“And they lived happily ever after.” This statement is, arguably, the most common modern myth about marriage that we are conditioned to believe. However, popular media fails to show us what actually happens afterwards. The reality of successful marriages is that they are neither trouble free, nor effort free. The Quranic objective of the marital relationship is to cultivate an environment of tranquility, love, and mercy among the spouses. It is unrealistic to think that these blessings of marriage can come about by chance.
Marriage is a contract, a commitment to a new relationship, and a fulfillment of half your Deen (religion). The newly-formed connection is not just physical – it extends into your emotional and spiritual worlds. Therefore, it is crucial to make a conscious intention to take this bond as seriously as a collaborative project. A study on arranged marriages by Dr. Robert Epstein, former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, found sacrifice and commitment to be the most powerful factors that strengthen love.
Allah (swt) says about the spouses: “They are Libas (clothing/covering) for you and you are the same for them…” (Al-Baqarah 2:187) This implies that they assume protective, intimate, and expressive roles for each other the way clothes do for our bodies. Zauj – the Arabic word for spouse – itself indicates the complementary nature of the spouses. Nouman Ali Khan, founder and lead Arabic instructor at Bayyinah, explains that the word Zauj (pl. Zaujain) actually means ‘counterpart’. This is why the sun and the moon, day and night are also called Zaujain in the Quran.
Some therapists and psychologists agree that there is a direct link between the quality of your talking and the quality of your marital relationship. Improving your communication skills can contribute greatly to satisfaction, growth, and conflict resolution in marriage. A key skill for successful marital interactions is learning to hold a collaborative dialogue. Let us look at what such dialogue is like and ways of incorporating it in your life.
Why a collaborative dialogue?
How often have you seen two people enter into an argument and come out of it with a deeper, shared understanding of the issue? Not very often. Modern culture encourages debate, but when conversations between the spouses turn into heated arguments, it places them into opposing camps with each person focusing only on his or her thoughts and feelings. They become entrapped in a verbal and emotional tug-of-war, until one side overpowers the other.
The dominating side employs such tactics as insults, emotional manipulation, and hurtful language, which only builds up resentment, anger, and frustration, damaging the emotional fabric of the relationship.
Islamic teachings exhort us to avoid argumentation to the extent that Rasoolullah (sa) said: “I guarantee a house in Jannah (Paradise) for the one who gives up arguing, even if he is right.” (Abu Dawud)
Marriage, then, clearly needs a more healthy approach to communicating that allows the spouses to interact as teammates, instead of enemies. Collaborative dialogue is that alternative. Talking to each other is the primary method of expressing yourself and getting things done in marriage. To be effective, it needs to be cooperative instead of oppositional. Unfortunately, because most couples have not seen such healthy patterns of interaction in their parents, they do not understand the necessity of collaborative dialogue.
What is a collaborative dialogue?
It is a verbal interaction in which both spouses commit to collaboratively constructing the conversation, instead of trying to control it. They both take turns sharing their concerns in an environment of mutual respect and confidence. The exchange seeks to arrive at outcomes that are mutually acceptable and that benefit their relationship. With a collaborative approach, they are no longer constrained by their initial two positions but are free to explore possibilities. In this way, new perspectives emerge and a common understanding is achieved, which not only enriches their relationship, but also eases the decision making process.
Rasoolullah (sa) advised us: “Make things easy (for the people) and do not make them difficult. And make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them).” (Bukhari)
What does collaborative dialogue involve?
Listen with an open mind. Listen to connect and understand. It is the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa) to hear out the other person before responding. Specifically, listen for useful information that provides insights. Additionally, over time you will become familiar with your spouse’s personal language. Once Rasoolullah (sa) told Aisha (rtaf) that he could tell when she was pleased or angry with him. When she was pleased with him, she would say: “No, by the Lord of Muhammad,” but when she was angry with him, she would say: “No, by the Lord of Ibrahim.” (Bukhari)
Use clear, positive language. Be careful in your choice of words. Use a friendly, positive tone and express yourself using clear, non-inflammatory language. Avoid verbal attacks. The Prophet (sa) was told: “And say to My slaves that they should (only) say those words that are the best. (Because) Shaitan (Satan) verily, sows disagreements among them. Surely, Shaitan (Satan) is to man a plain enemy.” (Al-Isra 17:53)
Prioritize your relationship over your ego. Your ego poses a big hurdle in the way of moving your marriage forward. For fruitful conversations, monitor and restrain your ego and related extreme emotions. According to Riad Ouarzazi, a Canadian marriage officer and family counsellor, lack of patience and stubbornness are the two main problems that destroy marriages.
Recognizing the role of the ego, Prophet Yusuf (as) said: “And I free not myself (from the blame). Verily, the (human) self is inclined to evil, except when my Lord bestows His Mercy (upon whom He wills). Verily, my Lord is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Yusuf 12:53)
Tolerate differences generously. Take a generous approach to differences. This includes feeling generous about your spouse’s intentions. Husbands are advised in the Quran: “And live with them honourably. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings through it a great deal of good.” (An-Nisa 4:19)
Build consensus and take mutual consultation. We are told in the Quran that the believers conduct their affairs by mutual consultation. (Ash-Shura 42:38) Collaborative dialogue is all about confronting problems together. This is illustrated on many occasions in the Seerah, including the time when the Prophet (sa) consulted his wife Umm Salamah (rtaf) after the Treaty of Hudaibiyah and found a dignified way out of the impasse with the Sahabah by following through with her counsel.
Be mindful of Allah (swt). Make a conscious effort at practicing Taqwa (being mindful of Allah) in your interactions with each other. Make the collaborative dialogue of your marriage a collaboration in Deen, for Allah (swt) says: “…and the (blessed) end is for the Mutaqun (pious).” (Al-Araf 7:128)
This cooperative approach to interacting will help build a climate of trust. Even if your spouse is not fully invested in this style of communicating, continue doing your part, because in our Deen, we base our actions on intentions and act out of principles. The Barakah will come from Allah (swt), Insha’Allah.