Today Salma responds to a worried wife and a misunderstood child.
My husband travels most of the week due to his work, and his schedule is having an impact on our relationship. Before, we were learning and adjusting to each other’s quirks and needs. Now, we seem to be growing in different directions because we spend so much time apart. I am getting more set in my ways, and he in his. Help?
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It makes sense that spending too much time apart can lead to spouses drifting away from one another and developing their own individual lives to the exclusion of the couple relationship. This is precisely why long distance relationships require extra work and attention. Since you are noticing the strain of being apart, now would be a good time for you and your husband to sit down together and evaluate the situation.
Are there ways in which you two could be more deliberate and intentional about carving out more quality time together when he’s not traveling? And are there ways you could stay more connected while he is away? For example, it could be helpful to increase talking time on the phone, as well as using video platforms like Skype or Facetime to restore a visual component to the relationship. You could plan to eat “together” while using this type of technology to maintain your usual routine as a couple. You could also plan some shared activities, like reading the same book, so you can later discuss the novel together. In these ways, you reinforce the connection and nurture the relationship.
If it isn’t possible to increase your time together, then it might be time to evaluate lifestyle choices. Is it possible to limit work-related travel? There are times when circumstances dictate a particular lifestyle that encroaches on your relationship, but is temporary. But if the circumstances are long-term, then the husband and wife need to reexamine their priorities, even if that involves some degree of sacrifice. May Allah guide you both to what is best for you in this world and in the next.
My mom and I do not have a great relationship. She is constantly preaching Islamic teachings and not really listening to issues I am facing at school with friends. I have closed myself off because I feel like I’ll just receive more negative comments from her. I turn to my friends for advice that I feel she should be giving! When I try to approach her about how I feel, she says that kids are supposed to listen to their parents and that is final. What about listening to your child? I need a mother who doesn’t use religion to block out feelings. How can I get through to her??
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First of all, I commend you for taking the time to try to improve your relationship with your mom. It can certainly be frustrating when you open up to a parent, but the parent is not able to hear what you are saying or respond in a way that feels helpful. Sadly, in many cultures, parents are not prepared to have the kind of relationship with their children in which there is dialog, sharing and discussion. Yes, from an Islamic perspective, kids should listen to their parents and parents should listen to what their kids are saying so they can give advice that is both wise and relevant.
When it comes to making a change in your relationship, the first step is to assume that your mom has the best of intentions and is doing the best she can based on whatever she was taught. Parents don’t receive a manual when they have kids, so they are often figuring it out as they go! The next step would be to find a time when your mom is relatively relaxed and in a good mood. Maybe you can make her something she likes, even if it’s a cup of tea or a sandwich.
Begin by thanking her for all that she does for you every day (including her religious advice), and let her know how important she is to you. After all, you wouldn’t be asking how to improve your relationship if you didn’t value her. Sometimes a person needs to hear this said explicitly. Then ask her if she would be willing to hear about the ways your life may be different from hers. You might even ask if she would be willing to trade stories. You could tell her what your life is like, and she could share her memories and experiences with you. This exchange will help her remember what it’s like to be your age, and realize that you may be facing some different challenges.
Share with her what you need most from her without discounting or criticizing the religious advice. So you might have to specifically say something like, “Mom, what I really need from you right now is just to listen because when you listen, I feel like you’re really interested in me.” Lastly, when she does say what you feel meets your needs better than the usual advice you hear, make sure to let her know she’s on the right track. You can show your appreciation by directly telling her you found her input helpful, as well as by pampering her a little bit. She will feel valued and respected and may be more receptive to hearing what you have to say next time around. Creating change in relationships is hard work and takes persistence and patience, but it can be well worth it in the end. Hang in there!
Salma Abugideiri is a licensed, professional counselor with over fifteen years of experience. Her practice is in Northern Virginia. You can find more information on her website: wellnessthroughcounseling.com.