This specific entry (part 2 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…
To read part 1 of this entry, click here.
Our religion has not left any aspect of life without some guidance and instructions. But these teachings are not all of the same type.
Some teachings are obligatory and very detailed, and there isn’t much room for doing as you please or even adapting them to your situation and circumstances.
But in certain areas of life, our religion has only given high level and general guiding principles. And there is a reason for that. It is because in those aspects of life, there is no single right answer, no unique path in getting to the happiness of this life and the next. In other words, so long as you keep in mind the general guiding principles and stay within the very broad limits of religion, you are free to come up with the alternative and solution that works for you.
This is clearly the case when it comes to spousal relationships in Islam. Yes, there are a few high level guiding principles, but beyond those, there are only some recommendations that may or may not work for every time and every couple, and that is why they are not obligatory. Find a formula that works for you as a person and as a couple, and do not use religion as an excuse of limitations and restrictions when religion has not placed those limitations and restrictions on you.
And because this is one of my constant pet peeves… Be true to yourself in life. Do not be of those people who suddenly decide to use religion as a pretext in life, unless religion is truly your guiding principle in life. If every part of your life is dictated by everything but religion, do not resort to religion when it is suddenly convenient to do so. Our religion is an entire system and a way of life. If you want to pick and choose in there as you please, you will simply be an obvious mess of contradictions.
What people try to do is to combine the rights granted to them by religion with the ones granted to them by the society in which they live, while trying to avoid the responsibilities and duties that go along with those rights. Our religion doesn’t grant a right without combining it with a responsibility. To enjoy the right, you must fulfill the duty that goes along with it. Otherwise, you are creating injustice. (Generally speaking, all systems of law claim to respect this principle that rights and duties go hand in hand…). Sorry about the rant.
Culture and tradition
Most of the problems about preconceived notions that couples have to deal with come from their own self-imposed cultural stereotypes and diktats, and we have all been deeply brainwashed culturally.
If you truly want to have a religiously blessed spousal relationship, start by educating yourselves (yes, as a couple) about your religion, to see where religion stops and culture starts. Remember that our religion is supposed to be perfect, without the need for any modifications, for every human being on earth, from the time it was revealed and until the end of times (which may not be for thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years!) Now compare that with some cultural teachings that you know of, and see how relevant they would be for people living in different circumstances, or elsewhere in the world, or who will live in another 300 years in the future. If you can see how that which works for some may not work for others, while still believing that your religion is supposed to work for everyone, then you have started distinguishing between religion and culture.
Cultural teachings are necessary, but they are not necessarily right. Decide for yourselves, as a couple, what works and what doesn’t in your life. Culture is nothing more than that, culture. It is not right, nor wrong. It just is. As neutral as that. Keep what works for you, trash the rest, and always be ready to adapt and adjust until you find formulae that work (and they will probably not work for ever, so be ready to change again. Yes, relationships are that much fun!).
Society is as tricky as culture. In sociology, they teach you how the systems you belong to (school, business world, social and economic class, religious affiliation, etc.) come with norms, or ways in which it is socially acceptable to behave, and others in which it is not socially acceptable to behave. If you wish to be considered successful, or to maintain or even improve your social position/status in the system, then you ought to conform to the expectations of someone in your position in the system you’re in, otherwise, the system will not reward you. (If this kind of stuff excites you, then go read Luhmann, Bourdieux, Latour, Durkhein, Comte, Max Weber, Deleuze, Husserl…)
Society means what the movies, novels, and advertisements try to tell you, what your neighbors may think, and what your friends expect. But in the end, if you really care about being in a happy and fulfilling relationship, what really matters are not these expectations and norms, but what you and your spouse consider important and fulfilling. When you are having problems, none of these external sources will suffer or even care. It is important to use everything in life as a source of inspiration and pondering, but do not let things outside the two of you dictate what makes you happy; you each carry in yourselves all you need (see this entry). All you need after that, is finding a recipe that makes it work for the both of you.
You and your demons
Finally, I want to end this two part entry with what I started it with: the first and last source of problems between spouses: you!
There is no human being on earth who does not have their own preconceived notions, their obsessions and complexes, their insecurities and disorders, their defense mechanisms, their fears and ambitions, and their entire psychological and experiential background… and all of these contribute in imagining the kind of relationship you think you should have. Because of the trauma you have suffered, or because of the way you were raised, or because of the problems some of your friends tell you they had, you start creating rules and principles for what your relationship is going to be, and try to impose those on your relationship, and partner (and yourself!) as if these rules were revealed directly to you from God.
It is not easy to break free from those mental images, because they are a mental comfort. But it is possible, so relax and take a good breather. Your relationship with your spouse is as unique and different as you are as a human being. That something worked or didn’t work for someone else does not mean much for you and your relationship. Oftentimes, those who warn you from something end up doing it themselves and life goes on for them, while you took their words and made them into gospel… Believe it or not, not all those around you want to see you be in a fulfilling and truly happy relationship. And those few who truly do may not be the most qualified in giving you any advice on the topic…
Learn to give your relationship and your partner a chance (or a few chances, if you really care…). Keep an open mind and learn through trial and experimentation. Do not decide for your spouse before trying things out or hearing what they think or how they feel about something. Do not doom things in your mind before they were tried and experienced in the outside world!
What may seem to work in your own imagination and mind may not work at all in the real world, in your own very real situation. Simply because you can imagine a type of relationship does not mean that you can recreate it in reality.
A relationship is certainly not some abstract theoretical notion to which you can just apply your own simplistic preconceived notions while reading a book, or watching a movie, or talking about it with others, or watching your parents, or even thinking about it on your own. It is a dynamic, living, constantly evolving experience that requires adapting, and regular adjustments. How your relationship should or shouldn’t be is not something you can decide for yourself before you are in the relationship, because being in a relationship means that there is another human being involved (go back a few paragraphs if you’re not getting the point here). The two of you have to create that common, intimate and sacred space through compromise, experimentation, love, and above all, true respect. That space is the relationship.
What do you think, any of this makes sense to you?