Marriage like any other relationship is never perfect. Even the best of marriages tumble. Most experts agree that the key to a successful and loving marriage is hard work, commitment and constant re-evaluation of our expectations and how we communicate. Sounds easy enough, but in reality, it's easier saying than doing.
I spoke to a few marriage therapists and Muslim counselors in South Africa and asked what they noticed to be the most common niggly issues that couples face. Of course, there were more complex problems like infidelity and drugs, but the others may surprise you and might have you take a second look at your own relationship.
1. I Love You…Now Change- This seems to be one of the biggest issues most couples face. Spouses so often try to change the other to a version that they would love more. The very qualities that were cute in the beginning turn into something that causes much resentment and contempt.
If you married a slob, he will not automatically change into a neat and orderly person because you want him to. The only person you can change is you. The best you can do is changing your response.
2.Talking VS Communicating- The most common misconception threatening marriage is that couples mistakenly believe that talking means communicating, that is, whenever they engage in talking, they believe they are communicating.
Voicing our complaints, criticism and emotional blackmail are not tools of communication. Learn to express your feelings with assertiveness and not from a point of complaint and criticism. This will help protect your marriage at a later stage. Effective communication means we listen and we are willing to see the world through the eyes of our partners, and not only our own. If we listen as well as we speak, real connecting would take care of itself.
3. Time Management- Modern lifestyle equals stressful lifestyle. Time is of the essence and many couples do not manage their time efficiently. Couples are pulled in all directions on a day-to-day basis except towards each other.
Quality time even if it is just five minutes a day, is an essential requirement of marriage. Couples need to regularly re-evaluate their relationship in a gentle and honest manner, if only just to know whether they are on the same page or not.
4. Intimacy- Nadirah Angail, author and therapist from nadirahangail.com believes that lack of intimacy is a major issue in Muslim marriages. “Sex is only a small part of intimacy’’, she says. It is more about being fully engaged as a couple. Staying connected on every level. Spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. Most couples constantly face an uphill battle to keep the spark alive. Intimacy is not a goal that couple should seek but rather a journey, which lasts throughout marriage.
5. Turned Focus- The most frequent issue men seem to have is that the focus of the wife changes when the couple have children. It often leads to the husband feeling inadequate and neglected which in turn, leads to lack of intimacy. Couples also allow technology to interfere with their relationship; this is quite rampant with people texting at dinner, surfing the Internet in the evenings and using their smart phones constantly.
As a result, the focus on each other is shifted. Sitting next to your partner with your own tablets does not equate to quality time.
6. Money, Money, Money- Money is a huge issue. Marriages can often survive infidelity but money issues can be a dissolver of the marital union universally. Nadirah maintains that this issue is not uncommon in the Muslim household. It can be way at times for the insecure man to control the woman. In a two-income household, there is often resentment felt for the partner who earns more. This often leads to unhealthy competition.
7. Forgive Me; Honey- Forgiveness should come easy to a relationship based on mutual love. Not so for a majority of couples according to the experts. Unwillingness to forgive for minor offences (i.e. not unpacking the dishwasher, leaving clothes lying around) and major issues (i.e. accumulating debt) can affect negatively on a relationship. Most issues in a marriage can arise from a partner’s unwillingness to forgive each other. In marital life, forgiveness should be unconditional.
8. Lack of Appreciation- When appreciation is low, conflict is high. Lack of appreciation is often the root cause of infidelity in marriage. Couples tend to take their partner for granted. They mistakenly believe they will always be there. When two people feel 100% validated and appreciated by their partner, there is little room for conflict.
9. Emotional Affairs- Islamic Care line, a counseling service for couples in South Africa has seen a major rise in emotional affairs with the advancement of technology. These affairs are usually not about sex, but more an emotional intimacy shared with someone else rather than the partner.
Learning to trust and be emotionally healed after these types of affairs can be incredibly difficult. Couples face a huge uphill battle, and it can be avoided if the partner learned to express their feelings and needs to their significant other.
10. Power Struggles- Anisa Moosa, a social worker at Islamic Care line finds this to be huge issue in marriages as couples compete even spiritually to be on top of the relationship. Each partner tries to outdo the other and this can have disastrous effect if the couples do not know when or how to toe the line.
When winning and being right becomes more important than having a loving union then the victory is often hollow and short lived. Relationships are complicated and couples’ circumstances are unique. Although these are certainly not all of the relationship troubles that can befall us, they are the most common ones, which seem to be reported. Always invest in your relationship and be grateful that Allah has bestowed you with a beloved partner in this world.