All couples begin their journey with the sacred ceremony of Nikah. Regretfully, since most of us are non-Arabic speaking individuals, it is considered more of a religious ritual meant for the Imam to conduct. It is critically imperative to understand Allah’s (swt) expectations of the couple about to tie the knot. As they move beyond, they also must invest time in preparing a mission statement for themselves to be content and contributing partners.
Why do we need a mission statement?
The point is to bear the end in mind. With this intention multitude organizations form and frame their mission statements. It not only assures productivity and success for high performance organizations but also the satisfaction and happiness of the people, who work in it.
Stephen Covey states: “Even though families don’t have the kind of mission statement so critical to organizational success, yet family is the most important, fundamental organization in the world. It is the literal building block of the society. No civilization has ever survived its break up. No other institution can fulfill its essential purpose.”
What happens, if we don’t have a mission statement?
To many spouses, creation of a mission statement seems like a dreaded or redundant job. The reason, why it is critically needed in any given marriage, is because no two people are completely alike. There are always differences. And if the couples do not take the time to explore these differences and create a sense of shared vision, then these differences can eventually drive them apart.
We will try to understand the gravity of the situation by considering two people called Asif and Shehla. Asif comes from a very supportive family. When Asif was in college, if he had said to his mother: “Today I lost my badminton semi-final,” his mother might have responded: “Oh Asif! Inna lillahi wa inna illehi rajioon. You must be really disappointed. I am really proud of your effort and love you!” If Asif had said: “Oh, another thing, I scored the highest in my statistics exam.” His mother might have replied: “Subhan’Allah! I am so happy for you. I am proud of you and love you.” Asif’s success or failure made no difference. His parents were unconditionally affectionate, proud and caring.
Shehla, conversely, belongs to a family that is not supportive. Her parents are generally disinterested, unaffectionate and conditional in their love. If Shehla had said to her mother: “Today I lost my badminton semi-final” Her mother would have replied: “Well so what happened? Didn’t I tell you to exercise and practice more? Your brother was a badminton college champion. He also exercised and practised a lot more than you. What am I going to tell your father?” But if Shehla had said: “Mom, I scored the highest marks in my statistics exam!” Her mother would have replied: “Oh great! I’m really proud of you. I can’t wait to tell your father.”
Observe how these two individuals have had totally different nurturing experiences. One has learned to love unconditionally, while the other seems to love conditionally. Their families meet and propose an arranged marriage. Asif and Shehla both approve of the proposal and Nikah is performed. They both fall in love with each other. But within a few months of living with each other, the tenderness, sensitivity and intimacy of the relationship is challenged.
Asif expects Shehla to be expressive about her love. He also complains that Shehla expects him to be perfect all the time, otherwise she is very upset with him. Since he comes from a very positive family, he also doesn’t feel the need to discuss reasons for issues at length and is in the habit of brushing stuff under the carpet, as if all is hunky dory.
Shehla, on the other hand, assumes that since she cooks, cleans and looks after Asif’s family, she doesn’t need to validate her love for Asif continuously. She also feels that Asif is too casual about his shortfalls and should work harder to perfect himself. She claims that occasional yelling, accusing and fighting is all part of conflict resolution so what is the big deal about it?
See how these two individuals, due to their own childhood experiences and learning, have completely opposite ways of recognizing and addressing problems. If they both do not come to resolve these differences their relationship will deteriorate further. The attraction will turn into accommodation, then to toleration and finally to hostility.
The crux of it all is that mostly the problems that people face in their marriages is due to conflicting role expectations and by conflicting problem-solving strategies.
How will you make one?
Giving into our customs, the newly wed couple is seldom given a chance to be alone for quiet thinking and planning for their life ahead. Not at least until the umpteenth family dinner is over. And generally by then the first baby is already on the way. So many couples feel way too overwhelmed by the pace of the rapid changes taking place one after the other.
Nikah is a beautiful relationship any man and woman can enjoy. It is indeed a responsibility, too. The couples should plan and try to get a grip of things, before they impulsively start happening, as they can frustrate the partners.
Ideally speaking, the couple should take some time off together to be alone after the wedding ceremony is over. It could just be for a few days or a few hours a day. They may choose a relaxing place. (It doesn’t have to be the Swiss Alps but any place of retreat their pocket permits.)
They can envision together, what they realistically want their relationship to be like after five, ten or twenty years down the road.
What should it contain essentially?
Basic guidelines can be sought from the Quran and Sunnah. Following critical questions need to be answered and documented as early as possible in any marriage:
- What kind of marriage partners shall we be?
- How are we going to treat each other?
- How shall we resolve our differences?
- How shall we manage our finances?
- What kind of parents shall we be?
- What principles we shall teach our children to help them become responsible and caring individuals?
- How shall we help develop the potential talent of each child?
- What kind of discipline shall we use for our children?
- What roles (earning, financial management, housekeeping, etc.) will each one of us have?
- How shall we best relate to each other’s families?
- What traditions shall we continue that we shall bring from our respective families?
- What new traditions shall we want to create in our new family?
- How shall we give back to our family?
What are the cautions to look out for while writing a mission statement?
- Don’t announce it. It should be remembered, that the final product must represent all that is in both spouses mind and heart. Only then they will own it up.
- Don’t rush it. They are pivotal issues and need a deep interaction hence they should not be rushed simply to quickly whip up a mission statement.
- Don’t ignore it. Writing a mission statement is only the beginning. The richest fruits will be born, when it is lived on a day to day basis. The statement must be put up some place prominent, reflected upon and used as a compass for direction in marital life.
What if you never made one and have been married for some time now?
It’s never too late. If you and your spouse realize, what has been missing in making your marriage more successful and comfortable, prepare a mission statement now. May Allah (swt) be your guide. Ameen.
Adapted from “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families” by Stephen Covey.