This November marks a full decade of marriage for myself and Ahmed. When I thought about this day coming to pass and what it might mean, I foolishly envisioned myself sharing wisdom about how to survive 10 years of marriage, or even more naively, how to nurture a successful marriage. Truth is, I’m no expert and if this past year is any indication, all I can say for sure is that marriage is like an unfinished passion project that will always need more work.
Ahmed and Melanie on a recent trip to the Maldives.
One thing I know for sure – the tenth year of marriage was hands-down the most challenging year of marriage for us. It wasn’t due to external factors – Ahmed and I have been living in New York City for over three years now, running the business together and growing a team here since early 2016. We’ve grown accustomed to our newfound roles, both of us getting ready for work together, commuting to the office together and working until it’s time for both of us to go home.
We have barely an hour at home together before we go to bed and do it all again the next day. But at some point, after 10 years of living as one and succumbing to fully-formed habits day-in and day-out, I decided that if this marriage was going to survive, I had to break the cycle. I had to confront the things we both grew comfortable with and rock the boat in a big way. I could have gone on. I could have swallowed it. But I knew that would lead to doom.
See I was raised by a fiercely independent mother and a Dad who instilled that same fierce independence in me. (Spoiler alert, this makes for a very – you guessed it – fiercely independent individual). My Dad always told me, “If some man comes into this house thinking he’s going to marry you so you can sit at home and cook and clean, he can see the door.” I was raised to be vocal – to express myself when I felt like staying quiet and to have the tough conversation rather than sweeping it under the rug.
Thankfully, Ahmed has never been that man. My family fell in love with Ahmed almost as quickly as I did. (Well, my Dad and stepmom at least. My overprotective brother and skeptical Mom took a minute to warm-up.) Ahmed has always been a wonderfully supportive husband with the most impeccable character. So spotless, in fact, that it’s a little annoying. Like c’mon Ahmed! Live on the edge a little.Hamdulilah, it’s such a blessing and part of the reason we’ve had such a beautiful relationship over all these years.
So, what went wrong? How did I go from a heart that felt like it could explode when I watched him sleep at night to turning over in bed thinking that this marriage may not have legs? It was the result of trying to undo years of habits we formed that were no longer serving us or our marriage. Things we said and did. Assumptions we made about each other that were not necessarily true anymore. For Ahmed, there was a sense of bewilderment: “But what do you mean? Does this mean that all this time you’ve been unhappy?”
It was me no longer accepting the status quo. It was me putting my foot down about things we’ve been arguing about for years that I just accepted would never happen and letting go. But in letting go, you lose a part of yourself. And, when you no longer fight for the relationship you want or for the spouse you want, you settle into roles that are easy and convenient but do not necessarily make you happy.
So, that’s where we found ourselves. I blamed myself for allowing us to accept the way things were, for not being more vocal or honest with him (or even myself) about what I needed for so long. Ahmed was eager to find a solution and work things out. I, on the other hand, needed time. I needed a clear head, I needed to understand how we got into this mess in the first place. I needed to know what my role was in all this so that if we were to move forward, the same issues wouldn’t rear their ugly heads again, that we’d actually move on and grow from this impasse.
I’d love to tell you this was an easy process, but it was an incredibly trying time for both of us. We could barely get on with our normal day-to-day, despite having to work alongside one another as if everything was fine. In reality, our relationship was in shambles.
Any couple will tell you this is the most difficult part. It’s the not knowing; the discomfort and harrowing anxiousness. This isn’t a fight. It’s way past that. It’s your relationship on the operating table, cut open, weak and exposed, waiting for the sutures or for the EKG to flatline to a deafening sound. It’s the resounding silence. Living together, but alone. It lasts for what seems like forever. Neither of you know what’s ahead, but the very real possibility that the end could be in sight hangs over you.
We woke up each morning with a feeling of dread and inner-anguish. But as I knew from experience, there’s beauty in the breakdown.
Nothing worth having comes easy. And during this critical time in our marriage there were external factors that helped us get through to the next chapter. Since the point of sharing all this is to be helpful to any of you reading out there, I would love to offer my humble advice. I got through this by having others in my life who are my emotional support system. Those who love me with all their heart and want the best for me. Those who will tell you what you need to hear even when you don’t want to hear it. Those who will put you in your place when it’s needed.
I’m talking about the ride or die’s in your life who give it to you straight. If I didn’t have my best friend in this situation, I shudder to think of where Ahmed and I would be right now. Ultimately it came down to a few choice words from her that, truth be told, were harsh – but I needed to hear them – and she knew it.
The way you feel in these moments feel like they’ll last forever. It may feel like the love is gone, like the emotions you once felt will never come rushing back, that numbness has taken over your heart. My best friend taught me that the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. And when indifference sets in, beware. But even indifference can be temporary. It’s possible to move forward, shatter whatever foundation you built your relationship on and build anew, only stronger.
Melanie and Ahmed at their farewell brunch ten years ago.
There were moments I thought I’d never feel love for Ahmed again, and that I attribute to shaytan. Shaytan is always patiently waiting for the right moment to attack, and these are the moments he takes a front seat to watch his destruction unfold. The feelings of resentment and indifference intensify. You double down on apathy and create a world in your mind where your spouse can only do wrong. You start to convince yourself that everything he’s done, even the times you thought were good times were in fact terrible, unhappy times – you just didn’t know it.
Don’t play yourself. Keep a clear head and mind and do not succumb to shaytan’s tricks. He will make you feel like you’ll never overcome this misery and that even if you do, the future with him is bleak and not worth it. I can tell you from experience that that is all an illusion. There is life after death. Love comes back. How you’re feeling is temporary. Your heart will fill up with so much love that you’ll feel like it’s going to explode again. It will take time and an intense amount of work, but it will happen – if that’s what you both want.
Another external factor I humbly recommend is professional help. Whether it’s for you both individually or as a unit, do not believe for a second that seeking professional help is a sign of weakness or an indication that it’s already over. Talking your issues out with an unbiased third party trained to give you the tools to succeed is not just brave, it’s smart.
Whether it’s in the midst of the uncertainty or during the healing process, therapy is always a good idea. Know that there are scars left behind as a result of such trauma, and a professional can help unpack those emotions before they turn into baggage, rather than hoping they’ll just go away as you try to pick up the pieces and move forward.
And that, we did. We rebuilt our relationship day-by-day. In some instances, we took one step forward and two steps back, but we trusted the process. We were guided by our shared goal of pleasing Allah (S) and our commitment to making this relationship work. By no means do we have everything figured out, as it’s still a work in progress, but I can say that I have a newfound optimism about our relationship now that we’ve been through this intense trial that put our marriage to the test. I am pleased that I trusted myself enough to put my foot down when it mattered most and grateful I have a partner willing to do whatever it takes to make our marriage work. To another ten years and beyond, inshallah.