It would be completely reasonable at this moment for you to ask yourself, “What possible advice can a divorcée give about marriage? After all, hasn’t she failed?” But there is much to be said about learning from the mistakes of others. For example, in the Qur’an there are several warnings to the ummah to remember what has happened to previous generations who disobeyed Allah (SWT) and His Messengers (AS). Experience is also one of the best teachers. As time passes by after a failed marriage, one’s perspective becomes less charged with emotion. One is able to look at the marriage more clearly and what may have led to the divorce. And the lessons that one learns from a failed marriage can help to make a subsequent marriage successful. And, indeed, there can be marital bliss after divorce. I know.
In this spirit of experience, perspective, and conversations with other married and/or divorced women, I offer the following collective advice about marriage – a few little tidbits that may help both before and after getting married.
1. Don’t neglect the deen
Islam offers guidance in every aspect of life. Before any endeavour, including marriage, a Muslim is expected to know the Islamic rulings that apply. Husbands and wives have responsibilities to each other and there are expectations. Before entering a marriage, the prospective couple should understand these and agree upon them.
2. Don’t marry hoping to change your spouse
One of the biggest mistakes someone can make is thinking that she can change her spouse. If you are an outdoor enthusiast and your husband’s idea of working up a sweat involves his Wii, don’t plan on romantic, lakeside hikes. While people can and do change, the best policy is an “as is” policy.
3. Don’t marry someone who treats other women badly
A good indication on how a man is likely to treat you is how he treats the other significant women in his life – especially his mother and sisters. Ask yourself such questions as, “Does he treat his mother with respect?” “Is he kind to his sister?” “Does he have a positive attitude towards women in general?” A man who does not have positive and respectful relationships with other women probably will not have one with you – no matter how he may treat you prior to marriage.
4. Don’t expect your husband to read your mind
I remember watching my husband walk back and forth across the kitchen, passing by the rubbish that needed to go outside. As the morning progressed, so did my aggravation. I finally blurted out in a less than congenial tone, “Aren’t you going to take the rubbish out?” My husband looked at me, dumbfounded, so I unwisely continued, “It has been ready to go outside all day.” He calmly answered, “I didn’t even notice it.” He then smiled and told me, “I can’t read your mind. Just ask me and I’ll do it.” He took the rubbish out and I learned a good lesson.
5. Don’t expect your husband to think and act like you
If you present your husband with a problem, expect him to give you suggestions on how to fix it. If you want tender words of consolation, it’s probably better to call a girlfriend. Men and women often approach situations differently – not always, but it happens enough of the time that you should not expect your husband to think or to act like you in any given situation.
6. Don’t expect perfection
Muslims are perpetual students because perfection is not possible. Learning our deen and improving our character is a lifelong endeavour. Many times during your marriage you will be wrong and so will your husband. If you want him to forgive you and overlook your shortcomings, you must be eager to do the same for him.
7. Don’t take your husband for granted
It occurred to me recently how fortunate I was that I could stay home and homeschool my daughters, write, and take classes to learn my deen, while my husband works very hard to support us. And while he expects and likes to provide for his family, I need to remind myself of the sacrifices that he makes for us. And he does many other things for us that I have come to expect and rely upon. It is good to keep in mind the hadith, “He who does not thank people does not thank Allah.” (Ahmad, Tirmidhi)
8. Don’t forget you are a couple
Work, children, family, and other responsibilities all place demands on our time. Spouses often forget to schedule time just for each other. It doesn’t have to be elaborate and expensive; it can be as simple as getting an ice-cream together. What is important is to set aside some time to reconnect with your spouse.
9. Don’t forget yourself
Being part of a couple is great, but each of us is an individual as well. If you love to take long, lakeside walks but that is not appealing to your husband, find a friend or family member to join you. People, including spouses, have different talents, hobbies, and interests – and that might be part of what attracted you both to each other. When you marry, you will naturally have new experiences and learn new things, but don’t feel that you need to let go of what made you, you.
10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
If you and your husband are having problems that are not getting resolved, reach out to those whom you trust to give you advice. Many other marriages will have most likely faced similar problems and survived. Remember that you and your husband are not alone.
Marriage can be wonderful as well as challenging. Building and sustaining a strong and healthy relationship takes work. But as any divorcée who eventually finds marital happiness knows, it is well worth the effort.
J. Samia Mair is the author of two children’s books, Amira’s Totally Chocolate World, and The Perfect Gift published by The Islamic Foundation. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals, and elsewhere.