It is He who created you from one soul and created from it its mate that he might dwell in security with her. (Al-A’raf:189)
Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and blows up the bonfire.
~Francois de la Rouchefoucauld
“So,” he announced from the Skype screen, “now you need to tell me why you’re angry with me.”
I had tried to bury my hurt, to get over it on my own without making waves, but he always knew. So I told him: two days earlier he’d made a joke that had wounded my feelings.
As usual, far from being repentant, he was annoyed, and quick to justify himself; it was as if he’d assumed that I was calling into question his worth as a human being. Why couldn’t he understand me? I sank deeper into despair as he grew more frustrated and annoyed at my “failure” to see his reason.
When I’d been with Ahmed in person, there hadn’t been this tension between us; we would talk problems over in a reasonable way and quickly reach an agreement. But now, in our on-screen meetings, we often make molehills into mountains. Conflicts quickly escalate and communications become misconstrued, especially if the cameras aren’t streaming and we can’t see each other’s facial expressions and body language.
“I have to go,” he finally said, “but I want to come back later and resolve this. Will you be online?”
I looked down and shook my head.
“Why are you so angry?” he asked.
“It’s not anger,” I whimpered.
“What is it then?”
“Desolation!” I tearfully blurted out.
He nodded thoughtfully. “‘Desolation,’” he mused, then gently remarked, “Every day you learn a new big word.”
Suddenly the humour of my own melodramatic pretensions hit me like a tidal wave, and I burst out laughing. “Ahmed,” I said, “no matter what happens, I love you!”
Need I say that we met again later and worked it all out?
A world of connection
The world has changed in such a way as to make long distance marriages more and more feasible and common. There’s nothing new about troops stationed on foreign soil, immigration red tape, and separate careers within families, but it’s only been recently that the internet and cheap long distance phone rates have rendered marriages much easier to nurture during times of geographical separation.
I love digital technology! If it weren’t for the internet, I would never have met and married my best friend, soulmate, and deen partner, Ahmed. I also would never have met his wonderful family and friends. He wouldn’t have met my family and friends. And we wouldn’t have been able to maintain our rapport and develop our budding relationship through the long wait for his visa.
My sister-in-law once remarked, “You’re so lucky! You get to talk to your husband face-to-face for an hour every day!” In her busy life with four small children, an hour a day of uninterrupted dialogue with her husband seems as remote as Tahiti.
The fact that online meetings have to be directly one-on-one is truly a blessing worth counting! I’ve even become a bit spoiled— if my husband checks his emails or answers chat message from a friend while he’s online with me on Skype, I sometimes feel miffed. That little island of time with him is so precious I don’t want anything invading it!
Another advantage to separation is that when couples are forced to spend time apart, they aren’t quite so ready to take each other for granted afterwards. When you’re back together and feeling annoyed about socks on the floor, you can just remind yourself of how hard it was to be apart, and rejoice that your spouse is now at your side!
When the early months of a marriage are spent at a distance, this sometimes establishes a helpful context that carries over for the long-term. I know one couple that talked on the phone every day while the husband was stationed overseas. Now that they’re living together again, whenever they have a discussion that begins to get prickly, the husband says, “Phone me,” and they go to separate rooms to complete the conversation by telephone. They’ve learned that this helps reduce the tension, while reminding them of how lucky they are to be together!
It isn’t all rosy. Many marriages fail as an indirect result of geographical separations. Sadly, in some cases the human need for intimate connection seeks satisfaction in haram ways. It can be hard to maintain trust when you know you can’t be a garment for your spouse, when you fear giving in to temptation because you aren’t getting the physical reassurance of love that we all need.
The lack of relationship security can also increase tension in the relationship. Sometimes, in our sense of helplessness and frustration, we blame each other for things over which we have no control, demanding that the other jump through hoops to prove his or her love.
For these reasons, and in obedience to Allah (SWT) we need to avail ourselves of every tool at our disposal for keeping our marriages strong and happy, even at a distance! Pay close attention to these distance-bridging techniques. Some of them may surprise you, but they’ve been proven to work!
Ways to cope
1. Place your spouse on a pedestal!
In long-distance relationships, idealisation can actually strengthen the long-term health of a marriage, allowing partners to overlook each other’s weaknesses and focus on the positives.
2. Reassure each other of your love.
Make this a daily obligation, something you do outside of your regular meeting times. Write ‘Show some love!’ in your agenda each day and then make a point to send a loving message, a romantic Facebook post, or a phone text to show your partner that he or she is always in your mind and heart.
3. Remain in contact.
Studies of couples reunited after years of separation because of war showed that the couples who didn’t divorce after reuniting were those who wrote regular letters to each other while the husband was off fighting. So share, deeply and often. Never silence each other or cut the connection without a proper goodbye. Talk about what’s going on around you, even things that you probably wouldn’t bother mentioning in person. Believe it or not, chatting about your neighbour’s new baby or your uncle’s surgery can help maintain a sense of closeness.
4. Respect each other’s feelings.
Don’t dismiss your partner’s frowns, sighs, or tears simply because they don’t make sense to you. Accept that this is how they feel and freely offer your support.
5. Hope, plan, and fantasise together.
Picturing your future camping trips and planning your living room décor will keep you invested in the marriage and prepare you for being together in person.
6. Keep studying the Qur’an and hadiths.
Support each other in your Deen and discuss what you’ve been learning and how you’ve been growing spiritually. Don’t forget that a rich and fertile spiritual common ground is the strongest foundation for a marriage.
7. Pray for each other and for your marriage in every salat.
Make du’as whenever you think of it. Pray that Allah (SWT) will keep you and your spouse from sin and harm, and that your thoughts, words, and deeds will be pleasing to Him (SWT). It’s not enough just to “stay married”!
There’s no sound marriage without Allah (SWT) at its head. When husband and wife love Him and submit to Him completely, love can truly blossom and grow in any circumstances.
It’s clear from surveying scripture that Allah (SWT) doesn’t want married couples simply to remain married out of a sense of duty, biting the bullet when things get rough. Allah (SWT), in His infinite compassion, wants for us to have happy marriages, marriages that don’t bless just us, but also our families and the Ummah.
Among my fondest memories are the times Ahmed would join my family and friends for special occasions via Skype. At one such gathering a friend of mine addressed him with a mock sternness, “If you ever do anything to hurt her, we’re coming after you!”
Without pausing, Ahmed replied, “Right now she’s with you, and if you don’t take good care of her, I’m coming after you!”
Everybody had a good laugh, except for me. I was too busy repeating Alhamdulillahs in my heart.
Warda Krimi is a Canadian journalist who converted to Islam in 2010. She now lives in Montreal and writes for a number of Islamic organisations, including Understand Quran Academy.