By Mufti Abdur Rahman ibn Yusuf Mangera
In the name of Allah, the Inspirer of truth.
In life, it is quite natural that things don’t always necessarily go the way we want them to. Life is full of difficulties, challenges and obstacles. What defines whether a person will be successful in this life is the knowledge of how to deal with these problems in a correct and wise way. This is what our religion teaches us – belief in Allah and the firm acceptance that He is our Lord and Sustainer helps us to rise above our self-centred natures as we have a higher authority to invoke, to please, to seek support from and from whom we receive rewards in this life and the next. A believer’s trust in Allah makes him understand that despite all the apparent negativities that may surround him at any point in his life, if he continues to do the right thing in the right way, that is according to deen, then Allah will help him and guide him towards a better end, as Allah is the Wise, the All-knowing.
Complaining about our spouses
Many of us may have witnessed within our own family or elsewhere a married couple experiencing problems with each other – a few months into the marriage when the romantic period, where everything seemed to smell of roses, is gone, the defects of the spouse begin to become apparent. Each begins to see shortcomings in the other that they hadn’t noticed thus far and may even begin to regret having married his/her partner. So the first thing they do, particularly so for women, is that they call their mother. Mothers will quite naturally be partial to their own son or daughter. This is the reality and mothers are not to be blamed for that, it’s just the way they are (and may Allah bless them for it as the positive aspect of this is truly beneficial for us). Even supposedly ‘tough’ fathers are sometimes guilty of this favouritism too!
In a related story, it is mentioned that there was a woman who called her mother every single time she had a problem with her husband. While her mother would normally listen to her complaints and both would engage in a back-biting session, on one occasion the woman was surprised to hear a different answer from her mother. She asked her: “Have you prayed to Allah first to resolve your matter?” The daughter was very surprised as her mother had never asked anything like this before. She continued: “Look my girl. I love you a lot, but I think it’s unfair for us to keep talking about your husband like this.” The daughter was dumbstruck. She was completely caught by surprise by the response, because this was the same mother who had always listened attentively to her and supported her, who would suggest retorts to the husband and who had blindly taken her side in every situation. Surprising as it may have been to the daughter, the mother had become aware of the fact that supporting her daughter in back-biting the son-in-law was not helping the situation in any way. The mother then explained: “You and your husband have a very special relationship, which I don’t have with your husband. Whatever happens between the two of you, it’s much easier for you to resolve it amongst yourselves, to overlook and to be patient and forgive each other. I’m looking at the situation as a third party, with emotional attachments to you alone and not to him, so I don’t want you to call me anymore about this problem.” The words of the mother hit home and the daughter understood that it was her own responsibility to deal with her issues. Soon Allah most High gave her the wisdom to approach them herself and the problems were soon resolved between husband and wife. This mother had some wisdom in what she said to her daughter. Many parents are not like this and will continue to carelessly engage in back-biting to support their children. If our parents speak ill of our spouses, even if they are perfect for us, we will also inevitably begin to think ill of them. Although it is very difficult, we must be able to politely tell our parents that what they expect and what we expect from our spouses may not be the same thing and that nothing more needs to be said.
Another common problem between spouses that can be extremely detrimental for relationships is the concept of ‘emotional blackmail’. When tensions rise, the husband can be quick to say, “I’ll divorce you!” and the wife may be even quicker to respond, “Give me a divorce then! If you don’t like me, why don’t you really do it?” Although in most cases they don’t really mean what they are saying at all, but are simply in a state of heightened emotion and getting carried away, spouses may say things like this to each other. In some extreme cases, these sorts of outbursts even lead to actual divorces, despite the fact that they didn’t really mean any of it when the argument started. We must understand that the words we utter from our mouths can have a significant impact on our lives, whether we consider them seriously or not. So important an issue is the impact of words that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to change the names of people who had names carrying bad meanings, replacing them with pleasant ones. On one such occasion he came across a man who was called Hazn, meaning ‘the aggrieved one’, and so changed his name to Sahl, meaning ‘easy-going’.
Just as names and the words we utter have an impact on us, so too must we realise that if we keep saying bad things to each other, whether we actually mean them or not, then Shaytan will seize that opportunity to create discord between two people, especially spouses. Sometimes people are simply not in the right state of mind to consider things calmly: the husband may have had a rough day at work, struggled through terrible traffic and when he arrives home he may be stressed, hungry, tired and frustrated. Similarly, the wife may have had a particularly tiring day at home, with the children playing up or just feeling the mental drain of no adult company all day. So in those moments it is especially important to reflect on how we should greet each other, what we say to each other and the way we say it as well.
We must be able to admit that we all make mistakes and sometimes behave with each other in ways we shouldn’t. But even when we realise that we have made a mistake in our behaviour, our arrogance keeps us from going to our partner and saying salaam, from making peace. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “The one who says salaam first, is free from arrogance” (Bayhaqi). This arrogance is the very thing that keeps us from reconciling – we carry a false notion that if we admit our own fault, our spouse will always try to take advantage over us. In reality, admitting the mistake to the wife or husband will most likely make love increase. The practice of admitting mistakes and reconciling with our partner will increase the probability that they will also return the favour when a mistake is made by him or her. Saying kind words, bringing gifts, being the first one to say salaam, asking about how each other’s days have been and overall trying to make the other understand that we really care; these are the things that ‘score points’ with our spouse. We have to make an active effort to do these kinds of things and we must be aware of what our spouses need. Men and women are not the same and will appreciate different things. Women may feel cared for through gifts while a man presented with the same gift would find it an insult to his manhood! A man may simply crave his wife’s womanly attention and care. At the end of the day, the more points a couple can score with each other the happier and more romantic their relationship will be.
Many men think that as soon as children arrive they become more important than their wives. In the example of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the Companions, the focus of love is on the relationship between spouses, not between parents and children. The parent-child relationship should be more focussed on tarbiya, that is bringing up children with sound moral and social values. Researchers are now saying that the wife should have more priority in the eyes of her husband than the children, due to the fact that a happy and loving relationship between husband and wife in a family means they are more likely to be on the same page when it comes to this tarbiya and raising their children. Otherwise, if there is a dispute between the two of them, it is sadly often seen that out of spite for the other the wife or husband will sometimes allow the children to do things that the other one doesn’t approve of! Thus the children become tools by which the spouses poke at each other in their dispute. It can easily be seen the kinds of values these children will grow up with. If the husband and wife both make each other their first priority, these issues should not arise and they are more likely to have a healthier and happier household.
Dealing with differences
As human beings we are all created with unique personalities, and thus it is expected that our mentalities will not always be on the same wavelength as our partners’. As time goes on and the marital relationship becomes more mature, the husband and wife may both come across many issues on which they don’t think the same way and this is perfectly normal! These differences shouldn’t have to cause any problems in the marriage unless the husband or the wife, or both, state blatantly that they are not on the same page. Such a statement can generally prove to be very detrimental as it indicates to the other person that “we are different” or “we should not be together.” In cases of difference in opinion, being outspoken without considering the emotions of the other can be extremely detrimental to the relationship. Instead, both should assess the situation and try to find out what makes his or her partner think differently and thus come to a compromising middle point.
From the very initial stages of marriage we should always be considering these sorts of issues to allow us to build a good relationship in the long run. Rather than allowing anything to escape our lips in a fit of rage, we should consider the implications that our words will carry in the future and how these words will impact the relationship. It’s unfortunate that so many couples have overlooked these problems and year after year they have had to endure a terrible relationship with their partner. It may come to a point where they completely give up hope on making things better and learn to live in dispute forever! Imagine the message that this gives to the children of such a family. Children will learn the secrets to living a happy life from their parents. Where else will they learn it from? All that is shown on television are the sensationalist dramas that represent to them the worst kinds of family disputes: disloyalty, unfaithfulness, infidelity, abuse. These are what make the TV shows juicy but sadly they are only reflections of what a child may be seeing in their own household between their very own parents.
At this point, whether our marriage is in its early stages or further ahead down the line, we must understand that having problems in a relationship is normal but we must not let it stay in that state for long – active steps must be taken to make our relationships better. The first thing one can do is to contact someone who can help. It doesn’t matter if it has already been 20 years. This someone can be an Islamic scholar with whom you have a good relationship and you have confidence in the soundness of his Islamic knowledge and practice; it can be an uncle or an aunt who understands you and can give good advice; or it can even be a dear friend. This is where good social relationships can come to our assistance. Identify the cause of the problem and ask someone to help in solving it. These problems may sometimes be caused by certain personality traits, or a specific issue such as jealousy, arrogance, or lust for certain haram things etc. There are specific adhkar and other a’mal that can help in such cases and help us to get rid of these problems. The key here is making the intention to seek out our own flaws, find solutions for them and then to take proper actions. If a doctor gives us medicine for a problem that we’ve had for a long time, then we must expect to spend some time and effort to follow the prescription of the doctor properly to get rid of the long-standing disease. Similarly, when an Islamic Scholar, a Shaykh, gives us a spiritual prescription to solve the issues in our family life that we may have had for years, we also must be careful and diligent and expect to spend some time in following those guidelines to rid us of our problem.
Our deen is an all-encompassing lifestyle. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) dealt with all of these kinds of issues and has left a perfect example for us to follow. We should never hesitate to ask for help and guidance from others and must make continuous and abundant du’a to Allah most High. We should establish relationships with the respected ‘ulama, so that we can turn to them when we need assistance. Good relationships with family and friends are extremely beneficial for helping to resolve household disputes should they arise, so we should always maintain good ties with the people around us. Islam is a social religion and we are social beings —we have not been enjoined with hermitic life, or with an existence living alone, angry with everyone else. It is mentioned in a hadith that the believer is a place of affection: there is no good in the one who is not affectionate and interacting well with others and people do not interact well with him (see Musnad Ahmad). Thus good social interaction can take us to great heights. We must commit to identify the root of the problems we face in our relationships, seeking help from Allah. We should act upon wise counsel with determination and strive to build a strong relationship with our spouse which inshaAllah will in turn ensure the sound upbringing and nurturing of our children.
Transcribed by Mohammad Asif ul Haq
Edited by Mirina Paananen