CONSTANTLY WORKING AT IT
A very wise woman and beloved teacher, (whose name is Hedaya Hartford) once said, ‘If you’re not working on your marriage, it’s not working!’
Books recommend on this topic are:
- Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships
by John Gray
- Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin
- Surrendered Wife by Laura Doyle
- The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
- Initiating and Upholding an Islamic Marriage by Hedaya Hartford (obviously this is more suited to muslims!)
There are also a few courses I highly recommend: Anything to do with Laura Doyle and the book she wrote ‘Surrendered Wife’; she has a website where you can sign up to learning more here.
If you’re muslim, go to Sara Malik’s fabulous website and course or the highly inspirational Naielah Ackbarali at her website here. Naielah has been trained personally by Laura Doyle herself. Lastly and most notably, the afore-mentioned beloved teacher, Ustadha Hedaya Hartford who has recently teamed up with one of our very own Birmingham-born sisters, Dr. Ayiesha Malik at this website. They have joined forces to help with Life Coaching, specialising in marriage in particular. All four teachers are highly professional and wonderfully compassionate and understanding.
Collating information from some personally known successful couples, I have gathered together 10 TOP TIPS OF A HEALTHY AND HAPPY MARRIAGE:
1. BEING RESPECTFUL
So now we know, ‘Men are from Mars…’, we can admit that sometimes we do need a helping hand to understand what on earth (or Mars) is going on in that brain of theirs.
Another book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands by Laura Schlessinger states that men are very simple creatures and that they actually crave respect more than physical intimacy. But how do we respect a being that doesn’t give the baby her milk when she is left in his care for an hour or two, even though it was left made and cooling on the counter top? ‘But she didn’t need it, she was happy!’ comes the reply.
Well my friends, we take a deep breath and try to be thankful that at least you can leave the baby safely, that she does seem happy enough, that he did volunteer himself to take care of the baby while you went out/had a shower/got a nap etc. So I guess what I’m saying is, we need to practice enoughism with our husbands. We have to be thankful for the qualities they do possess, rather than be wistful for the ones they don’t! We mustn’t compare with other husbands (especially not out loud!) and we most certainly should thank them (very loudly!) for everything they do do.
2. EXPECTATIONS AND ACCEPTANCE
We should take a look at how we’ve been brought up and how they’ve been brought up because that really does make a difference to one’s expectations in a marriage. When expectations are not met, that’s when people are disappointed. If you’re not married, think about going through basic expectations like where you’ll live; who will be living under the same roof (! very important question for us Pakistanis!); how the living costs will be divided; whether you want a family; when you will begin trying etc. Ask these things to someone you wish to spend the rest of your life with and when you go in knowingly, hopefully you will not be disappointed. Compromise and Sacrifice are two big words to think about here.
Remember the serenity prayer?
It is crucial to consider the choices you have made and whether you can live with them for life.
3. SELF CARE
See my previous post here. It is so important to look after yourself, so that you can always be your best self for your spouse. It’s very interesting that we tend to dress up to go out, not realising that the people we live with also deserve to see us looking, acting, behaving in the best possible manner. Muslims believe that even a smile is charity and charity begins at home. Give your spouse, your children and the people you live with a smile everyday (at least!). A beautiful characteristic of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was that when someone used to talk to him, he would turn fully towards them and listen. I’ve tried to do this in my home. I’ve noticed it’s difficult to do, especially when carrying out a task. When I remember to do this I can see the recipient lights up from inside- they really bask in the warmth of my attention and love.
4. REMIND MEN OF THEIR MASCULINITY
If you’re a woman reading this remember that we have to let men know that we think they’re strong and capable and able to look after us. We have to let them know that we rely on them for protection and support and couldn’t do without them. We need to make sure they know they’re needed. It’s all very good being independent and able to control our own lives and happiness but a man likes to feel that you can’t get on without him. We all end up doing odd jobs around the house, for example, putting bins out, mending drawers and fixing locks, but to ask hubby to do it (in a feminine way) makes him assume his role of man of the house and makes him feel more masculine and ‘needed’.
I’m aware that this may cause some controversy especially from those women who don’t feel the need to resort to ‘traditional’ roles in a marital situation. OK, that’s fine. No problem. This opinion has been drawn from my own perspective of seeing A LOT of successfully married couples who have resorted to these roles. When a woman decides to be the main breadwinner for the household, she will still be able to turn on her feminine charm so that she doesn’t end up doing everything to maintain the household too. Some of you may be shaking your head in disagreement here. Hey, I’m happy to talk about this! Please comment below.
Communication is, of course, key to a good relationship (with anyone). Always try to talk about things that are bothering you in a calm and collected manner. There isn’t any point discussing things:
a) when things are heated and one or both of you are angry
b) in front of the kids
c) when one or both of you are tired
d) when one or both of you have just come back from work..
Wait for a time when you’re both relaxed, calm and not likely to be distracted and try to keep ‘blame’ out of the conversation. How you speak to your husband helps too. For example ‘I need you to take the bins out…’ rather then ‘Take them out! now!’ .
Also try to turn conversations around to remain positive…’We miss you’ rather than ‘Why are you always out?’ really helps. Try to begin sentences with the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘we’ and you should be off to a good start.
Remember ‘Self care?’ This is so important. It is so much easier to be a good wife if you look after yourself. Sometimes there’s absolutely no time for it, at which point try to use “vulnerable words” and let your husband know that you’re exhausted and looking forward to some “me time” as soon as the opportunity arises. That way he knows to take time out to watch the kids and hopefully give you time to do something for yourself.
When a man can listen to a woman’s feelings without getting angry and frustrated, he gives her a wonderful gift.
He makes it safe for her to express herself.
The more she is able to express herself, the more she feels heard and understood, and the more she is able to give a man the loving trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, and encouragement that he needs.”
― John Gray, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
If you ever feel hurt in a disagreement try to forgive your spouse, but always express your hurtfulness to him or her, or how would they know not to act in this manner again? In ‘Fascinating Womanhood’ women are told to act as a spoilt child would if she was unhappy and didn’t get what she wanted. She might pout, shake her curls and stamp her foot; all which the husband might find endearing. Then again, he might not! I think what she was trying to say here is that it’s best to remain lighthearted and laugh about disagreements whilst still expressing your feelings. There is no reason why one’s husband would knowingly hurt you. See the quote below.
6. EXPRESSING OUR DESIRES
“Your husband really wants you to be happy. When you’re happy, he feels successful as a husband and as a man. No matter how bad things are in the relationship, your husband’s desire to make you happy is alive and well. If it doesn’t seem like that right now, that’s because when you’re in conflict or a cold war, your husband’s need to defend himself will supersede his drive to please you. But as soon as he feels respected again, he’ll be looking for any chance to delight you. The more he knows about what will make you happy, the easier it will be for him to feel successful as a husband. That’s why it’s so important for you to know your desires and express them clearly. If your husband knows how to make you happy, he can do something about it—and then you’re both happy. That’s why it’s important to take your own happiness seriously. If mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.”
― Laura Doyle, First, Kill All the Marriage Counselors: Modern-Day Secrets to Being Desired, Cherished, and Adored for Life
One of my friends swears by the fact that the key to a successful marriage is being allowed a Sunday Lie-in every week! Her husband wants her to be happy. Happy Mama; Happy household.
7. HARD WORK
We expect the spouse who is working outside the home to work hard everyday, to get up and not miss a day of work no matter how they’re feeling (unless they’re actually ill of course!) and generally do what they can to keep their job in order to bring back a wage packet every month.
In the same way, our work at home should be worked at, rather than just spending the day at home and whiling the time away, the spouse at home should try to be efficient, considerate and hard working. Unlike the spouse who works out of the house, we certainly don’t get a monetary reward for our efforts. However, I see our reward as the feeling of accomplishment when a job is complete.
It is important to mention here that one must be fully aware of the choices they have in a marriage and not to become a martyr; don’t give so much of yourself that you lose yourself in the process. Remember to keep the self care and communication going, that is key here to finding happiness and balance in your marriage.
8. FINDING TIME TO CONNECT.
Having a rhythm and routine to your lives will really help to keep you sane, especially if you have a young family, this will in turn make your marriage less stressful and more likely to be full of beautiful moments. It’s really important to have the kids in bed on time on weekdays, for example, thereby giving you time alone together. Maybe this doesn’t work for you because of work commitments etc. Maybe you just about have family time together when you sit and eat. That’s great too. You’ll find that when the routine is gone and you don’t get that time together, you won’t feel as “connected”. It will be more difficult then to be in tune with one another’s thoughts and feelings.
(Although I do find that, in my family, if one of my children has had a late nap and is still around in the evening, neither of us is stressed and we feel it’s easier to let the child nap than try to reason with a very ratty, tired child through the afternoon and early evening. I think it depends on you, as a couple how you handle this according to your preferences and tolerance levels.)
- DATE NIGHTS/ WEEKENDS AWAY
It’s really important to schedule time away with one another. If you have small children, consider leaving them with a close friend or relative for a night or even a weekend. It’s so important to have a relationship outside the ‘parenting’ zone; it’s a very special time for a mother to remember who she was before the time of nocturnal feeding and disturbed toilet breaks came about!
To be open to intimacy (no matter how rotten or tired or disgusting you’re feeling!) is so important. One of my teachers once said that no matter whether we say a word or not, the pyjamas we wear, the eye-contact (or lack of it!), the differing bedtimes all speak volumes to our spouse. To be open to a kiss and a cuddle and maybe a massage to make you feel more connected will be like the helium needed to lift a relationship. This openness will mean that there will be no fear of rejection. Be honest about (and try to communicate!) your desires and needs here; the payoffs will speak for themselves ;-). Try to keep things fresh in the bedroom, similar to how you would dress up for ‘date nights’, pencil certain days, dates in your diary and prepare in advance for it (doing this secretly would work beautifully). And also remember to be spontaneous too! Remember to remain ‘open’ even if it isn’t the right day! Make your time special and important. You’ll both be thankful for this connectedness once the children have grown and flown the nest. Your time invested now will mean you’ll have a companion for life in the years to come.
9. Love Languages
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioners have studied individuals and discovered that most people show love according to three distinct modalities. They categorized these distinctions into three languages of love: visual, audio, and kinesthetic. Click here for gender-specific charts which will help you identify what language you and your spouse speak. Gary Chapman, however, named 5 Love Languages in his book and you can take this quiz to help you decide which ones best fit yours.
The idea behind these love languages is really profound and actually has the potential to change one’s whole relationship around. In a nutshell, Chapman states there are 5 Love ‘Languages’. They are:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Quality time
- Physical touch
The key here is that if your spouse speaks a different language to yourself, you may not feel loved and vice versa therefore it’s so important to be aware of their Love Language so you show them love in a way that they understand and then they can also reciprocate. I will elaborate on this subject in my next post but if, in the meantime, you’d like to find out more take a look at the website.
10. GIVE EACH OTHER SOME TIME AND SPACE
Despite being intimately close, we should give our spouse their own space lest they feel suffocated by our love. ‘Loving to death’ may not cause one to die, but it can result in a very unhappy spouse who needs time to herself. We need to understand that although we are bonded together as a couple, however we are individuals. And the sooner we understand this human condition the happier we will be in our marriage. As Gibran says: And Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music … stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart.
(Excerpt from SeekersHub)
So, I hope I’ve given something for you to think about here. Before I go, here is some bonus material from My Very Good Friend. It is an analogy on football for a marriage and it’s fantastic. It’s very deep and meaningful and you may need to read it a few times to get your head round the depth of the message it conveys.
Think of marriage like a team sport except there are only two of you covering all the positions so you are going to be constantly running around and manoeuvring.
The best teams have their strategy worked out before they get onto the field. Once play gets going the pace is too fast for discussion it’s important to make sure everyone on the team knows what they are supposed to be doing. If you’re not happy with how play is going wait till half time to review it. You can’t talk properly mid-play.
Work like a team; don’t both go charging into the same place at once. If one of you is on the attack or in defence, don’t you go charging in there as well. Get into a space so you’re ready to assist or collect the ball.
If you happen to be in midfield don’t think ‘I’m doing all the running around here and all he/she does is stand there and score/save the goals’.
It’s the job of midfielder to do that! If you didn’t do that there wouldn’t be any goal opportunities created and your defence would be in constant crisis.
You’ve got to pass the ball. Don’t hold on and run with it, you are more likely to be tackled. The best teams pass the ball quickly between players, just one touch and move. That way play moves forward rapidly and effectively.
One of you needs to be the ‘playmaker’, controlling where and how the team moves forward. They need to have a vision which they achieve through their passing moves and their creativity. That’s what leads to achieving your goals.
So, what is a playmaker?
It’s one of the players but their role is to manoeuvre the team forward through their skill but it’s not just about them. It’s their passing skills- they delegate out the responsibly to the other players
The playmaker is important in a marriage because you have to have a vision of where you are heading in terms of material goals otherwise you stand still and stagnate
So, for example, in a game of football the playmaker doesn’t just see the opportunity, he goes out and creates it, he creates that space, makes that pass, does that tackle. The playmaker in marriage has the same role, they have a vision for their home, their social life, their education and learning, their spiritual and physical well being etc and they go out there and make it happen.
In a marriage either partner can be a playmaker.
Isn’t it totally relatable to marriage and parenting? Hope you enjoyed that analogy as much as I did! How do you navigate through your journey of married life? Please let me know in the comments below.
This was rather a long post, if you read this far, I congratulate you!
And please do join me next time, be sure to not miss the next post by signing up to subscribe via email,
Peace and Love,
Sidra Ansari ❤
PS To help me to my journey of Enoughism, I will write 3 things I am grateful for on each post. These are:
- My husband- nobody’s perfect that’s true, but I love his imperfect ways perfectly 😉
- My writing…I’m finding it very therapeutic at the moment, especially since I had to remind my husband the date of our anniversary last week (!), in his defence he did end up treating us all (once he knew the occasion!). As a side note, a beloved male teacher once said to us ‘Men don’t remember dates’. He said it in such a dead-pan way that it made us laugh at the time. Of course they don’t- we all know that! Another lesson- to lower your expectations and you won’t be disappointed!
- Mr Cuddles as a little smiling and cuddly companion. I love the way his moods can change in the blinking of an eye. From bawling his eyes out to grinning from ear to ear in a matter of seconds. It’s so simple to look after them at this age and I am thankful for this respite, before things get messy! (gulp!).
PSS I’d like to publicly thank my teachers and My Very Good Friends Nabila and Shazia for their unique insights during the writing of this post. I would also like to thank all the other lovely people who responded to my open query- your honesty and wisdom was very much appreciated. God bless you!