoreboard ready and instead sincerely apologize for hurting them intentionally or unintentionally and make efforts to change.
Conflict:Conflict is a necessary and normal part of any real relationship. What is most important is that we learn to resolve conflicts in healthy ways without harboring resentment. As Muslims, we adhere to the Quran and Sunnah in times of bliss and times of hardship. When a conflict arises, we turn to our faith to help us make a decision. Some couples struggle with differentiating tradition and culture from Islam and have many assumptions and expectations about the rights of the husband or wife that are simply false and completely opposed to Islamic teachings. Therefore, couples should seek the advice of an Islamic scholar on these critical issues. I also advise couples not to involve their families into their marital conflicts since they are biased and often too emotionally invested to make a sound decision. Our Masjid provides these services at no cost. Do not wait to seek counsel. Seeking counseling does not mean you are seeking divorce, on the contrary, it means you are stuck but the marriage is very important to you. An important aspect of resolving conflict is practicing patience, which is a rare quality in the fast-paced society we live in. Couples must remember there is no such thing as a perfectly matched partner; there will always be things that each spouse must change and a few things that they simply cannot change. As long as it is within the limits of Islamic boundaries, we must learn to have patience to support them to change what they can, live with what they cant, and find ways to appreciate the good qualities that they do have.
Intimacy:Allah (SWT) highlights affection to be one of the main qualities arising from the union of husband and wife in the verse mentioned previously. This encompasses all forms of intimacy: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Each spouse shares a responsibility in achieving these forms of intimacy with their partner. I will highlight spiritual intimacy since I find that it is often the most neglected yet such an important task for couples to focus on and serves as a protective factor in their relationship. This includes reminding each other of the performance of daily prayers, reciting and memorizing Quran together, abandoning bad habits, attending a weekly program at the Masjid, fasting and giving sadaqa together, volunteering, and supporting one another to abide to Islamic rulings including obtaining halal forms of provision, practicing lowering of the gaze and wearing hijab, and the many different ways of becoming closer to Allah (SWT) and gaining His mercy and pleasure.
By Sh. Jamal Said