It has been several years since I got married, and even more since I have been witnessing the difficulties in the marriages of a few Muslim friends: sisters who seek my personal counsel now and then. In retrospect, if there is one thing I have learned, it is the wisdom behind Allah’s description of one of the prime qualities of righteous Muslim wives:
“Therefore, the righteous women are devoutly obedient (to the husband), and guard in (the husband’s) absence what Allah would have them guard…” [Quran – 4:34]
When I studied the Qur’an at first, as a young teenager, I did not understand why the angels Hārut and Mārut were sent with the ability to teach witchcraft (called “sihr” in Arabic), as a fitnah for mankind, with this “magic” described further in the Qur’an as “that which creates discord between a man and his wife.” [Quran – 2:102]
Years of experience have taught me the great Divine wisdom behind Allah’s laws, commands and words. I have also significantly understood why people want to cause dissension between a husband and wife. It happens more subtly and rampantly than we naively believe.
First, let us accept the fact that the reason why the husband-wife relationship is the prime target of Satan, our avowed enemy, is that it forms the foundation of the happy, hearty, productive Muslim family unit. This unit is, in turn, the foundation of a righteous society. If this relationship is good, the Muslim home functions smoothly, and the next generation of Muslims grows up morally and spiritually upright. However, if the husband-wife relationship is rocky and tumultuous, it undermines the emotional well-being of every individual in the family, particularly the children.
Nothing helps raise better children than righteous Muslim parents who are emotionally close, compatible like good friends, and incessantly loving towards each other. If the parents are practicing Muslims as individuals, but do not get along well with each other, the children will not be able to grow up feeling emotionally secure and confident.
In the early days, a husband or wife – or both – usually continue to seek advice and guidance in their personal matters from their parents, out of habit: both are young, inexperienced in making independent decisions, and not very close to each other. However, parents on both sides should discourage this in the long term as it can undermine the pair’s close relationship.
Imagine the wife always turning to her mother, father, sibling or friend when she faces any problem, be it a pregnancy-related ailment, a plumbing fault in the kitchen, or – Allah save us – intimate details of her last fight with her husband.
On the other hand, the husband might consult only his father for financial and career advice, or his siblings or friends when worried about some workplace problem, giving his wife attention only when retiring to bed at night.
If both spouses continue thus, it will not be long before things take a downturn between them. This is because, no matter how close someone else might have been to the husband or wife before marriage, continuing to confide in them instead of their spouse will make them find out intimate marital details, which in turn will make them involved. Interference and conflict will be the obvious outcome.
Parents of the couple like to feel needed even after the marriage and take their time to let go. It is, however, entirely up to the wise couple to keep their personal matters to themselves; even something as trivial as what they had for dinner, what ornament they just bought for their living room, or what they plan to do with the annual job bonus.
Early in the marriage, say within one or two years, if things are not rectified, a wedge will form between the couple, and it can continue to keep them emotionally apart from each other with each passing year, even if they continue to occupy the same bed and have children.
In joint family systems, it is the wife who usually compromises, because she has little personal privacy or independence, and has to always “share” her husband with his relatives. More often than not, he continues to be close only to his family, treating his wife as just a housekeeper and child-bearer. He comes home and unburdens himself on his parents and siblings, whilst his wife is busy with the household chores. A wife might feel like talking to her husband after his day at work, but as soon as she sits with him, his mother may ask her to make the tea. When she leaves, her husband will then talk to his mother. This can make his wife seethe with frustration.
Many women piously put up with this compromise on their basic marital rights without protest, year after year. However, this acquiescence undermines their long-term marital happiness.
As I said before, it is entirely up to the individual husband and wife themselves to keep their guard up about divulging their personal matters to their families, whilst maintaining their mutual closeness. Polite but firm tight-lipped-ness should meet questions like, “So, are you in the family way yet?”, “Did you find out at the last ultrasound if it’s a boy or a girl?” or “What salary are you getting since your promotion?” We must remember that our parents and relatives love us and are concerned about us, however, whether their concern transforms into meddling is totally up to us.
Of course, individual families are always much more complex, and marital problems cannot be painted with a wide, generalising brush. Some couples are very open and accommodating with their respective families, with everyone living together very cordially, sharing everything in life without any problems. Each case is different, and what might work for some, could cause problems for others.
The best advice I can give to a married person is this: whenever you have to unburden yourself about a problem, or seek counsel before a major decision, or just need to vent your emotions:
1. Turn to your spouse first – yes, even before you talk to your parents.
2. Consult your spouse, even if you have mentally decided what to do.
3. Conceal your spouse’s faults behind their back, and if someone mentions these fault(s) without just cause before you, be quick to come to their defence.
Remember, spending time together, openly communicating, and being emotionally available and responsive to your spouse is of prime importance for the marital relationship. Other relationships can be given their dues without compromising the closeness between husband and wife. This needs discretion, wisdom and tact, not to mention fear of Allah and conscious obedience of His commands.
Sadaf Farooqi is a Pakistan-based mother-of-two who has faced and overcome with Allah’s help, a wide spectrum of marital challenges. One of the most important lessons she learnt is that a person should not compromise emotional closeness to a pious spouse for the pleasure of others.