Married in Johannesburg. Three years ago if you told me that that sentence would relate to me, I wouldn’t have believed you. I met my husband two years ago, and though it’s hard to believe sometimes, by the Grace of God, we’ve been married for almost a year and a half now.
Most tellings of love stories stop with the words “and then they lived happily ever after” but in real life (vs reel life) it takes time to figure out what being married looks like and to learn how to share a life. This knowledge requires time, patience and the help of others. Today I found a draft post I wrote about marriage around the time of our one year anniversary, and thought as a means of self-reminding it would be helpful to post some of the things I’ve learned and continue to re-learn every day about marriage.
1) God is number 1
Like other Muslim couples, we started our married life by praying 2 cycles of prayer together and praying for goodness in all things, goodness for everyone we love and goodness in a successful and blessed life together. We prayed out of gratitude and joy for the incredible blessing we had been given in each other and it was a wonderful way to start our joined lives. Before I got married I always prayed on my own, and still, praying solo is where I find the most peace and contentment. What I have learnt since then though is that there is goodness and peace in praying together on a daily or frequent basis. And regardless of whether we pray together or separately, when we place God first in our marriage, our lives together are better as a result. When we are happy, prayer makes us happier and extends that blessing, when we argue or simply don’t feel connected, prayer bridges the distance between us that we can’t bridge ourselves. Prayer also is a means to ask for clarity, and to remind oneself that when things are confusing, they do make sense to God and are unfolding exactly the way they are supposed to. In summary, for our individual lives and our joined life to work, God must be first in our lives.
2) Intentions are key
Before we got married, we made a list of intentions of what we wanted to strive for in our marriage, principles we wanted to guide our behaviour towards each another in our married life, and our overall intentions and shared goals for different aspects of our marriage. It is one of the best things we could have done to start our life off in the right way. Our intentions are a map, and when we get off course, our list of intentions helps us get back to where we need to go.
3) Kindness and mercy is the foundation of a happy home
One of the best pieces of advice of marriage advice we got was from someone sitting beside us on our honeymoon flight. Whenever him and his wife have an argument or a disagreement or are upset with each other , he asks himself: am I happy with the life that I have with this person? He always answers yes, and then asks himself what he should do to preserve the life that he has with his partner. Asking himself that question means that he speaks more gently when he is upset than if he gave into his upset feelings, that he overlooks and forgives a lot and generally helps ensures that kindness and mercy are two central characteristics of his home. I heard similar advice before our wedding day from my aunt, who emphasized that respect is an important key to a long and happy marriage. Genuine respect ensures you always address each other respectfully even when you are angry with one another and having an intense argument, and ensures that you do not say things or behave in ways you cannot undo. Forgiving, overlooking, and being merciful, are all things that make your marriage stronger.
4) You need to embrace change and be willing to grow
Moving to the other side of the world has been challenging because everything about my life changed when I got married. Intense change has taught me that leaning into change, embracing adventure and preparing for what may be challenging can make new experiences easier. Embracing change is not something I do perfectly but I’ve become much better with uncertainty and being willing to experiment with new things.
5) Difference is a blessing
Marriage is taking two people with entirely different backgrounds and upbringings and personalities and trying to blend two lives together. It is a challenge and a gift. It is a challenge sometimes to figure out how your habits and life experiences and goals could be one, but it is also a gift to be exposed to things and perspectives that you wouldn’t have encountered on your own, to benefit from different strengths and weaknesses, and to build with someone who complements you.
6) You are your best friend
You are the person who knows yourself best. You need to be complete in yourself because like you, your spouse is another human. You are sharing a beautiful journey together and you are helping each other and giving one another companionship, but you need to find happiness within yourself and trust yourself. Being your own best friend means asking yourself for advice and trusting that advice, listening and making space for your emotions so you know when you need to change something about your life, and trusting that even in situations where everything is new you still have yourself for company.
7) You don’t change all that much. The things (the people, the loves, the work) that make you you are still important.
Marriage changes you and expands your life in many ways but your core does not change. You remain the same person, and your habits and tendencies, the people that you love, the work and issues that you care about do not change all that much.
This means that you need to continue nurturing the things that make you happy. For me, having my own projects, writing/journaling, going on solo outings, calling home, reading a book, blogging, recording an audio story, meeting with the bookclub, going for a walk, all of these things that are connected to personal identity and independence help to stay myself.
8) Marriage is about two families coming together
Before I got married the only South African I knew was my husband. I arrived three days before our wedding in Johannesburg, and from my new immediate family, to my husband’s friends to his extended family and broader community, I met everyone once I arrived, and have continued to meet family and friends since that time. Before we got married I had heard the saying that marriage is not about marrying one person, it is about two families coming together, but I’ve still been humbled by how two people coming together has led to so many new relationships flowering independently of us. This year has taught me that having good positive relationships is a gift and helps build a strong relationship as a whole.
9) You need other people in your life
No matter how much you love spending time with your partner or need solo time, you both need other people too. They may not be the same people for each of us, but we’ve learnt it’s vital to have other people who enrich us, understand us and challenge us to become better versions of ourselves. We are not an island on our own, we are part of a community, and we need our community for our marriage to thrive.
10) The everyday things matter
While big romantic days and gestures are beautiful, the everyday mundane things matter more than the big gestures. Serving one another, listening to one another, helping one another, cooking together, reading together, going for a walk together or any other of the thousand different moments that take place on a daily basis are more important than anything else you do.
11) Learning how to fight is an important life skill
One of the best books we read this year was Brene Brown’s book “Rising Strong”, which talks about conflict and working through difficult moments. Your siblings, close friends and family have the benefit of knowing you for a long time and/or living with you for a long time, but you need a toolbox of “conflict skills” in order to as much as possible, disagree with your spouse in productive ways. This book has been transformative in understanding how, when done right, conflicts can help build strong relationships.
12) A household is too much work for one person
Running a household is like running a (very little) mundane nonprofit. There are logistics to sort out, meals to make, laundry to do, errands to do, groceries to monitor and buy, trash to take out, surfaces and floors to clean, dishes to wash, rooms to tidy, in sum, there is always lots to do. This year has taught me that there is too much to do for either of us to do it all and we both need to help each other and make time in our lives and our schedules for these tasks.
13) You just need to find one person
There are no end of articles and events (even whole blogs!) talking about the Muslim marriage crisis. Before I got married, it often felt like I would never meet someone who saw me and who truly understood me. (For more about this, check out this interview with Roundhouse Radio in Vancouver) I love blogging, I love to read and write more generally, I like paper and podcasts and libraries and studying and rainstorms and drinking Tetley tea and exploring cities and public lectures. At the same time, I struggle with cooking, I have a temper, and I get overwhelmed in large groups. One of the greatest gifts that marriage has given me is that it has reminded me that you just need to find one person to share your life with, and that God sends that person, it’s not about you. Once you find that person marital harmony is a daily gift to pray for, be grateful for and work to preserve.