Written by: Kendall A. | Umm Iman
Someone reached out to me recently seeking advice on patience in marriage. My first thought was: “Oh habibati, you are already leaps and bounds ahead of me, mashaAllah, and I’m not sure I am the best person to ask as someone who chose to end her marriage.” That thought aside, I responded with the following advice and share it now with my readers in the hopes that it helps someone else in their relationship positively.
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
I would like to start with the story of Prophet Yaqub (as), who invites us to have “beautiful patience” in reflection of the loss of his son for many years. In our Islamic Studies homeschooling class, we have been focusing on the concept of “beautiful patience” for the past two weeks. I defined this to my daughter as “waiting for something in a calm and peaceful way.” We had watched a video from “Aya and Yusuf,” where the grandmother points out that patience is not just waiting for something to happen, but that it includes the attitude that we maintain whilst in that state, as well as what we do with our time while we are waiting. When we are waiting, we should be productive by: increasing our worship, talking to Allah more, making tahajjud a priority, and seeing whatever situation we are in as an opportunity to gain nearness to Allah rather than it being a source of frustration.
In this sense, we are meant to embrace the struggle that requires patience, while balancing that with awaiting relief from said struggle to come out on a side that incites contentment for us. That contentment can come in different forms: perhaps the situation does change and things are going more in the way that you would like for them to; perhaps contentment looks like nothing externally changing, but your internal state has and your relationship with Allah has to a point where you are happy; or perhaps contentment is choosing to focus on the good and thus attracting more of what you desire into your life.
What I have learned is that patience is a test for everyone, and when we respond to trials appropriately (with patience; however, this does not mean without emotion), they can become a source of reward for us; yet on the flip side, if we respond with anger, resentment, and discontentment, the trial could serve as a punishment for us; therefore we are cautioned to be very careful in how we respond and bring our complaints only to Allah. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should suffer in silence and not seek advice or counsel from others, but it does mean that we should only share information with those whom we trust and believe can add some value or insight into helping us resolve our situation. This is different from being heedless and complaining to anyone who will listen and who potentially does not want good for us.
I’m not sure what exactly it is that you are struggling with in regard to patience in marriage, but I will answer generally that a healthy marriage is a balancing act for both parties. It is choosing to see enough value in the relationship and the other person to work through differences in a way that brings both people to a place of happiness. It is both people striving to be their best selves and to show up in a way that adds beauty to the other person’s life. Unlike other relationships in our lives that are predetermined for us (ie: we don’t choose our parents, siblings, children, etc.), we do choose our spouse and so we are choosing this person in his humanity, accepting that he is not perfect, and while he may be many wonderful things, he cannot, will not, and should not ever be more important than our relationship with ourselves and with Allah. A marriage is simply a dynamic that we are operating in with another person, but it is really a reflection of our state with Allah. What I mean by this is: are we showing up in the marriage as our best selves because of what Allah has encouraged us to do, for Allah’s pleasure, and because we are working toward our own Jannah? Or are we doing it to be people-pleasing to our husbands? Once we begin to see our goal as pleasing Allah and earning reward for ourselves through the way we treat others and focus less on trying to be “the perfect wife,” we arrive at a liberating feeling, and we are engaged in the true end goal, which is earning Allah’s pleasure and working toward our own akhira, because nobody else is in control of that.
One of the things that I found challenging in my own marriage was this notion that only the husband’s rights and happiness seemed to matter and everyone else and everything else had to be taken in that framework, and I found that deeply troubling. It was as if the passages and ahadith being thrown at me were meant to imply that Allah was essentially a reflection of the husband’s emotions, and I came away with the idea that I was subtly being asked to worship my husband, which made me uncomfortable, because this would be an act of shirk. We have to seek knowledge carefully in trying to figure out what these passages and ahadith really mean, beyond the literal translation of what they say. (I have found Ustadh Shadeed Muhammad to offer useful interpretations that made sense to me on this topic.)
I’m not sure if this speaks to your experience at all, but there is a balance of being who you are and being part of a marital unit. You now have another person to consider and you move together with this person, so it’s important to maintain a lot of communication around what that vision of togetherness looks like. The patience involved here is trusting that the two of you will get to a place where you can both be content with the relationship and where the relationship is of benefit for the both of you spiritually, emotionally, physically, intellectually, etc. And that has to do with being compatible with your spouse, focusing on the characteristics and ideals that brought you two together, and taking opportunities to define your marriage together. Marriage is an unique opportunity to envision and create a life together as best friends, partners, etc. Thus, being solution-oriented and giving yourselves time to work together will be helpful.
Marriage is not an easy road in general, and with the pandemic, I think we are experiencing an increased and in some ways, abnormal amount of time together in close quarters that is sometimes bringing out the worst in people, as opposed to drawing us closer together. Time away from our loved ones, children included, in necessary. Maintaining relationships with other people is necessary. Having time to enjoy being alone is valid. So acknowledge this reality to some of the challenges that you are currently facing with your spouse as well.
Marriage requires a level of maturity that many people actually don’t have when they first go into them, and that has nothing to do with one’s age. For Muslims, the challenge is not only navigating a marriage, but also interacting with the opposite sex in a close way probably for the first time. (What I mean is that sometimes overly separating the genders can lead to a lack of simply seeing the opposite gender as real and unique people with thoughts, emotions, and ideas that are not representative of all men or all women. For people who have rarely interacted with the opposite gender in a normal way, jumping into the complete opposite of that [being married] can prove very awkward and uncomfortable, and yet there is an added pressure of being married, which comes with its own rules and expectations.) That said, there is a maturity shift that has to occur in interacting with someone of the opposite gender, and someone who is now your spouse and depending on you in certain ways, which is different from interacting with a sibling of the opposite gender, for example.
Going into the marriage, you may both have different expectations and life experiences, so it just requires patience from both of you in learning each other, and really being communicative about what you both need so that you’re not resentful of the person, while recognizing that this person is human and is not going to meet all of your needs or desires, but to choose happiness each day; to maintain your identity, passions, and interests as an individual; and to intentionally grow in love with each other over time.
On a final note: pray tahajjud, even if it is once a week, because this is where true change occurs–in connecting with Allah and in doing our inner work to put ourselves in a place where Allah will change our condition, because we first changed what was within ourselves. Remember that marriage is just a dynamic, it’s an opportunity to earn reward and make it to Jannah, and Jannah is where true perfection lies. Your husband is also being tested in his own patience, so be gentle with yourselves and strive toward Jannah.