How ludicrous would it be for a person to hold a grand opening for a new business then leave for vacation the next day or go to a job interview without having read the job description? Equally absurd is the way many people get married each year without any knowledge of or preparation for the realities of marriage. Couples make elaborate wedding and honeymoon plans but none for a life together. Additionally, many are looking for spouses to marry without looking at their responsibilities in a marriage.
Based on fairy tales spun by the media and pop culture, young women dream of finding their Prince Charming and living happily ever after. We think that once we are married, everything will just sort itself out. Some of us think that marriage is a solution or an escape or that our spouses will "complete us." Compounding this are values of mainstream society and their effect on the psyche of adolescents. Years of struggling with issues of dating and pre-marital sex in school as well as constant bombardment through films and television of unrealistic images of what love, sex and marriage are have affected our outlook on marriage and the opposite sex. So, when the time comes to get married, we often carry unrealistic expectations of what being married will be like and how our spouses will be.
Many young Muslims are not prepared for marriage and have not cultivated the skills to create a lasting relationship. While the general American population has the world's highest divorce rate, 48.6 percent, Muslims in the United States come in not too far behind at 33 percent. One in three Muslims marriage here will end in divorce- not surprising considering we are living in a "divorce culture" where independence and individual happiness often come first. When the marriage does not fulfill the individual's needs, the marriage is questioned. Terms such as "starter marriage" are becoming more common in the Muslim community as divorces among newlywed couples, after only months of being married, increase. Furthermore, couples in multicultural marriages are experiencing complex issues because of their background differences and often find little support from their families and communities because of certain cultural ideas about marriage. These couples often become resigned to ending the marriage. Newlyweds sometimes don't readily acknowledge that they must work on the marriage for it to survive. Many divorce when marriage is not what they expected or harder than they imagined. Divorce is now considered a plausible option among young Muslims, unlike the generation before them. Now, more than ever, we should prepare ourselves and our children for the realities of marriage. Preparing for marriage is as important as having an accurate road map before driving cross country.
Preparing for marriage is more than searching for a spouse; it begins with discovering who you are as a person.
Preparing for marriage is more than searching for a spouse; it begins with discovering who you are as a person and what you will bring to a marriage. Identify what innate beliefs you hold because these are the things that are least likely to change about you. Your values and beliefs are your compass in life and will determine your lifestyle and the choices you make. Understanding what is important to you clarifies the type of person with whom you will be compatible. Reflection is a process of self-growth that can be difficult, but it shows maturity and a true understanding of the intensity of marriage. Ask yourself these questions: "What is my personal set of life values?" "What are my fears?" "What are my strengths?" "What are my weaknesses?" Identifying your flaws is equally important because it provides you with personal goals for self-improvement. It will also provide your future spouse insight into your weaknesses, as well as the things that may never change about you.
Before you can determine the type of person you are compatible with, you first need to understand what compatibility is. It doesn't mean you will be exactly like your spouse, but rather, that you share many similarities and hold mutual respect for your differences, It is important to find someone who shares your core values and beliefs and whose long-term goals correspond with yours. Having complementary values and goals helps married couples grow closer to Allah because they will constantly strive in the same direction and have fewer disagreements in their marriage. True and realistic love will be found in the everydayness of marriage when sharing common interests and doing interesting things together. But, be careful if you find yourself making excuses for incompatibility or you start believing that the other person will change once you're married. People rarely change. Qualities in a potential spouse that do not align with your core values and beliefs are red flags because that person is about as unlikely to change as you are. When making a decision about an element of incompatibility, ask yourself; "Can I maintain my beliefs while married to this person even if he/she doesn't change?" Acknowledge that you simply can't control your spouse's way of being. Being able to maintain mutual respect for your differences will likely prevent many tensions in the marriage.
Understand You- Expectations Ascertain the expectations you hold for marriage. Many couples enter a marriage with unspoken and usually unconscious expectations of what their spouse is going to provide and fulfill. Honestly examining your expectations of marriage and your potential spouse is a necessary step in preventing disappointment. Ask yourself, "What do I think marriage will be like?" "Who and what have influenced these expectations?"
"What is my parents' relationship like?" "How does this play a role in what I expect in my marriage?" "What does the term 'husband' mean to me?" The answers to these types of questions will help spotlight your expectations about marriage and the basis for those expectations. Understanding your expectations and assessing how realistic they are is a vital step toward helping you enter into marriage with open eyes.
Everybody should acquire two critical skills before getting married:
Communication and conflict resolution. These are essential to making a marriage successful. You and your potential spouse will begin to understand how you each communicate as you get to know one another. Not communicating and misinterpreting communication will cause numerous problems in a marriage. This is the time to ask yourself; "Am I good at communicating my feelings and thoughts?" "How do I resolve a conflict: do I ignore it, solve it?" "Am I a good listener?" Understanding your approach and identifying your weaknesses are valuable because marriage carries the responsibility to communicate your needs and frustrations with your spouse. It is equally important to understand your spouse's communication style and conflict resolution skills and how compatible they are to yours. Ultimately, the effort you and your spouse put in this area will form the backbone of your marriage.
Entering into a marriage is a time to grow as an individual and to grow interdependently with a spouse. Having the courage to discover your expectations and weaknesses and taking responsibility for the direction of your marriage requires a mature approach. To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humor to be successful.
These values will help a marriage survive conflict, disappointment and problems. Marriage is a beautiful relationship that Muslims should enter with an understanding of all of its dimensions. If Prophet Muhammad reminds us that marriage is "half our faith," then how can we as Muslims go into something this central with a lack of preparation and understanding? We can only be good spouses once we understand what it means to be married and mentally prepare ourselves for the amazing journey.
* originally printed in Azizah Magazine - A unique publication that presents the issues, accomplishments and the interests of Muslim women in North America