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Harmonious Home: A Guide to Spousal Serenity 9/13/2011 - Family Religious - Article Ref: IH1109-4859 Number of comments: 3 Opinion Summary:

Agree:3 Disagree:0 Neutral:0 By: Leena Saleh Islamic Horizons* -

One question has been explored by every outlet imaginable and every social circl e: "What is the secret to a successful marriage?" With the increasing divorce ra te in the U.S. stretching beyond 50 percent, and above 30 percent among North Am erican Muslim communities, the question is more than relevant. In light of this, three married couples- all having more than seven decades of m arriage merit under their belts-discussed their secrets, methods and advice on t he key to cultivating felicitous families at the ISNA Convention. RELIGIOSITY IN THE RELATIONSHIP "Religion is a factor in my own marriage. When you're in a marriage, especially an intercultural marriage, there has to be something that pulls you together," s ays ISNA president Imam Mohamed Magid. Magid, a Sudanese Muslim American, took p art in the convention panel with his wife, Aamarah DeCuir, a Native American. There are two essential factors to incorporating religiosity in a marriage, acco rding to Magid. The first is the establishing of rituals in the home. This inclu des prayer, thikr or remembrance of God, and a constant reference to Islamic val ues. The second is establishing a sense of belonging to the Muslim community. Ma gid believes that these are the primary factors to fertilize a spiritual growth for the married couple with which they can create a sense of harmony. Catapulting from Magid's point, Dr. Iqbal Unus, headquarters director of the Int ernational Institute of Islamic Thought, and devoted husband for more than 40 ye ars, chimed in with his own thoughts. "You have to create a culture of faith in the home, maintaining an overall perception that everything you do is Islamic." Implementing Islam is one of the key ingredients for a successful marriage, acco rding to Humaira Basith. "When we began our married life, we decided that whatev er big decision we made in our marriage would be an Islamic decision. Not an Ind ian decision or a Mexican decision." Basith, married to Edmund Arroyo for more t han a decade, emphasized the role of religion in her own intercultural marriage. "We made a distinction between culture and religion," Basith says. Each couple reflected on their own marriage and came to the ultimate conclusion that marriage and religion are interwoven. Like all other aspects of the Muslim way of life, Islamic values are not entities unto themselves but tied tightly to daily life and even the smallest gestures, according to the couples. COMMUNICATION IS KEY Any sociologist or psychiatrist expert will say the key to any successful relati onship is developing communication. Marriage is no exception. Knowing how to spe ak, how to let others speak, and knowing when not to speak are the fundamentals for establishing positive communication with your spouse. Seemingly simple, thes e basics are often overlooked by married couples. Dr. Altaf Hussain says communi cation is the top problem among married couples.

Where does the communication begin to fall apart? Arroyo says it all begins with a lack of listening skills by each spouse. "I train couples to learn to listen properly," says Arroyo, founder of Heartspeak Institute, a company that focuses on family and marriage counseling. "You're not trying to find holes in what the person is saying but really listening to try and understand what they're saying, especially about a difficult topic." Experts agree with Arroyo, listening to others while being devoid of an agenda o r motive is essential. Many couples focus on clinging to singular statements or exclamations that will eradicate their responsibility or serve as justification for begrudging the other person. Arroyo explained that this is both unfair and u nproductive. Listening wholly with full context is the only way to understand wh at it is your spouse is trying to communicate. Acknowledging purpose is another important part of communicating, according to U nus. "Communication has to be very natural and must come from the feeling that y ou need to connect with this person," he says. Communication professionals agree that, increasingly among couples, what takes p lace is negative communication circles. The proprietary form of communication is one person blaming the other or waiting for a reason to angrily express how the y feel. This causes the other spouse to become defensive and retaliate reflexive ly. Conclusively they create a never ending circle of negativity where no one is heard and both are hurt. The marriage experts believe to avoid these problems and to establish a more har monious way to express what they're feeling, couples should adhere to the follow ing tips: Make sure the person you're talking to is ready to hear what you're saying In the heat of the moment, anger overshadows any real absorption of what you're trying to say. Wait until you're both collected and prepared to listen. Don't assume your spouse is a mind reader One of the most common mistakes couples make is assuming the other automatically knows what they want, need, or expect with- out ever expressing it directly. Stay on track When you agree to sit and discuss one specific problem, don't use this as an opp ortunity to dive into other emotional issues or to criticize mistakes of the pas t. Focus on one problem at a time and with sensitivity. Don't generalize Once your spouse makes a mistake it does not give you precedence to brand them w ith that mistake for the entirety of your marriage. Specify what's troubling you in that particular moment and avoid hurtfully pointing out a list of past blund ers. Keep talking. Once an issue is resolved and things are alright again doesn't mean conversation s should desist. Having a frequent flow of pleasant exchanges can enhance your m utual respect as well as reassure your spouse of your affection towards them. HANDLING EXPECTATIONS

Two types of expectations can lead to creating a disconnecting and conflicting m arriage. In a marriage, according to Magid, couples must contend with hidden as well as external expectations. "The person has to adapt to the limitations of th eir spouse," says Magid. "In return, spouses must also exert their maximum effor t within their capacity." He adds, "What brings tension to a marriage is having extreme expectations." Oftentimes, couples, before marrying, conceal hidden expectations like the husba nd who expects his wife-to-be to wear hijab after they marry. Or the wife who co nvinces herself that she will make her husband start praying once they are marri ed. This is a dangerous way of thinking when beginning a marriage, according to Magid. "You have to develop a 'what you see is what you get,' kind of attitude." Battling another bout of outside factors that can harm a marriage are external e xpectations. This is where the issue of handling in-laws presents itself. Arroyo believes there is an important recognition to be sought not only by the spouses themselves, but their older counterparts. "A concept I want everyone to remembe r is the concept of different versus deficient. Just because someone does someth ing differently, doesn't mean it's incorrect or deficient." He further explained that realizing that everyone is an individual with their ow n way of doing things and developing routines can be different from what the oth er is accustomed to, but this does not mean their way is inherently wrong. Aamarah DeCuir, organizer of the ISNA Matrimonial banquets and wife to Imam Magi d, has her own methods for making in-laws less of a problem. "The most important thing for me that I've learned about in-laws, is having knowledge. Take the tim e to learn the manners and etiquette of your in-laws." She explained that knowin g more about the family and their customs beforehand can help establish an appre ciation for your effort to learn. Speaking to in-laws themselves, DeCuir pointed out that they need to create a leeway for that spouse to make mistakes. Most couples view their parents as a SWAT team, waiting by the phone for their b ack-up call. Ready to tear down the door and rush to their child's defense, leav ing the spouse outnumbered and defeated. Experts, as well as Magid, agree couple s need a new outlook. "If your spouse does something you don't like, don't call your family to complain so they can take your side," Magid says. Similarly, looking at one's in-laws as some obligatory acquaintance met with gro ans and plastered smiles is also a mistake. "One of the golden rules of a marria ge is to have a relationship with your in-laws independent of your spouse," said Magid. "You have to have the ability to pick up the phone and start a conversat ion and not because your spouse is sitting there beside you."