Whether you’ve been married five months, five years or fifty years no one is immune from divorce. In our social circles and communities sadly we seem to be finding more instances of a perfect couple going their separate ways. Sometimes they can be small things that add up; You can be drifting apart, have unbalanced roles relating to chores or children, issues of sex, arguments over money, stressful careers, or or one deal breaker, eg having an affair.
Granted there is no perfect marriage but there is still a lot we can do to keep our marriages healthy, happy and vibrant (of course all with God’s help).
There are many metaphors/analogies relating to marriage and in this post we’re going to use the car.
Why a car? It has gauges which tell you how you are doing. Cars require periodic maintenance and tune-ups and last but not least most of us are pretty familiar with them. Just as with cars, in marriage too we have to pay attention to the emotional gauges of communication and do both short term and long term maintenance in order for marriage to run smoothly and efficiently. So where do you start? At it’s most basic level you both have to step back and ask “How are we doing?”, “What’s working?” (do more of it), “What’s not working?” (do less of it or ideally eliminate it).
- Money Gauge: Is one of you a spender and the other a saver? Is the distribution of financial responsibilities working well for both of you? How is your cash flow?
- Frustration Gauge: Are you stepping on each others toes a lot? Do you find yourself becoming angry over small things. Is there a pattern to your conflicts?
- Direction Gauge: How are you doing based on your short and long term goals? Either both of you are traveling in the same direction or not. There is no coasting.
- Spiritual Gauge: How are you and your spouse doing with your faith and spiritually? Only you can answer this.
- Humor Gauge: What do you do to amuse each other? Do you share jokes, watch romantic comedies, get playful with each other?
- Fun Gauge: Yes life can me monotonous, but are you able to fit in fun-time just for the two of you? Do you try out new and adventurous things or are you stuck in a rut?
- Sex Gauge: How is the quality and frequency of sex. Are you both content with it?
As you pay attention to these gauges issues will come up. Some you may be able to agree upon, others you may have to agree to disagree, and then for others that are vital to your marriage and well-being, you may need outside help (both human and divine).
- Gender Role Tune-Up: This is about dealing with your differences. In modern times a lot of the boundaries between the roles of men and women have been removed or blurred. We’re not making a judgement here, just pointing out that the Masculine and Feminine are by God’s design and we have to find ways to work with in them rather pretend they don’t exist. Remember in life you can probably have anything you want, but you can’t have everything. What ultimately do you want and what are you willing to compromise on?
- Communication & Conflict Resolution Tune-Up: Explore ways you can openly speak with your spouse about any subject. Allow your spouse to feel heard, show empathy by giving them your undivided attention and paraphrase what they say. Conflict is inevitable in any relationship including marriage. Make sure when you fight that you “fight fair”. Disagreement is never a license to be disrespectful. Even if you disagree with criticism, avoid the knee-jerk reponse and become defensive. Similarly avoid going slient and stonewalling. Avoid saying “always, never” Dr. Gottman’s work on this subject is a must read in this area.
- Financial Tune-Up: Do a financial audit. Are you meeting your goals? If neither of you is financially savvy or do not have the time get a financial advisor.
- Spiritual Tune-Up: Although spouses can uplift each other, you may want to ask help from an Imam that you respect. Take a class together relating to faith. Share what you learnt eg through your own reading, or from a Jumah Khutbah or a mentor.
- Household Chores Tune-Up: Marriage is never a 50:50 endeavor. However, you can discuss if all the work inside and outside is being done equitably between the two of you.
- Sexual Tune-Up: Through discussion you can determine if you sex life meets both of your needs. Your tune-up should also include being sensual and having intimacy with each other. Bring back date nights. If not discuss, explore, iterate.
- Parenting Tune-Up: Being a parent is a life time blessing and sentence. Do you both see eye to eye on how the children are being raised?
- Family and In-Law Tune-Up: If In-Laws or other relationships are getting in the way of your marriage discuss what you can do to be respectful and accommodating of family while still having your own space.
Marriage is a blessing, but with it comes hard work. The work changes over time. Any time you take each other for granted or assume it is on Cruise control, that is a danger sign. If you and your spouse are not able to resolve major conflicts (or small ones that keep adding up), never feel that there is no one who can help you. For each area there are counsellors. Before marriage pre-marital counseling is the best investment you can make. Once you are married, a regular tune-up, ie marriage counseling is the best investment you can make. Rather than wait for a small leak to lead to a transmission or engine failure, it is better to get things checked out pro-actively.
Of course above and beyond counseling is the guidance we have through our beloved Prophet (PBUH) and the best counsellor and helper is God who never turns down the prayer of the believer. There you have it, cars are just metaphors/analogies for marriage. May God make your/our marriages a near perfect union of faith, fun, and healthy living. Go ahead pay attention to those dials and remember it’s never too late to get a tune-up.