This specific entry (part 1 of 2) is about letting one’s cultural, social, and familial environments dictate, directly or indirectly their spousal relationship. If you’re not ready to examine the sources of your thinking about your spousal relationship, then don’t bother wasting both of our times…
(I may write another related entry about involving others in your own relationship, but I will not be addressing it here, because I already have too much to say…)
We all imagine how our life will be with a future spouse based on a host of conscious and unconscious ideas, values, ideologies… that we have formed over our lives, from our parents, our families, our friends, other people in our communities, our cultures, the movies we watch, the books we read, and all sorts of other sources.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret: life is slightly more complicated than that. No amount of thinking and imagining you can do before actually starting your life with your spouse will be enough to deal with every situation you will encounter. And once you are in the relationship, no amount of thinking on your own or talking with those close to you will ever replace actually experiencing life with your spouse. Even if you were in a lab, in a completely controlled environment, where you were doing an experiment on one single ingredient, which you had already spent years studying in university level chemistry and physics courses, you may still end up having to deal with results that were unexpected, and different from what you thought would happen, and from what you thought “science” told you must happen.
So imagine the complexity required when you are dealing with an entire universe of experiences, thoughts, ambitions, dreams, fears, moods, interpretations, needs, desires, states… ranging from the hormonal and biological, to the genetic personality traits, to the psychological, cultural, social, historical, financial… background that makes up this human being that is now your spouse. Don’t you think that it is normal that the degree of unpredictability increases exponentially? And it is not just your spouse that is unpredictable: you are probably as much, if not more difficult to deal with. And the reason is not because they are unstable, or crazy, or hormonal, or… it is because they are a human being. They are this sacred, unbelievably complex universe about whom God says
“And We have honored the children of Adam”
“certainly We created the human from an extract of clay. Then We made him a drop of fluid in a secure abode. Then we created the drop of fluid as a clinging mass. Then We created the clinging mass as a fleshy tissue. Then We created the fleshy tissue as bones. Then We clothed the bones with flesh. Then We produced him as another creature. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators!”
Notice how the lord and creator or the entire cosmos expresses his might and pride in having created this being, from among all the rest of his creation…
If God Almighty says that he has honored the human being, who the heck do you think you are to allow yourself to disrespect him/her? What makes you think that you have the right to transgress the sacredness that has been placed in this being? Yes, you may not see eye to eye, and you may disagree and oppose, but it must all be done while not losing sight of that more fundamental reality, especially when it comes to your spouse, with whom you are sharing life and your very self.
This should be everyone’s starting point in their outlook on life and in dealing with others, from spouses and direct family members, to other human beings halfway across the world. Once that is secured and understood, let us now come back to this one specific human being with whom you are going to spend a lot of time – and with whom you will therefore obviously have some hick-ups from time to time.
(This paragraph should be called historicity, but because I doubt that all of my readers want to read such words…) We all exist in a specific time in human history, where realities are very different from those of others times. The history of humanity has always been marked by eras; the realities of a world remain somewhat the same before undergoing enough change that we have to talk about being in a different era. Out specific era is marked by the astounding speed at which this evolution is taking place, to the extent that the world is no long what it used to be perhaps every 10 years in certain dimensions (technological for instance). The changes that happen affect the way we have to interpret the world and understand its realities, culturally, religiously, socially, etc. And they have an impact on every dimension of our lives, from the way we eat, to how we sustain ourselves (type of work and lifestyle), to how we take care of our health, to what we consider as entertainment, to the way families are structured. Be aware and in tune with your own historicity, especially in combination with the rest of what you are going to be reading below, and I think the point will become clear on its own…
Each and everyone of us is also brought into this world through the union of two other human beings that have nothing to do with us except for being our parents. And those parents of ours happened to be living in a certain point in time (see above paragraph), and in a certain place in the world, and living in certain condition (religious, cultural, social, linguistic, psychological, financial…) from their own birth until the moment we were born. And of course, in addition to the genetic luggage they give us, they will also have the greatest impact in shaping and molding our entire personality depending on their abilities to raise us.
When the baby enters this world, their parents, and especially their mother, is simply an extension of their being. They (baby and mommy) are literally one and the same thing in the eyes of the new born. As they grow older and develop, the newborns start building awareness about parts of their own being. As their psychology develops, they also start to see the world based on the explanations and interpretations of their parents. The world is nothing more than what mom and dad say it is to be. When they realize that there is more in the world than just themselves and their parents, and start seeing that there is a lot of difference out there, that not everyone is the same, mom and dad become the point of reference for all that is right and true and good. Parents are their children’s superheroes and remain so until (and if) life starts teaching the children otherwise.
Some people never acquire the critical abilities to assess their parents’ strengths and weaknesses, or their capacities, or their skill sets, and so they remain forever in that phase of accepting their parents as the ultimate points of reference.
Most people acquire some critical ability, but that is not usually because of their advanced intellectual and analytical abilities, but rather, because of directly experiencing things in life in which their parent’s shortcomings are revealed directly to them, and so they become more aware of those instances only.
There is also a small minority, who in addition to their direct experience of their parents’ shortcomings in some instances, have also acquired advanced analytical skills that enable them to assess much more completely their parents, almost as social, cultural and anthropological (yes, I used a bigger word… google it! It’s a pretty cool field of study. Wikipedia is okay too…) subjects, and able to truly put them in their right place compared to the rest of humanity, because they know how to compare their levels of educations, their sociocultural, financial, political, religious, familial and other conditions and understand how these different factors and dimensions made their parents the people they ended up being, why they think and behave the way they do, why they have a certain value system instead of another, and why they raised their children the way they did.
This kind of critical and analytical thinking is quite powerful and liberating. Because it enables you to understand and accept, instead of blaming and judging. And once you accept, then you can decide what you want to keep and reject, what kind of person you want to be, and how you wish to live your life given your awareness of your upbringing, as a human being, as part of a couple, as a parent of children, and even as a son or daughter to your parents.
Your parents have done everything they have done with your interest in mind, to the best of their abilities, based on their circumstances. This does not mean that it was always the best thing to do. It only means that they tried, with lots of successes, and probably lots of misses as well. They were not given an infallible instruction manual from God telling them how they are supposed to raise you, and if you are still alive and functional in society when you reached adulthood, it probably means that they did an okay job in getting you there – everything else is a bonus you should be very grateful for. But from that point on, you are your own entity, and you have to decide what path you wish to follow, and what steps you need to make to get to where you want.
A plant does not have parents that raise it for years until it is ready, physically, emotionally, financially, and even spiritually, to live on its own. When a turtle first enters this world, its parents are already far away, and it must make its away all alone from its egg into the ocean, without being eaten by birds and fish. But a baby human being needs a male and a female set of parents who take care of them, every single second of their life at first, for years and years, in order to grow them into their full potential. That is just the natural order of things that our Lord has put into place for us human beings, in his infinite wisdom. That “brainwashing” that you received from your parents was therefore necessary to get you going in life, to initiate you to become a functional and productive person in society. Of course it could have been a lot better or a lot worse; but in all cases, it was necessary.
But then you’re also supposed to become your own thinker, in charge of your life and being. So by the time you are in a spousal relationship, the hope is that you are now ready to deal with your life in a mature and autonomous manner. And this is where you are supposed to be able to truly assess whether the relationship advice of your parents is truly the best thing for your relationship. And even more difficult to do, is to assess whether you can model your own relationship on that of your parents or not.
I do not think it is absolutely necessary for me here to mention all the reasons why the advice you get from your parents about your relationship may not be the best. And perhaps even more importantly (because we are usually less aware of this part) why modelling your relationship after that of your parents’ (the only one you have ever seen and lived through first-hand) is not the best idea.
Yes, your parents only want what is good for you, but they are also dealing with their own issues when trying to understand your life and relationship, and their “solutions” and “advice” may not be appropriate for you and your life and situation. I will end this section with Ameer Al Mu’mineen’s famous saying from fourteen centuries ago:
“Do not force your own manners onto your children, for they have been created for a time that is different than your time.”
are you still with me?
click here to go part 2 of this entry.