As my husband and I approach 7 years of marriage, I have been reflecting on some important lessons from our union. I also asked my husband a few nights ago what he has learned and what he values about our marriage. It’s nearly impossible to not mention the kids during our conversations, they are just a part of us now, but I am mainly going to stick to what concerns us two for this post.
A few years ago, I met an old friend for coffee. I can’t quite remember the exact question, but she asked me something on the lines of how to tell if someone is right for you. And I can’t quite remember my exact answer, but I remember not being content with it. I think I said something like… discussing some core expectations and values and see if they align. My husband and I did discuss core values and sort of what we pictured married life and raising kids to be like in the first couple of e-mails that we exchanged before moving onto phone calls, but that’s not the main way you can tell if someone is right for you. The truth is, no matter how certain you may think you are, marriage is a risk. There is even a possibility that if the marriage is wonderful the first few years, things can change at some point down the line and your paths may separate. There’s just no guarantee. You just have to make a mindful decision, and then pray for the best. So a few years later, I found myself still reflecting on what I would have answered this sister if instead, and here’s what I think (in addition to your world paradigm):
Gut feeling is important. If you have a healthy relationship with your parents and/or other family members, their gut feeling is important. How they treat you is important, but what is more important is how they treat others, so observation is key. A prospective spouse will most likely treat you well, at least at first, even if they are not genuine, but the way they treat others and especially their close kin will be a good window to their true nature. Asking some trustworthy community members, maybe some teachers, mutual friends or colleagues about their experience with the individual in question is a good consideration. You may think that you want someone who is God-fearing, and that them telling you they do their ‘rituals’, them dressing a certain way is a good way of knowing that but it is not. And if they use their supposed religiosity as a way to manipulate you, to make you feel like they are better than you, to make you question your self-worth, to make you feel bad about doing certain things while they get away with it (i.e. not for Allah’s pleasure but for themselves) or to act like you are already husband and wife before they even meet your family, you better turn around and run. Nip it in the bud.
My grandmother used to tell me that ‘akhlaaq’ (manners) comes before anything, and without manners, someone is not truly Muslim. That really stuck with me. I had the privilege of observing my husband before even meeting him, so I got a feel of some important behavioral habits he had (you might consider this a form of stalking but so be it!)
Of course we all have room for improvement, and to me life is an ongoing journey of becoming the best version of ourselves. So I am not saying that the individual in question will be perfect once you move in together if you feel that they may be the right person. However, some core manners and values, including being receptive to improvement will lay a strong foundation from which you can both grow together. I can see that both my husband and I have grown in many ways since we got married. We are not perfect, I don’t think we ever will be, but that’s OK because that’s not the point; we are perceptive of the ongoing journey. We value communication, and we practice self-evaluation. We have disagreements and we sometimes rub against each other in the wrong way, but we are mindful of respect, we are comfortable with apologizing if necessary, and we learned not to discuss anything until our minds have cooled down. Often when my mind is busy with something that is bothering me, or I am actually trying to pinpoint what it is that is bothering me, and my husband picks up on that, I affirm that I am indeed upset but I need some time before I can talk about it. He respects that, gives me space, and eventually we do talk about it.
Something that my husband stressed on for what marriage has taught him was that marriage, and having kids, changed his perception of the world and this life to a great extent. Having a wife and children made him recognize the value of family and connection. It also gave him an opportunity to see himself in a different light, that he would not have otherwise discovered had he not gotten married. This allows for further reflection and change.
I described to my husband that for me our union meant safety, not just physically but also spiritually. He told me that for him it was feeling supported. I also feel supported by my husband, and I am sure he would agree he feels safety through our marriage too, but with varying emphasis because of the nature of our relationship.
Life is often full of trials, from trivial every day things — requiring us to think twice before reacting — to much more significant events. I wouldn’t have wanted my marriage to be my main trial in life, but rather to be the safe haven from those trials and I believe that is what is intended for marriage by our Lord Most High. I am not trying to encourage divorce here before emphasizing on the importance of trying to sort things out with your spouse through healthy and honest dialogue and even therapy if there is some work that needs to be done (except for cases of abuse and manipulation which shouldn’t be tolerated) but divorce is halal in Islam for a reason. Sometimes couples just do not click, even if both sides are good people, and sometimes the issue at hand is more grand. Marriage should be a means of growth, elevation, comfort and serenity, not suffering, and you should be able to experience the pleasures of life together with your spouse. Alhamdulillah, I feel just that through my marriage that began with simplicity and with honesty, not just towards each other but towards Allah.
As a final note, this is by no means a message to my single brothers and sisters that to have any self-worth, growth or valid aim in life they must be married. I recognize this is a sensitive issue, especially because of cultural pressure on single people to get married (usually for the wrong reasons) so I don’t want to add salt to injury.
Actually, this reminds me of something that I want to add… one time my brother asked my mom if I ever regret marrying and having children so early, and my answer is: no, not at all. However, I do regret all the time I wasted before marriage. So all you singles out there, enjoy all the time and freedom you have, but be mindful of it!