When a friend of mine recently passed the 7 year mark on her marriage, I said to her, “Now you can relax, you’ve passed the proverbial ‘itch’ period and it should be smooth sailing herewith.” I’m referring, of course, to the bit of conventional wisdom that says that the first year is the hardest; conflicts lessen after the fifth year and, by year seven, be wary of boredom or “itch” because it can trigger thoughts of divorce. Conventional wisdom should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt, but personal experience and years of researching the topic tell me that these flags aren’t far off the mark.
If you can hold firm until this critical time is over, then, insha Allah, you will have gathered a wealth of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work for you and your husband. You’ll come out a winner. Or at least a survivor. And although I say that tongue-in-cheek, in today’s age of prolific marital discord, it might be the best some hope for. But, with practise, and following some key points (and turning them into sustainable habits), we can hope for more. We can hope for wedded bliss and a newlywed phase that progresses and matures happily, in spite of any bumps in the road.
Here are a few guidelines for dealing with said bumps.
A caveat here: as the article title suggests, this is meant to help with the differences that are NOT the “we need an arbitrator” type ones. For those, you may need to see a counsellor.
1. Perspective Please
Most Muslims don’t really “know” their marriage partner at the beginning of their union, but even if you’re married to “someone you’ve known since you were a child”, you need to realise that everyone is an accumulation of experiences that are perceived in very different ways. You don’t know what really happened in his life, the events that shaped who he is and how he perceives the world. Why does he get so angry about things that you find funny? Why doesn’t he bat an eyelid over things that infuriate you? He perceives your nonchalant attitude as annoying; you think he doesn’t care about your feelings.
Communication is key to discovering these nuances, the differences between the two players in one marriage, but often times (especially in the heat of an argument) the rules of civil conversation are brushed aside while he and she let their egos get the better of them. And so, for harmony’s sake, it’s imperative for one or both to step back, to look at the situation objectively, to try and see the argument from the perspective of the other party. Only when this comes into play is there a chance for a happy resolution.
It’s about the proverbial “walking in another person’s shoes” and trying to see where they’re coming from. And when you can see that, you can begin to understand what’s really going on and calm should ensue.
2. Stop Over-thinking, Start Over-Laughing
Aisha (RA) said, “I raced with the Prophet (SAW) and beat him in the race. Later, when I had put on some weight, we raced again and he won. Then he said, ‘This cancels that’, referring to the previous occasion” (Ahmad).
Couples take things too seriously. They worry about finances, and the best way to raise their children, and what the in-laws will think about this or that, and… finances. Without doubt, these things are important and have a place when it comes to strategising about their plans for their lives and for their future – but so many marriage partners don’t know where to draw the line. They fret so much about these responsibilities – that they miss out on the chance to have fun. They miss out on the pleasurable moments that can build lasting memories and even sustain them when times get rough.
Make it a habit to share jokes or get him to push you on the swings or try a light-hearted moment when you might otherwise be huffing and puffing over something. I recently got this one in my inbox (don’t ask from whom):
A young couple were on their honeymoon. The husband was sitting in the bathroom on the edge of the bathtub saying to himself, “Now how can I tell my wife that I’ve got really smelly feet and that my socks absolutely stink?”
Meanwhile, the wife was sitting in the bed saying to herself, “Now how do I tell my husband that I have a problem with really bad breath?”
The husband finally plucks up enough courage to tell his wife and so he walks over to the bed, gets close to his wife and says, “Darling, I’ve a confession to make.”
And she says, “So have I, love.”
To which he replies, “Don’t tell me, you’ve eaten my socks.”
Study after study suggests that the couple who laughs together stays together.
3. Steering the course
“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel the other, and because they spend (to support them) from their means…” (An-Nisaa:34).
Those who are familiar with my work or who have worked with me might attest to the fact that I am a champion of strength for Muslim women. Strength of purpose, strength of vision, strength of self-image. But when it comes to marriage and husband and wife interaction, I actually encourage women to take a step back and let their men take the lead. The thing is that the one doesn’t have to be removed from the other. As women generally, and as wives specifically, we can be both strong and supportive and in need of being taken care of. And when you find the ability to balance your strengths and weaknesses, you will find the ability to master your marriage, to let go and let your husband steer the ship of your marital life when things get rough. It’s his responsibility and duty to make final decisions about the things you might argue about. It is he who will be questioned about how he guided his flock – so take a step back and give him the space and support to do just that.
Muslim women should live by this hadith: The Prophet (SAW) said, “A woman who offers her fardh salah, fasts the month of Ramadhan, protects her chastity, and obeys her husband, will enter jannah from whichever door she chooses” (Ahmed).
Allah (SWT) knows the nature of women. He, azza wa jal, is our creator. He knows what we need. And when we have husbands, good, Allah-fearing husbands, then He (SWT) has given us the formula that will make us happy in this life and the next.
4. A little gratitude goes a long way
Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: The Prophet (SAW) said: “I was shown the Hell-fire and that the majority of its dwellers were women who were ungrateful.” It was asked, “Do they disbelieve in Allah?” (are they ungrateful to Allah?) He replied, “They are ungrateful to their husbands and are ungrateful for the favours and good done to them. If you have always been good to one of them and then she sees something in you (she dislikes), she will say, ‘I have never received any good from you.” (Bukhari)
When a friend called me one night, distraught over a blow up she’d had with her husband, and wanting advice, I asked how it happened. She said she’d been trying to please him with a delicious dinner, but afterwards he turned on her when she suggested he wash the dishes. “He turned it into a disaster, bringing up my shortcomings in everything,” she said. I’ll spare you the details of what he said. But in between her tirade, something more important came up. It turned out that he’d brought home a gift for her – one that she didn’t particularly like. She had asked if he’d kept the receipt for it.
“Well, that’s it then,” I told her. “You have to treat his gifts like they’re wonderful – if only because he’s wonderful. He’d probably been looking for it all day, wanting it to be perfect, wanting you to love it. He might not even realise why he’s angry but it’s probably because your displeasure was a rejection. Men are like that.” Yes, I said it!
Appreciate his gifts; count all your blessings constantly. Believe me, you’ll be happier for it. Know gratitude for ingratitude leads to misery – in this life and the next. And keeping the peace is a sure fire way to mark your seven years and beyond.
Heba Alshareef’s book, Seeking Solomon: the Muslim Woman’s Guide to Finding, Keeping, and Living Happily Ever After with her Life Mate was published in early 2010. She’s also been married for more than seven years. Visit her online at www.iamsheba.com.