Da da da..! *cue dramatic music*
Picture the scene, you’ve been married for a few years (maybe just a few months) things seem to be going fine, there’s the odd fight here and there, but those are normal and to be expected, right? Then BOOM! Your partner drops it like it’s hot, sits you down and says they want both of you to attend marriage counselling.
The mere suggestion of going for marriage counselling (couples’ therapy / relationship coaching / call it what you like) strikes fear into the hearts of many of us. Often one partner might feel completely blindsided by the suggestion, evoking questions like, “What have I done?” “Am I not a good enough?” “Are we going to divorce?”
“Your spouse wanting to go for marriage counselling is proof that they still love you”
First of all, calm yourself down take a moment to be grateful. Grateful? Yes, grateful! Think about it.
Your spouse wanting to go for marriage counselling is proof that they still love you and care about the marriage enough to want to work on it! Marriage counselling is still taboo across society, especially in Muslim communities where we’re often taught to cover the faults of each other and not to air our dirty laundry. But rest assured, counselling is not the end of the world, in fact it might just be the beginning of a whole new world for you and your partner.
We must understand the purpose of marriage counselling is not to complain about your spouse or shame them in front of someone else. The primary objective of marriage counselling is to have a professional, neutral mediator listen to both of you objectively and guide you in exploring the challenges in your marriage. The truth is, it is almost impossible to see yourself objectively and so a friendly, guiding external perspective gives you priceless insights into yourself and your relationship.
I remember a friend telling me about his marriage counselling experience. He was convinced that only he cared about making his marriage work , he felt like he gave so much compared to his wife and felt his wife just didn’t understand him. In couples counselling, he learned to recognise the ways that his wife sacrificed and invested in their relationship and that he wasn’t able to see it from her perspective. “The therapist helped me see my own sense of entitlement,” he said.
What usually happens in the first session (yes, marriage counselling will most likely require a few sessions if the two of you are committed to improving your marriage) is that the counsellor will ask a few establishing questions. These may seem simple enough but you’ll soon realise that your spouse has very a different take on the shared life you have together.
Furthermore, most of us don’t realise that we carry certain micro-traumas from our life that subconsciously shape the way we view our relationship . These trauma or scars may not hurt you anymore but they often manifest themselves in toxic ways when we manage conflict or communicate our feelings.
If your spouse is suggesting counselling, the two of you should revisit your intentions for marriage and seek out a counsellor or therapist that both of you are comfortable with. Never shut down the conversation. If you find yourself getting agitated at the idea of counselling, spend some time interrogating the feeling in yourself and then explore with your partner when you are calmer and more composed. Remember, you can often call up therapists ahead of your session to get a feel of how they are like and explore what you’d like to get out of your sessions.
Getting help is not weakness, it’s the opposite. It’s a sign of strength.
Can I not just go to my Imam?
There are many Muslim therapists who can guide you through the counselling process while incorporating Islamic ethics and values and respecting your cultural proclivities. It is also important to mention here that not all Imams, Ustaadhs or Sheikhs can be a substitute for a professional marriage counsellor. This is not to say they cannot give good marriage advice but one should not confuse religious training for proper relationship and mental health training that licensed counsellors have gone through.
Will it be tough?
I’m going to be honest with you, marriage counselling will not be easy. You will have to confront difficult topics and have conversations that you would rather not. This shouldn’t scare you, rather you should understand that until you and your partner have your perspectives laid out in an open and safe space, then and only then, can you and your spouse address them together.
Brace yourself for some awkward conversations and be patient. Counselling is about listening just as much as it is about sharing your perspectives. You should go into marriage counselling with the intention that it will help and strengthen your marriage and not that it will change your spouse. Make lots of prayers throughout the entire process and be open to changing yourself for the better.
Remember that marriage is half of your faith, which means it will take a lot out of you to make it work. Remind yourself that your spouse has rights over you and in working to treat them better, you are taking a leaf out of the Prophet’s book, peace and blessings upon him, and that can never be a bad thing.
Practicing Muslim? Stable job? Smart and witty? All checked. Congratulations! He has all the characteristics of a picture-perfect husband. Women, and their families, often look for such ingredients in a man with hopes that the marriage will have a higher chance of lasting the rocky road of life.
However, if you’ve been following our articles so farm, you already know that while falling in love might get you married, it most definitely won’t keep you married. There are certain deal breakers in a marriage and knowing when to draw a line and get real help can save not just your sanity but probably your marriage too.
Sure, you can be patient with some of your partner’s annoying habits and traits, but when red flags are waving high, passion and love must give way to reason and safety. Although these three ‘A’s are more associated with men, women can be equally guilty of them, because it’s rarer male victims of abuse often find it more difficult to seek help, but please note I’m addressing everyone in this article.
There is no standard definition of betrayal. Of course, we all understand the gravity of illicit sexual relations but there is also emotional infidelity, when one’s spouse is invested in someone else. It could be heartfelt messaging and conversations, or even just preferring time and friendship with a member of the opposite sex more than your spouse. Emotional infidelity can and often leads to physical infidelity.
Secrecy may also be enough of a betrayal for others – secret Facebook accounts, unwillingness to share information on whereabouts, or future life plans. Being kept in the dark about aspects of your spouse’s life can lead to immense feelings of misunderstanding, distrust and ultimately, betrayal.
Trust and honesty are the fragile but essential basis of a sound relationship. Spouses must always consider the feelings of the other and ensure their behaviour does not rock the very foundation on which their love was built upon.
Breaking this bond is devastating and can take years to. Victims are shaken to the core as they struggle to connect the dots. “Am I not good enough for him?”, “What could I have done to avoid her from seeking attention elsewhere?”. These are questions that constantly play in the victim’s mind; self-doubt and fear which invariably may lead to depression and anxiety.
Addiction is a disease that mutates into other behaviours such as cheating, stealing, manipulating and lying. It is frustrating for ‘non-addicts’ as the actions of one partner will always affect both.
For example, if he/she gets into trouble, the other has to clear the mess. If he/she goes to jail, the other has to bail them out. If he/she is in debt, the other is burdened financially too. Eventually, non-addicts become overwhelmed and exhausted from keeping their addict spouses in check.
Addiction has many different expressions and is one of the biggest challenges any marriage can face. It’s not uncommon to see families dissolve
entirely as a consequence of untreated addiction problems.
There are many different types of addiction – gaming, gambling, porn, drugs, sex etc. The addict’s life falls into a downward spiral as all addictions are progressive. Addicts usually are unable to admit they have an addiction problem, until they do the impact of external intervention will always be mostly limited.
Anger can vary from mild mannered micro aggression to wild uncontrollable rage, both able to destroy relationships and tear families apart. In their fits of anger, the abuser has no inhibition in spewing profanities, shaming, and degrading the victim of their attack. Anger creates enemies from friends, creating long-term damage to relationships This type of anger makes it even impossible to de-escalate tensions and can only be stopped with professional help.
Abusers usually have violent and explosive reactions to perceived breaches of their boundaries. They tend to display outrageously high levels of jealousy, possessiveness, hypersensitivity to real or imagined obstacles and criticisms, and aggression. Remarkably, they can be very normal, or even exceptionally nice when not in their ‘anger mode.’
The abuser may consciously or unconsciously, shackle their spouse to the marriage with repeated promises of change, only to break them and continue their cycle of anger. Any attempts to distant the abuser or even walk away from marriage, will be met with sheer avalanche of fury and hysteria, sometimes leading to serious violence. Therefore, a carefully planned “exit strategy” is needed to break away from the cycle of abuse.
Excessive anger zaps away positive vibes from the family. Children are consumed by fear, for their own safety, the safety of others or the fear that their parents may separate. The house is no longer a safe space for them. These conditions can lead to loneliness, depression and anxiety disorders.
Aairs, addiction and anger are three serious challenges to any relationship. Couples should educate themselves about how these three A’s can creep into marriage and be brave enough to talk through them before they escalate into irreconcilable issues.
While these three ‘A’ can cause so much trauma that people may walk out of marriages altogether (and rightly so), it need not be the case every time. It takes a courage and patience and faith to forgive, seek help, commit to each other again and give reconciliation a real chance.
Anger can vary from mild mannered micro aggression to wild uncontrollable rage, both able to destroy relationships Affairs, addiction and anger are three serious challenges to any relationship. Couples should educate themselves about how these three A’s can creep into marriage and be brave enough to talk through them before they escalate into irreconcilable issues.
While these three ‘A’ can cause so much trauma that people may walk out of marriages altogether (and rightly so), it need not be the case every time. It takes a courage and patience and faith to forgive, seek help, commit to each other again and give reconciliation a real chance. Remember however, real change can seldom happen without professional intervention. Deep emotional wounds do not heal overnight. The road to recovery is long and alongside professional help one needs a strong support network of family and friends. Seeking professional help is not a sign that you are weak, in fact it is the opposite. Marriage is tough and life can be tough and we can fall into patterns of behaviour where we seldom recognise ourselves or our partners. A therapist or counsellor can help you unearth the roots of the problems and you both onto the path of peace and tranquillity that marriage should bring to your lives.
No one should live their lives in fear, especially not their marriage. Never suer alone. There is no excuse for abuse, which has many forms, at the hands of both men and women. If dealt with in a timely and compassionate way, it can strengthen your relationship unlike anything else, if left unchecked it will can and it will not just tear apart your marriage but yourselves too.