Finding a life partner is often a confusing and uncertain process, particularly for Muslim Americans. We have few models to follow, since many of our parents married under vastly different circumstances, and our values regarding courtship differ from those of our larger society. One of the many symptoms of our struggle is the growing instances of young Muslims divorcing within a year or even within months of getting married. How do we find the balance between knowing someone well enough and staying true to our personal values and boundaries?
Below, our contributors share advice on how to communicate effectively with partners, work through disagreements, and read signs that may point to future problems. Expand on the discussion by sharing related examples and suggestions on how to develop a healthy bond with someone that will indicate your compatibility with him or her.
Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine: “A Good Marriage is Based on the Talent for Friendship”
I always share with couples that they can’t know everything about one another before marriage; it’s just impossible. They will learn so much more once they are married and living together, such as daily habits and routines. However, there are many areas couples can explore before marriage and this requires clear and open communication. The core issues to discuss are life goals and personal values. These goals and values will impact the decisions they make as a couple in all areas of life, from finances to children to in-laws. If you are not on the same page about these two things then you will struggle greatly in the relationship. You will know someone well enough if you have discussed your respective views and shared your beliefs on how you want to live your life and what you find most important in your journey. With shared values as a solid foundation, building friendship, trust, and support for one another are signs of a healthy relationship heading towards a healthy marriage.
It is also important that the couple interact within their respective social circles. By actually witnessing and interacting with someone in their comfort zone, you will be able confirm that the beliefs and values they are sharing with you are consistent with their actions. A person found to be lying or sharing half truths raises a red flag that should be dealt with, not glossed over in the hopes that things will change later. By working through disagreements before marriage, they will see how they will work together in the future.
All human relationships deal with disagreements, so if a couple doesn’t seem to disagree at all, it may mean they have not yet progressed beyond the initial “infatuation” phase and truly begun communicating with each other. The couple should feel that they can truly be themselves, share their concerns and vulnerabilities, and grow together. Any areas of disagreement can be resolved if the couple is willing to compromise and show respect; however, individuals should not compromise on values and beliefs they hold dear because these form the core of each individual.
An authentic marriage is one where we can share our personal struggles and weaknesses even if they are contrary to our values, and if we make mistakes we should feel safe sharing them with our spouse, knowing he/she will respect and support us despite our imperfections. This is also the basis of a strong friendship, as beautifully stated by philosopher and writer Friedrich Nietzche, “The best friend is likely to acquire the best wife, because a good marriage is based on the talent for friendship.”
Javed ‘Hijabman’ Memon: Self-Awareness and Communication Go Hand in Hand
One thing God says that pertains to this “pre-marital dating” business is don’t approach sex; that is the ultimate guideline to follow. Everything else is open to your own gut feeling. And yes, everyone’s boundaries are different. That is why communication is so vital, because different people have different boundaries, preferences, and approaches. Equally important is self-awareness so you can communicate your ideas to your partner. Understand and question why you hold certain beliefs and values about marriage or who you want to marry. The more honest you are with yourself, the more honest and open you can be in a relationship.
However, the skills of self-awareness and good communication don’t develop overnight. You need opportunities to test these skills and see how you and your partner respond to each other. To supplement conversations, I believe it is important to see your partner in a variety of contexts and social situations. See if what they say is consistent with what they do. How does your partner treat wait staff at restaurants? How does he handle stressful or unexpected situations? How does she behave with her family and friends? Your family and friends?
Look for consistency and flexibility. For instance, if your partner suddenly becomes a radically different person when surrounded by a particular group of people, that may be cause for concern. See it as an opportunity to test out your communication skills! It is also an opportunity to discuss the compatibility of your approaches to Islam, and check your own consistency within that realm as well. If a relationship is strong, you will work through these issues and feel a deeper bond with your partner as a result.
One reason Muslim Marriage Guides often fail is that they assume you practice their particular strain of Islam, rigid gender roles included. Reality is not so rigid, so take the time you need to see whether you and your partner’s worldviews and behaviors fit together.
Three months ago, HijabMan moved halfway across the world to become a Husband & Dad all in one shot. Read his series, “How I Met My Wife (And Daughter)” to see if he followed his own advice.
(Photo credit: rayhue via Flickr)
Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine is the author of Before the Wedding: 150 Questions for Muslims to Ask Before Getting Married. She received her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling at California State University, Fullerton and co-hosts an internet radio show, Family Connection, on One Legacy Radio.
Javed ‘Hijabman’ Memon and his products have appeared in NYTimes, USAToday, Australia’s Salam Cafe, & Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. He was recently named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the world. Explore his blog, products, and services at http://www.hijabman.com