More Muslim marriages in North America are breaking up in their first year than ever before, according to Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association of the United States and Canada (ISSA).
The first five to seven years are the most challenging of any marriage. They are a time a couple spends getting to know each other better and adjusting to each other's habits and personalities.
Below are some of the main problems couples face in the early years and some possible solutions.
1. Lack of proper information before marriage
A number of problems are caused simply by the fact that the couple and their families have not discussed crucial issues beforehand. Some of these include:
- whether or not the wife will work outside the home
- will the couple wait to have children
- which city and country the couple will live in after marriage
- will they live with his parents or have their own apartment
These and other relevant issues need to be discussed and decided in the beginning stages of the marriage process.
2. Who's in charge?
One of the biggest problems is the tug-of-war between couples over who is in control in the relationship. This has led to a stalemate in disagreements, as well as bitter feelings.
Many couples today are refusing to compromise within moderation when differences arise.
While from an Islamic perspective, the husband is given the leadership role in the marriage relationship, this does not mean he runs the couple's family life like a dictatorship.
It must be remembered that Islamically, a leader is one who serves, manages, provides and nourishes. A leader must also have humbleness and humility.
A husband exercises the right kind of leadership by being listening to and consulting (doing Shura) with his wife.
Also, a husband is bound to follow the rules of the Quran and Sunnah. So differences in opinion should be referred back to these sources, instead of becoming a source of tension and problems.
3. The divorce option
Once upon a time, "divorce" was the seven-letter word most Muslim couples avoided using. Today, amongst many Muslim couples in North America, it is one of the first recourses turned to when conflicts occur in marriage.
It should be remembered that out of all of the things Allah has made Halal, divorce is the one He hates the most. Couples need to look at several other alternatives before turning to this drastic measure.
They should seek the help of older, wiser and trustworthy elders who will try to help them resolve their differences. Generally, they need to make a sincere, concerted effort to try to work things out before divorce is seriously considered.
4. Sexual problems
It is unrealistic to expect the issue of sex and sex-related problems to mysteriously disappear once a couple gets married.
In the sex-saturated culture of North America, couples tend to place very high expectations of each other in this area. They also expect instant results.
In reality, it takes time, commitment, disappointment and investment to establish a sexual relationship in marriage which is in tune with the needs of each partner.
It's important for Muslim couples to walk into marriage with proper information about sex and sexual etiquette from an Islamic perspective. They need to know what is Halal (permissible) and what is Haram (forbidden). They should also keep in mind that spouses must never discuss their sexual relationship with others, unless it is to get help for a specific problem with the right person or authority figure.
On a similar note, it's important for both the husband and wife to remember that they need to make themselves physically attractive to each other. Too many couples take marriage to mean an excuse to now let themselves go. The couple or one of the partners may gain too much weight, or may not care about hygiene and their looks in general. The reverse should be true: spouses should take the time out for these things and give them even more attention after marriage. Our beloved Prophet has recommended husband and wife both to do that, May Allah's peace and blessings be upon him.
The first few years of marriage are not just a period of adjustment for the married couple. It's one of getting used to in-laws and vice-versa.
Husbands, wives and in-laws need to practice the Islamic rules of social relations with each other. These include: avoiding sarcasm, backbiting, calling each other by offensive nicknames, and making a special effort to respect each other as family members.
As well, comparisons need to be avoided, since every individual and every couple is different. So wives should not be compared to mothers and sisters. Husbands should not be compared to fathers and brothers. In-laws should not be compared to parents, etc.
In addition, there should be regular, healthy contact between spouses and in-laws. This can mean visiting each other at least once or twice a month, or calling if distance makes it difficult to get together.
Boy meets girl. They fall in love. They live happily ever after.
This is the plot of many a Hollywood and Bollywood movie, where everyone is "perfect". Real life is very different.
Couples may enter marriage with high-flying romantic ideas and expecting their partner to be the ideal human. But all humans have good and bad points. Husbands and wives have to learn to accept each other, warts and all.
6. Making a schedule and establishing rituals
Making a schedule may seem like an end to spontaneity but it's not.
This allows you to establish your own lifestyle and rituals as a couple. It's especially important if both the husband and wife are going to school and/or working. In this scenario, a schedule helps in setting time aside for each other during a fast-paced week of work and studies.
Some rituals couples can establish may include:
- praying at least one prayer together
- attending a study circle together once a week
- deciding on a weekly menu
- having a pancake breakfast every Saturday morning
- setting aside one day on which no work or studying will be done
- setting a day when both the husband and wife will clean up the house
- setting a time to discuss finances and a budget
- making a phone contacting during the day
- deciding on a particular day and time once a month at least to visit each other's parents
By discussing and setting up these rituals, couples learn how to talk to and feel responsible for each other. They also learn to become a team instead of two people living in the same with separate lives.
7. Marriage as a restriction
Muslim men who have grown up in North America may find marriage restricting. After all, before, they could hang out with their buddies and get home by 11:00 p.m. and no one would say a word. After marriage though, they have to be home by 7:00 p.m if not earlier.
While marriage comes with responsibilities and a tighter schedule, the benefits are also there. It takes time and patience to realize that in the end the benefits (i.e. a life partner, kids, etc.) are greater than the restrictions.
8. Friends and Islamic activities
Friends are a joy and a good friend is someone you want to be close to for the rest of your life.
But friends are often the source of many marriage conflicts. Too much time spent with friends, either hanging out or on the phone, means time lost with a husband/wife.
Also, friends, especially if they are of the same age group, may give the wrong advice on marriage, due to their own inexperience in the area.
Some possible solutions to the friends dilemma could be:
- working out a "friends time" at least once a week where the husband and the wife meet and/or talk with friends privately
- developing friendships with other married couples so spouses can befriend spouses
Islamic activities fall in a similar category. Young Muslim activists may think they can keep attending those three-hour Muslim Students' Association meetings as they did before marriage. Not so.
Too much focus on outside Islamic activities takes away from spouse time. Give Islamic activities their due but within a balance of everyone's rights, including those of your spouse.
9. Not keeping secrets
A number of young married couples are notorious for not keeping secrets, especially related to sexual matters, and exposing their spouse's faults. This is not only unacceptable. It's unIslamic.
Couples should seek to hide each other's faults. They should seek advice on marriage problems from a "marriage mentor", someone who is older, wiser, trustworthy and has the best interests of both parties at heart.
How much should be spent on furniture, the house, food, etc. These are staple issues of any household and can lead to a tug-of-war between husband and wife.
To keep spending in check, husbands and wives need to draft a budget then stick to it. The household will run more efficiently and that's one less source of conflict in the marriage.
A special note to husbands: in the beginning of marriage, husbands tend to shower their wives with gifts. They do this as an expression of love and because they want to provide for their wives. However, as time passes and they keep giving, they go into debt or experience financial difficulty. As well, wives get used to a certain level of comfort which husbands can no longer afford.
Providing for a wife (and later on, a family) is not just reserved to material things. It includes spending time with her, and treating her with equity and kindness. In fact, most wives would prefer this kind of provision over expensive gifts.
11. Give each other space
A number of couples think being married means always being together and serving each other hand and foot.
Wives may initially take over all household chores, not letting the husband help or even do his own things (i.e. ironing his own clothes). They later regret this as household responsibilities increase and their husbands become dependent on them for the smallest things.
Husbands may think getting married means being with their wives all the time. This later may lead them to becoming irritable and cranky.
The key is to focus on being caring, fond of and accepting each other and giving each other sufficient space. Doing this provides a necessary balance in a relationship which is so close physically and emotionally.