In celebration of her jubilee anniversary, Hina Khan-Mukhtar shares some marriage advice gathered over the years.
Have you ever set foot inside a couple’s home and immediately felt a sense of sakinah, or peace, wash over you? Whether it was a modestly-furnished apartment in a neighborhood where people struggle to make ends meet or a magnificent mansion in the most coveted district, these spaces radiated warmth and love and tranquility. What was their secret? How did the husband and wife together achieve this calm and quietude in a world that is too often overwhelmed with cacophony and chaos?
Over the past quarter of a century, many of my elders, teachers, relatives, friends, and community members have shared a whole range of marital advice with me. Being fortunate enough to have witnessed tawfiq, or Divine success, in a number of harmonious unions — in which many of the tips outlined here were implemented — I feel it is advantageous for us to learn from the success stories in our circles. Therefore, I am sharing the most helpful gems of wisdom in the hopes that you will find suggestions that are of benefit to you. I am not a perfect wife nor would I say I have a perfect marriage, but I do know that these suggestions have worked for me whenever I have been able to act on any of them, alhamdulillah.
Please keep in mind that this advice is for those women who are in substantially healthy marriages. The assumption is that their husbands are God-fearing, are not emotionally or physically abusive, know how to give their wives their rights, and do not have any debilitating addictions, vices, personality disorders, or mental health struggles. Although most of the following counsels are primarily for the wife in the marriage, some do apply to both partners — however, you will have to go to a male writer if you want advice solely for the husband.
Therefore, dear sisters, while reading, please resist protesting, “But what about him?” This isn’t about him — this is about you and me.
Make Allah Your #1 Love
A scholar once encouraged us to look at our order of priorities in life as a pyramid with Allah, great and glorified is He, at the top. It is from the understanding of having a hierarchy — of Allah first; then husband; then children and parents and teachers; then closest friends and extended family; then greater community — that the barakah, or blessing, comes into the home and flows out to every family member. Many people mix up the order and then don’t understand why there isn’t peace in the home and why the children are rebellious. Look at your circles of concern, and then make sure that an awareness of Allah, great and glorified is He, is at the top of the pyramid which then runs as a core through all of the other layers.
Pray together and pray for one another. Supplicate every step of the way. Rely on salaat-ul-istikhara, or the prayer of guidance, for all major family decisions. Pray for your union to bring healthy and righteous children into the world who will grow up to be beloved to Allah, great and glorified is He. One scholar lightheartedly but sincerely advised us to “pray that your partner is someone who drags you to Jannah (Paradise).”
Make your marriage a means of drawing closer to Allah, of pleasing Him. Look at it as an act of worship. Have big intentions. Don’t keep score of how much you’re doing for your husband versus how much he’s doing for you; instead, make your intention solely for Allah, great and glorified is He. Seek His approval and pleasure — and His alone.
Work on Increasing Your Love and Affection
Follow the example of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace; there was a reason he encouraged spouses to hold hands and to feed one another from the same plate. Just like any other blessing, marriage can eventually start to feel “old” and “stale” and “taken-for-granted,” but these types of intimate gestures help to re-invigorate the marriage.
Take note of the five “languages of love” — providing service; giving time; giving verbal praise/affirmation; giving physical affection; giving gifts — and see which one your spouse utilizes on you the most. If you have a different language of love, he may not notice it unless you reciprocate from time to time with the same language that he is using. Learn his love language and then use it in order to be “heard.”
But please don’t be overly demonstrative in public. That just makes everyone else extremely uncomfortable. As a couple, preserve your dignity and self-respect.
Establish a routine or a tradition that no one else is allowed to get in the way of — not work, not parents, not children. For some couples, it will be Sunday morning brunch together; for others, it will be after-dinner tea; yet others may choose to go for an evening walk or to read aloud to one another in bed. There are many who have established a designated “Date Night” in their weekly schedule. Have something special just for you two and then jealously guard it; it should be something that you both will miss if it ever got taken away.
Hold onto your passions and interests. You may not be into each other’s “pet projects,” but be each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Ask sincere questions about whatever hobby the other is into.
Khidma, or service, wins hearts. Filling his gas tank that you realize is almost on empty, helping him complete the dreaded tax forms, sewing on his button that you noticed came loose are all signs that you care about him and are looking out for him. For some spouses, actions speak much louder than words. There should be a difference between you being present in his life and you being absent.
Go to bed at the same time.
Among the most important duties of husbands and wives in the Islamic context is the fulfillment of one another’s sexual needs. This is not something to take lightly. Spouses who insist on rejecting their partner’s advances cannot be surprised to witness their relationship disintegrate. There are situations when a husband is forbidden to approach his wife for intercourse (i.e. during her menstrual cycle, during her postpartum bleeding, and during fasts in Ramadan), but outside of these cases, it is imperative for both spouses to do their utmost to make sure they are partners in every way — not least of which, physically.
Always pray that Allah, great and glorified is He, maintains the love in your heart for your spouse and that He preserves the love in your partner’s heart for you. Allah is the One Who puts love in our hearts for one another, and He is the One Who can take that same love out in any split second. If you stop to think about it, it is a sheer wonder that out of the billions of people in the world, there is one person who has that special love in his heart for you — that is nothing short of a miracle in and of itself. Thank Him for that blessing.
Your Grandmothers Were Right — All Men Want Respect
The wife might be the one to instigate most major changes in life; she might be the one who brings home the thicker paycheck; however, the husband should be given the respect of having the clear role of being the Emir, or leader, of the family. He should be honored by the wife and the children as the guardian of the household, and he in turn should recognize that Allah is the Guardian of his and his wife’s household. Of course, acknowledging your husband as the Emir doesn’t mean that you aren’t very vocal in sharing your own opinions. As one grandmother joked, “The husband is the head of the family, but the wife is the neck that turns the head!”
Don’t contradict or correct him in public. Give him the dignity he deserves. (As my own husband had to once firmly remind me, “I’m not the one being homeschooled.” Eek! Duly noted.)
Don’t ever demean your husband to your children. If you don’t honor their father, they won’t either. And, remember, it’s still gheeba, or backbiting, to talk about your spouse in a way that he wouldn’t like, even if it’s only with the people who will always love him. Don’t let your guard down when it comes to his rights.
If he ever buys you a gift that you don’t love, love it anyway. See the heart of the gift-giver behind the gift. There are always gentle and cheerful ways of honestly communicating your preferences at a later time.
Regardless of whether you had a social media presence before marriage or not, once you’re his wife, be aware of his views on how much you post about yourself and your life with him. Respect his limits.
Put your cell phone, your book, and — yes — even your prayer beads away when he’s trying to talk to you about his day. Give him your undivided attention, and teach your children (who are old enough to understand) that they are not to interrupt their parents’ time together.
A sense of humor — that isn’t cruel or mocking — is one of the most attractive qualities in a man. I still shake my head and chuckle at hubby’s corny joke that he’s been lovingly teasing me with for the past 25 years: “On August 14, Pakistan gained its independence…and I lost mine!”
Laugh with him but never at him.
Make Your Home a Haven, Make Yourself His Houri
I realize that many women today are uncomfortable with the word “houri,” but houris are real creations of Allah, great and glorified is He, who are described in The Holy Qur’an as “companions in Paradise.” I believe it’s time that we reclaim this word and own it for what it is. There is no reason why our homes can’t be little pieces of Paradise, insha’Allah, and no reason why we can’t be heavenly companions for our husbands within our own homes!
When you see your beloved for the first time after he returns home, make sure to greet him and kiss him and hug him. Practicing Muslim men who have taqwa, or God-consciousness, will avoid all physical contact with women who are not their blood relatives, and many of them are surrounded at work by women who make an effort to look attractive. You are the reward your husband gets at the end of a long, dry day. Be soft and affectionate and fragrant.
When you know life has been stressful and busy, wait until he’s he’s had a chance to relax before asking him to do anything or before breaking any bad news to him.
Everything about you — from your clothes, to your hair, to your skin, to your breath — should smell clean and fresh…for yourself, yes, but especially so for your husband!
Be kind and welcoming to one another’s friends. (But don’t ever be in solitude with the opposite gender — and that includes not being alone with another man on social media either.)
Cook together. And even if you don’t consider yourself to be a talented cook, at least make a sincere effort to learn how to make some of his favorite dishes.
Take care of yourself physically — exercise, eat well, and have a self-care regimen. So many of us make such an effort for strangers, but it is our spouses who deserve our best selves. Think of marriage as one long dating experience where both partners are still intent on presenting their best selves — becoming their best selves — for each other. I still have childhood memories of my mom brushing her hair and putting on lipstick and perfume before my dad came home from work.
Make your home an oasis of calm in this stormy world, a place of refuge to which he can escape — a world that smells nice, is clean and organized, has a well-stocked fridge, and where the members of the household speak in respectful and loving tones with one another.
Conflict is Inevitable — Learn How to Manage It in a Healthy Manner
The first two years of marriage often end up being the most exciting as well as being the most challenging. Even if you were to go on a fun all-girls’ adventure trip, you would find yourself getting rubbed the wrong way by your closest friends at some point or another. In the first couple of years of marriage, you’re learning how to live with another nafs, or ego, while he’s having to do the same. But what it comes down to is that marriage isn’t so much about struggling with another’s nafs as it is about struggling with your own. Expect to be challenged. Intend to grow.
It’s perfectly okay to have different personalities and different interests. After all, variety is the spice of life! What you want to make sure, however, is that you both have the same goals for your marriage and for your future family and that you’re both on the same page about how to achieve those goals, insha’Allah.
One cousin of mine caused quite a bit of consternation amongst our elders. “I don’t believe in the word ‘compromise’ when it comes to marriage,” he proclaimed. “What are you saying?! Marriage is compromise!” my mother scolded him. But then he explained: “If you think of everything as a ‘compromise,’ you will keep score and you will eventually become bitter. Once you decide to do something, try to embrace it fully and believe in it. Don’t think of it as a ‘compromise’ any more.”
Self-reflect, and don’t be too proud to apologize. The relief on his face and the peace in the home that comes after suffering the sting of stepping on your own ego in order to say “I’m sorry; I was wrong” is so so so worth it.
It is a given that all of us will get angry at some point or another, but it is when tempers are flared that people’s true natures are revealed. Be mindful of whom you always want to be. Try — even if it’s a struggle — to maintain your adab, or manners/etiquettes, when you’re upset. Being angry is never an excuse to break or throw things, scream, curse, use foul language, slam doors, pull hair, scratch, spit, raise an arm, or throw punches. Don’t casually toss around the D-word (divorce!) every time you feel overwhelmed. In regards to our interpersonal conduct when we feel frustrated, it is important to always remember: Allah, great and glorified is He, is watching.
When your spouse is angry or visibly agitated, stay quiet in the heat of the moment. You can always make your point at a later time.
When addressing your disagreements, avoid using absolutes like “always” and “never.” It’s not fair to forget the positives in your husband by saying: “You always do this bad thing” or “You never do that good thing.” It is rare that issues are black and white; most of the time, there will always be shades of gray. We shouldn’t be so quick to condemn one another.
Don’t expect him to be a mind-reader. If something is bothering you, discuss it with him. Set yourself up for success by beginning your conversation with an “I” statement instead of a “You” statement. For example, avoid saying, “You left your clothes all over the bedroom again! That was so thoughtless of you!” Instead, try saying, “I feel frustrated when I find clothes all over the bedroom at the end of a long day.” Try to avoid getting personal, and don’t assume that he knows exactly how his actions are affecting you. Give him the benefit of the doubt.
Don’t go to sleep angry (stay up and fight instead — just kidding!). Contrary to the age-old advice to resolve all conflicts before going to bed, sometimes it actually helps to sleep on a problem. But first you have to calm yourself down by reminding yourself to have tawakkul, or trust, in Allah. Once you’ve had a full night’s rest, you can tackle your problems with a fresh attitude the next day. Make sure to avoid sleeping in separate beds; you’ll be surprised how many problems can eventually get solved just by snuggling together under the covers. It is Shaytan who wants to separate you two.
Avoid arguing in front of your children, but if they ever do witness a loud disagreement between you and your spouse, make sure to make up in front of them as well. Show them that marital conflict is not the end of the world and that there are healthy ways to resolve issues. Let them witness you apologizing and hugging it out.
Holding grudges breeds toxicity and dysfunction. Once issues are resolved, don’t keep bringing up past mistakes. Learn to forgive. And then forgive every day.
Have a sense of humor about each other’s annoying flaws and foibles. Case in point: I am frequently misplacing my eyeglasses and losing my wallet. It is such a bad habit of mine that even I have gotten to the point that I have difficulty forgiving myself. Alhamdulillah for a patient husband who manages to laugh it off, no matter how many times he ends up being inconvenienced (which is unfortunately a little too often). As long as they’re not extremely serious issues, try to act like you don’t even see each other’s faults.
Go with the flow.
Four other words: JUST LET IT GO.
Be a Uniter and Not a Divider
When you get to know your in-laws, you will see that not every family does everything the way your family does. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Take the good you see in your new family and adopt it. Ignore the “bad.” Do resolve with your husband, however, not to allow either of your families’ poor habits and poor choices to continue in the next generation that you two are raising together.
Don’t complain about or criticize your spouse to your own family. You’ll eventually get over whatever issue was bothering you, but it will be difficult for them to forgive and forget so easily. You want them to respect your husband. Be a veil for him. (Physical abuse, however, is a non-negotiable deal-breaker — God forbid, if that line is ever crossed, sound the alarm and get help immediately!)
If you want him to respect your family, you will have to show respect for them first. He will follow your lead. If he sees that your family is always causing you to feel annoyed, he will eventually start to resent them for bringing stress into his own household. Protect and nurture that special yet fragile relationship between him and his in-laws.
Even if it doesn’t seem to be a priority for him, take the time to buy his parents and siblings thoughtful presents — just because. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Give gifts to each other and you will love one another.” So go ahead and “buy” their love — it’s sunnah after all!
If your husband is ever upset with his own parents or siblings or extended family, don’t jump in and encourage him in his negative opinions. Defend them and make excuses for them and encourage him to see the good in them. Be their advocate. If you have nothing nice to say, stay silent. He may not admit it then, but he will be grateful for your attitude and thank you — even if only in his heart — later. The truth is: no one wants to hear anyone else bad-mouthing his family. Remember when we talked about service being one of the “five languages of love?” Well, here is an opportunity for one of the highest forms of service. Be someone who helps mend hearts and helps bring relations together; don’t be a cause for discord in the family.
Don’t Try to Keep Up with the Junaids
Avoid debt like the plague. A large, fancy, expensive house may do nothing toward making you happy. However, a small, clean, cozy, simple, peaceful home in a safe neighborhood filled with people who are hopefully trying to please Allah can very well feel like a palace in Heaven, insha’Allah.
Responsibly managing the family budget will avoid a lot of stress in your marriage. Paying riba, or usury, brings about all kinds of problems in one’s life and destroys the barakah, or blessing, in the home. Don’t ever pay interest, even if it means you never get to own your own home or car in this life. Keep your “akhirah (hereafter) glasses” on.
Make do with what you have, and only complain to Allah for your wants and needs. Make your husband feel like a hero. Having said that, don’t hesitate to schedule time to have honest conversations with your husband about anything that needs to be improved — the key is not to become an irritating nag who is constantly whining and complaining and issuing orders. Talk to your spouse when he is in the headspace to listen.
Be grateful. Be grateful. Be grateful. Allah, great and glorified is He, says in The Holy Qur’an: “If you are grateful, I will surely increase you.” And Allah always keeps His promises.
Remember: you will never have it all (not in this life at least).
Don’t compare your life to others’.
At the same time, you might not want to brag to the world about how happy you are. ’Ayn (the evil eye) and hasad (malicious jealousy) are two realities that Allah in His Wisdom has allowed to exist in the world. Protect your marriage from them. Besides, who would ever want to be the cause of any pain or sadness for those who are struggling with their own love lives?
There will be “little things” that will irritate you about him, and sometimes those causes for irritation might start to feel like “big things” (even when they are not). At those times, remind yourself that perfection is only for Allah, try to think about what life would be like without him, and be grateful for a spouse who is choosing to somehow still accept you despite your shortcomings. (And if someone else’s husband seems perfect to you, remember that everyone has flaws, and good wives hide their husbands’ shortcomings, so you are probably not getting the full picture — nor should you expect to.)
Instead of chasing “happiness,” try aiming for “contentment” instead.
Don’t take one another for granted. Your spouse is a duniyawi, or worldly, blessing that can be taken away at any moment. And, believe it or not, somewhere out there is someone who would be more than happy to trade places with you. Appreciate what Allah has given you.
Have a Mentor in Marriage
Avoid getting marital advice from people whom you know are having their own relationship problems. Similarly, stay away from getting advice from newbies who are still learning the ropes themselves. Look to someone who has a long-term, successful marriage of his or her own to find out how to make it work. Try to find one wise, discreet person to consult; don’t tell everyone your “problems.”
If someone you respect says you need therapy, you probably do. Don’t be ashamed to do whatever it takes to save your marriage. Give it your all.
If you do pay for marital therapy, only seek out trained professionals who understand and respect the parameters and priorities of your religion. You’ll be surprised at how often well-meaning (but spiritually clueless) therapists will prescribe the haram, or Divinely prohibited, as medicine for a troubled marriage.
Set Yourself Up to Soar Spiritually
He may be your best friend, or maybe he’s not. Either way, don’t neglect your girlfriends. Take time to nurture those bonds that help you be a better person. There will come a day when you will need the support of your sisters. Don’t let falling in love make you fall out of friendship with your “tribe.” Consider connection with your soul sisters as part of your self-care, but remember that your husband and his needs always take precedence. If, after being married, people routinely mistake you for being “single,” you’re definitely doing something wrong.
Attend religious classes together, either in person or online. The point is to keep growing together spiritually. You may not grow at the same pace (and that’s okay — you’re two separate souls after all!), but at least you’ll respect the same teachers and will understand each other’s motivations and end goals.
Instead of listening to those who advise “Don’t let marriage change you,” amend their words to “Marriage should only change you for the better.”
Take an occasional break and travel — even if you can only afford to do so locally.
But make Allah, great and glorified is He, be your ultimate destination.
Hina Khan-Mukhtar is a mother of three young men and one of the founders of the homeschooling co-operative known as ILM Tree in the San Francisco Bay Area which now serves over 35 homeschooling families. In addition to having taught Language Arts to elementary, middle school, and high school students, she is also involved in interfaith dialogue. Hina was a monthly contributor to The Muslim Observer’s “Raising Our Ummah” column and also writes for Seeker’s Guidance where she shares parenting advice and ideas for nurturing spiritual traditions in childhood.