In our consumer filled culture, months, if not years of planning goes into weddings but comparatively little into marriages. It may be obvious, but let us state it anyway: a wedding is the gateway to hopefully a lifelong marriage, but, what happens after the big day? The perfect wedding is done with, so in these turbulent times how do you sustain marriage? In traditional Muslim culture, dating is not allowed before the wedding, so how do two relative stranger move from “me” to “we?”
There is no agreed upon simple formula, or list of three, five or 21 things you can do to make a happy marriage. However, all is not lost, you can learn from many sources. The Islamic faith provides clear guidance about spouse selection and that can be complemented with all the information and knowledge that we are surrounded with. Study the examples of the Prophet (SAW), as a husband, he was a true romantic in how he dealt with his family and wife. Refer to the bevy of research that shows things to avoid, and in talking to happily married couples, things you can model.
A good contemporary model we can parallel is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow starts the pyramid with the base “physiological,” which includes shelter, food, clothing and sex. Then, “safety and security,” which includes physical, emotional. Next, “belongingness” and “love,” which includes friendship intimacy and family. Moving on to, “esteem,” which includes respect, dignity, compassion and finally, the highest human motivation “self-actualization,” which includes creativity, spontaneity, and morality.
So how do we map this theory to reality? The base needs including physiological and safety are fairly self-explanatory. Once we move to “belongingness” and “love,” how do we become friends, and build intimacy? Regular vacations, nice dinners, and flowers can help, but the mortar of marriage are the gazillions of micro-interactions that happen between husband and wife every day. It is paying attention to our attitude, words, and gestures. Saying authentic “I love you” several times a week, hugging, kissing, saying kind words, acknowledging your mistakes (“I am sorry”) and faults, and the strengths of your spouse go a long way. It is understanding our partners (and our own) pet peeves, and adjusting with them, around them.
What about when things do not work, and differences and conflict come up? A healthy conflict or fight is natural. In fact, expecting that in life as in marriage that it will be conflict-free is unreal. This is where the same baseline traits of patience, empathy, forgiveness come into play. Forget the Jones’s or the Khan’s, no one has a perfect relationship. Like a river, relationships ebb and flow. Whereas with some relationships like co-workers or friends may come and go, marriage requires that commitment to say, “hey we will work through this, no matter what.” Of course pray, and if need be get help from family, friends or a professional depending on the severity of the conflict.
Even with family and friends you have to be very discerning as you can get the best and worst advice. Give your spouse their space and be willing to let the ego take a back seat. Admit your mistakes, I know, it’s not easy, but the more you dig in your heels, the more compounded and emotional problems become. In any conversation, do not bring up other problems from the past. Avoid, “You never” or “You always.” Trust and honesty means to be truthful, but you don’t have to be an open book, or dump your history and past on your spouse.
A marriage is not a 50:50 venture of “If you do this, I will do that.” Just as you had to woo and impress your spouse before the wedding, you have to on an ongoing basis. Be thoughtful and creative to continue to woo them on your journey of self-discovery. Einstein once said, the definition of “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” One area this applies to couples is when we try to change each other. Here is the reality, no one changes until they want to change.
There you have it, no list, no formula just a few insights. Keep things simple, and with trust, respect and prayers, God willing you too will find true intimacy.