Have you been married to your partner for a long time now? Like going on for the past 10-15 years, or maybe two decades or more? Do you still love him? Does he still love you? And perhaps more importantly, do you still like him and vice versa?
The husband and I are approaching 25 years together, which I recently realized is kind of this critical tipping point where I’ve currently been married as many years as I was single. That piece of information has been blowing my mind of late, and I have trouble sometimes remembering what I was even like before marriage, children, family and this whole post-single life happened to me.
I’ve been witnessing the second generation in my family navigate the whole courtship and marriage thing, with many nieces and nephews having gotten married the past few years or in that process now. Their approaches, their questions, the amount of vetting they and their families are doing as well as what their must-haves and non-negotiables are – it’s all been an incredibly eye-opening experience when juxtaposed with how my husband and I got together (a fairly traditional arrangement) and the things we’ve had to navigate through the past nearly 25 years.
It’s so good that many things have changed when it comes to approaching marriage in our Islamic circles. But also, as each generation is wont to point out, some of the old-school things we’ve learned along the way are golden olden for a reason.
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Are You Ready for ‘Real’ Marriage?
About a year ago while she was making the rounds of media interviews after the release of her latest book, “The Light We Carry,” former first Lady Michelle Obama spoke candidly about what it takes to build a long-lasting marriage and the ups and downs that come with it. I attended an event where she was the main feature of a moderated discussion and heard first-hand her views on the commitment it takes to stay with someone for life, and why she fears it’s something younger generations will struggle with.
And so, what I learned that day is that the former first lady Michelle Obama was right when she said that all too often marriage is glamorized and that too many young people quit on marriage over things that are just “part of the commitment” because they are not ready “for the real of marriage.”
She went on to say that of their more than 30 years of marriage together, there were a solid ten when she “couldn’t stand” her husband.“
And honestly, given my ongoing marriage and the marriages I’ve borne witness to around me, that doesn’t shock me.
In an interview with Gayle King
several months ago, the former first lady said, “I share these things because marriage is hard [and] it’s incumbent upon us – people who have had successful marriages – to be really honest about the fact that making a commitment to be with someone means you compromise, and compromise ain’t always fun.
“And people think I’m catty by saying this, but it’s like there were 10 years when I couldn’t stand my husband. … Ten years. And guess when it happened? When those kids were little. … Because you know you can be all great individually when you’re just married. You got your life, he’s got his, you come together and it’s all [great]. … Then you have kids. The minute we had kids it was like, ‘Where are you going and how far? And you start measuring, and it’s like, ‘How many diapers did you change? And oh you’re GOLFING? Oh you have time to golf? How you at the gym all the time?’ … That’s when all the measuring starts … “
Nothing Michelle Obama is saying is new material. Talk to anyone who has been married for a long minute – there are years when you love each other, but you may not like each other very much. There are years when it feels like you’re living with a roommate rather than a spouse.
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There are years when it feels like you are two ships passing in the night. There are shifting priorities – years when he and his career, his passions take center stage; and hopefully years when you and your goals are put first, AND there are years when it’s all about the kids – all against the backdrop of creating history and raising a family together (whether kids are part of the picture or not.)
In a hang-out session with some good girlfriends awhile back, I mentioned that it took me a solid ten years – TEN YEARS – to feel like I could voice my opinion and clearly state what I did or did not want, what I would or would not do, what we could or could not manage in regards to my life as part of our married life and our married life together.
And, I don’t put the blame of this on my husband. I had my own cultural and familial baggage and lessons that were ingrained in me by my elders that I brought into our marriage. I often was my own blockage in speaking up with kindness and firmness about what I thought would be best for us and for me. I often found it easier to bend and prioritize the needs of everyone around me without doing the hard work to figure out how I could be part of the equation.
Will the Married Couples of Today Have What it Takes?
The husband and I have grown and nearly grown kids of our own now, and one of the biggest worries I have when it comes to their future life with a partner and the building of their own family is – do they understand what healthy compromise is, and do they understand that while loving one another will, Insha’Allah, always be part of their married lives (should they get married), that liking each other is just as important?
Will they understand that over the course of years together, the two individuals in a marriage will change and become different people, and it is imperative that both spouses work hard to understand how each other is changing and prioritize falling in love with each other through those iterations. Will you love every change in your spouse? Nope. But will you be able to find a way to continue on in your marriage with your partner as he/she evolves and also find ways to appreciate how he/she is evolving?
Will they realize that it’s never fifty-fifty, that one person will have to take a larger supportive role for the other, and those roles will (and should) switch over the course of a lifetime together? Will they learn to see love and respect from each in the different ways these fundamental marital ingredients manifest? Will they center kindness, fight fairly (for the most part) and nurture communication?
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Will they realize that learning to love oneself is as important as loving one’s partner? Will they honor the life they build together by working hard to see the beauty in each other and in that partnership?
There will always be reasons to separate and walk away from each other. That is the truth of this life. There are things that are unacceptable in a marriage. There are marriages where the happiness ends and it’s just better for two people not to stay together, and divorce is our Islamic right.
But, there’s also something very beautiful and unglamorous and solid about staying together, growing old together, nurturing mature love together. I hope that’s what we’ve been modeling to our kids.
I’ve been married now as long as I’ve been single. Marriage is hard. Building a family is hard. There are so many things I would do differently if my husband and I were to start over again. But also, there is a reason, a purpose to this life we’ve built together and all the mistakes, misunderstandings, challenging years, joyous times and steady, dependable love that continues to build our path together.
“If I fell out with [Barack Obama] for 10 [years,] and we had a great 20 years, I’d take those odds anytime,” said the former first lady.
As far as I’m concerned, and you may not agree with me, Michelle Obama is right.