Is that they often don’t set limits.
I read a lot of what (I consider) mediocre-to-bad marriage advice on my Facebook feed, and a little googling doesn’t render much better, though I will admit there are also some great sources out there too (thank, you, Shaikh Yaser Birjas). These things bug me but not enough that I actually take the time to sit down and compose a response to them. Today however, I read something very true, actually from the famous book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and it was so true that I just felt the propellers turn on, and I frankly won’t be able to return my brain to its rightful uber-engaged reading of the final installment of the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time until I get this out.
What Dr. Gray said is something that I think ties into all these lackluster “Islamic” marriage-advice posts I read and that is this: women don’t know how, or don’t want, or don’t understand, or are too afraid, to set limits in their marriages. In short, women are often the wrong kind of martyrs.
Unrelenting altruism is generally what I find my facebook peppered with, comments like: “If you husband has too high expectations of you and you feel angry and resentful, just seek refuge with Allah from the devil and do it for the sake of Allah! Remember Allah’s reward!” Or other comments that remind women that they are “genetically capable” of being more patient and merciful and are therefore called upon to make more sacrifices for their husband’s happiness, or to just “be patient” with him, which makes a woman who isn’t doing just that seem “impatient” or “selfish.”
I’m sorry but without sounding disrespectful, people need to remember that just because someone is a shaikh or runs a Facebook group on marriage does not mean they have any qualifications in psychology or psychotherapy and so on (though a few do). And well, neither do I. Just a little Screamfree training.
People speak from experience. The article I read by a popular shaikh had some great advice, but the general message was really “you won’t be in love with your spouse forever, they’re going to get fat and disinterested in you, you’re going to have kids, so sacrifice your own needs and wants for the sake of the kids and realize that anything else is just a romantic fantasy.” It assumes an eventual stalemate (and weight gain). Just make it a peaceful one.
I think I’ll just start buying shovels for people when they get married with a card that says: “Here, this is for you to bury the love and passion you’re going to enjoy on your honeymoon because it’s gonna die. Sorry.”
I’m not saying marriage is just about love and passion and I’m not saying you shouldn’t make sacrifices, but what I get from most of these status updates and “advice” talks is an extremely defeatist attitude that ironically encourages you to not give up. It assumes stagnation in people as individuals as well as a couple and it assumes that women are largely responsible for making sacrifices because they are more “merciful and compassionate” and their husbands are the authority in the house. So what else is a woman left to do except believe that if her husband has high expectations or frustrating/selfish demands, as long as he’s fulfilling his duties and what he’s asking isn’t haraam, she should just remind herself that “her reward is with Allah” and be just do it without complaint?
I think its admirable to be a martyr initially to a certain extent, to have the “for the sake of Allah” or “for the sake of the kids” attitude when you realize that you’re feeling resentful of your husbands expectations/demands, but after a while I frankly think it weakness when a woman slips into permanent martyr mode. There is defeatism lurking under the guise of “strength”, which is what I find problematic about so many of these comments and talks and updates. If there is a problem in a marriage, such as the husband making unrealistic/unfair demands of his wife, and she is just a burning coal of resentment, then both spouses are contributing to the problem, and her contribution is as Dr. Gray so accurately stated: women don’t set limits.
Is your husband stupid? Is he a child? Does he have the capability to mature and grow? If he’s over the age of 15 then your answer should be yes. That’s what I believe marriage is really about, not about sacrificing for the sake of the other person’s deficiencies or flaws, or overcompensating for them. If you’re a woman its not making your house/child/husband duties or unfair treatment an expiation for you sins and seeing your sex-life as merely a sadaqah. No, marriage is about growing-up. Nothing asks you to slough off your immaturity like marriage. Up until this time the people you have lived with this closely have been your family, people who largely share your views, habits, and expectations. This new person is likely going to surprise and challenge you, and you will have to reconsider the things you thought true and no doubt along the way make some sacrifices to find common ground on issues when you both continue to have a different opinion. Bravo for that kind of sacrifice, because it acknowledges you can be different but still be united. But that is NOT the kind of sacrificing I see promoted in many Islamic talks. That kind of sacrificing does not involve this maturation process–it assumes people, particularly men, can’t and won’t change so you need to sacrifice to keep conflict to a minimum.
But here is another problem: it also assumes that conflict is inherently bad. Oh, I know it is unpleasant and therefore as humans we avoid it, but I believe conflict is not bad; I believe conflict, the collision of two different ideas, feelings, or beliefs is good, because it reaffirms your love for one another when you handle it properly and lends itself to you growing as an individual, which lends itself to your marriage being in a better place than it was yesterday. When people go to counseling, they get it all out and its ugly, but they end up better in the end. They had to collide before they could find harmony. What is bad about conflict is not the difference itself–those are inevitable and probably part of why marriage is considered half our deen–what is bad is when people are immature about handling conflict, when they handle it poorly and do things like argue, deny, dismiss, and cling to their viewpoints for egotistical reasons, making them akin to warring children in a nursery.
Now let’s go back to limits and also see why this isn’t going to be a back-handed feminist rant and how BOTH husband and wife, I believe, can benefit from a woman learning to set limits.
Women can fall easily into martyr mode, and that’s not their husbands’ faults. They go to a dinner party and see some other woman who has a nicer home, is a better cook, looks happier, etc. and believe me for the next couple days she’s going to go into high-gear, she’s gonna be a cleaning whirlwind, serving tea, wearing make up, and limiting the amount of TV the kids are watching. Who knows she may even do something outrageous like decide to start growing her own vegetables organically because after her visit with the granola-mommy-hippy brigade she has to sacrifice the ease of buying pesticide-laden food to be the perfect mother. Many women martyr themselves because they believe the more they do it, the better they are, the more their value rises in the eyes of their families, friends, and themselves. Oh yea, and Allah.
You can martyr yourself and I think for the first couple days you’ll feel that altruistic-euphoric-high, but give it a week at most and you’re going to start to feel really burnt out and resentful. Does this make you a deficient wife/mother/Muslim, or is this a red flag that something is wrong and needs to change in your manic martyrdom?
A man may have unfair demands/expectations, but the women is enabling them by not setting limits. In reality a woman in this situation feels disrespected by her husband, and love and passion cannot thrive in an environment where one partner feels disrespected by the other. But the man probably doesn’t even know he’s disrespecting her by asking “so much” of her. He probably doesn’t even know anything because if there’s one thing that seems to be true, men make lousy telepaths.
I know what you’re saying: “But Liv! If I set limits he’ll think I’m disrespecting him!”
Marriage is a relationship of transactions (hmmm, is that why scholars put the nikkah contract in the book of transactions? LOL). If a man eases up on his demands/expectations, this will naturally cultivate love and a better sense of well-being for his wife, which leads to what? You guessed it, probably a better and more genuine love and sex-life. In order to gain someone’s favor, you have to learn the currency they operate in and for most men, it is the currency of physical displays of affection, not just sex itself but physical touching, cuddling, and other loving acts. These will seem forced and minimal at best if a resentful woman is providing them. Sex will seem passionless and loveless and more just a “sadaqah” to relieve his/her hormones. Another currency men operate in is, you guessed it, respect. A woman can lighten up on how much she does, while still respecting her husband in which she is doing. Maybe she can make an effort to balk less on issues she knows are really important to him, on things she knows he’s extra-sensitive about while she makes a shift away from doing so much.
If a woman is going to set limits on how much she’s going to do around the house, with the kids, to “serve” her man, it would probably be helpful that as she tells him how burnout she feels, she doesn’t blame him. She can actually say that she’s overextending herself and its her fault for not bringing it up earlier, that she feels like she doesn’t have enough left to give at the end of the day because of how much she does.
Some husbands will object, but this is where real marital sacrifice comes in. Not by her stifling herself, but by both of them sacrificing the “comforts” of a familiar but destructive routine and finding some middle ground where they can both be happy rather than ending up in a bitter stalemate. And the reality is this: many people, both men and women, have extremely high expectations of their spouses and the only expectations they have for themselves is that people should always make excuses for them. Before you decide if your spouse is one of these people, ask yourself is you are. Challenge yourself as well as your partner. Grow yourself up and calm yourself down, then be authentic with your spouse for the sake of the union, which also means being willing to listen to what they have to say. Tell them that you are being authentic not because you are one of two feuding groups trying to seize territory in an ongoing war, but because you want to be truly happy with them, and you believe that by sharing your own feelings and thoughts, as well as hearing their’s, you can find true peace and a greater sense of shared well-being.
This is not an easy task for most people. Most people’s knee-jerk reaction is to protect them self out of fear of being taken advantage of, out of fear of losing ground. Most people will protect their own positions and arguments doggedly, uncaring if they are fact, fiction, or opinion. If you’re married to someone like this, one of the biggest favors you can do for them is not let them continue to live in such a mentally encapsulated, immature way. It doesn’t mean you have to be mean, or arrogant, or unloving, but it does mean you have to be real with them in a calm way and continue to show your best self, for the sake of Allah (see this is where that comes in) in spite of how they may try to snag you into familiar fights and cycles. Smile, be courteous, be loving daily and be calm while you continue to be real with them about yourself. Show them that by engaging with you on an issue they aren’t losing something but rather gaining something: a better marriage and a better you. And do these things for the sake of Allah, for the sake of principle, and Allah will put barakah in your efforts, inshallah. You may be the first person in their life that has ever called them to grow and that’s not a bad thing, its a very good one. You may be the first person to challenge your spouse believe in something as fundamental as mutual respect.
Every day I am thankful that I have a husband who helped me grow, who was patient with the childishness, passive-agressiveness, emotional blackmail, and inability to accept constructive criticism that peppered the first few years of my marriage. At the time I was only able to live in the emotion of the moment and wanted to be “right,” but the more my husband was authentic with me in a calm way, the more he didn’t make it “me vs. you” but really about bettering our marriage, the more I was able to finally comes to terms with my own immature behavior. I would still be the same person I was then had he been silent, and I might still be the same person had be been vocal but blamed me or blamed himself. Because he was always authentic, I heard the same thing so many times that I had to consider it if I wanted something to change, and because he was calm, I had to eventually accept that this wasn’t some aggressor trying to suppress me for his own gains, but rather someone just filing a legitimate complaint.
May Allah make it easy for all of us to find the positivity and growth in conflict, to change our views of what it means to have conflicts in the first place, and to be true warriors in our marriages who don’t accept defeat or at least know that they fought the good fight before they finally raised the white flag.Read more
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on September 6, 2012 @ 7:42 am
Yes, you heard me right, its time to take the power back. Yes. You. Can. Take it all back and own it like Allah meant you to. *fist pump*
Every one of us has an emotional remote control. On it are all our buttons. These are all the “triggers” that our spouse, kids, family, friends and [...]
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on August 21, 2012 @ 9:57 am
In a previous post we discussed how marital conflict could be used as a tool to bring couples closer by strengthening their bond. Just as Allah’s messenger, peace be upon him, mentioned that conflict purifies the believer, just as a forge-fire purifies gold, perhaps there is no relationship that can purify a person more than [...]Catogories: Uncategorized
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on August 10, 2012 @ 7:13 am
So, this Ramadan has been my first Ramadan in seven years where I have not been pregnant or breastfeeding. I did both back to back, without any “down” time in between my kids where I wasn’t doing either, because I nursed for two years and had my three kids roughly 2 and a 1/2 years [...]Catogories: Uncategorized
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on June 9, 2012 @ 12:45 pm
As Published in Al Jumuah Magazine (okay, this is the rougher draft that did not experience the refining hand of my editor )
Cooling the Fires of Marriage: an Approach to Conflict Resolution
Marriage is currently one of the most popular topics in the Muslim community, and not just because people like a love story [...]Catogories: Uncategorized
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on May 20, 2012 @ 10:29 am
Starting this Tuesday we will be broadcasting the Screamfree Parenting courses taught at MCA live on WEBEX! You can now attend the class from anywhere in the US. We have 20 Webex seats available, with a live feed to view the instructor, slides, and and ask questions. Register on MCA and send an email to [...]Catogories: Uncategorized
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on April 8, 2012 @ 7:09 am
I love my kids, like seriously no matter what, I looooooove my kids. I mean, what sane mother doesn’t? The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said ‘God divided Mercy (or Grace) into 100 parts and kept 99 parts of it with Him and sent down one part on earth. And because of [...]Catogories: Uncategorized
The Demise of the Perfect Mother (metaphorically speaking)” or, (less romantically), “Why I Love My T.V.”
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on March 13, 2012 @ 9:40 pm
There was once a time when I had absolutely no T.V. in my house and the only thing my 2 year old daughter ever watched was an 80s version of the carebears on youtube which was reserved for only absolute emergencies. Then one time she got sick and we watched March of the Penguins and [...]Catogories: Uncategorized
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on February 15, 2012 @ 1:23 pm
If I wanted to stick one label on my daughter right now it would be this: controlling. However, I don’t want to label her as anything. I want more than anything for her controlling behavior to be a phase. Maybe it does have something to do with her personality, but I know for sure that [...]Catogories: Uncategorized
Written by: Olivia (Certified ScreamFree Leader) on February 9, 2012 @ 4:28 pm
An excerpt from Positive Discipline A-Z by Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott
“My child complains about being bored and expects me to drop everything to entertain him.”
Understanding Your Child, Yourself, and the Situation
We live in a society where children are used to being entertained. Television and electronic games are major contributors to this dilemma. Children can passively sit and [...]