Leaving aside any historical context or associations Valentine’s day may have, it simply doesn’t serve my marriage. A night out and bunch of flowers one night of the year is not what makes a relationship worthwhile nor make either individual in the couple feel loved or appreciated.
At the end of 2022, I was asked to test out the new Kisa Family’s new Marriage Connection Calendar for Muslim couples.
The calendar and associated marriage journal are projects aimed at strengthening the marital bond, which is the foundation of the Muslim family.
Kisa Family as well as Muslim Family Hub have long recognised that as individuals, many of us feel disillusioned from time to time with our marriages, our interactions with our children and our relationships with others as a whole. This may be as a result of unrealistic expectations on our part or a lack of understanding on the part of others on what we really need from them.
We can sometimes misguidedly brand people around us, including relatives, toxic, thereby deciding that cutting ties is the only sensible option. In some cases, it may be. Having busy family and work lives, we can make assumptions about what our spouse if feeling, their intentions and their attitudes. But have we truly tried to understand them, have we communicated our needs and have we attempted the difficult conversations needed to break down barriers and strengthen bonds?
The Kisa Marriage Calendar aims to achieve just that. Each month of the calendar commences with a verse from the holy Quran to ponder on. The January page featured verse 283 from Surat Albaqara which states: ‘And if one of you entrusts something to another, then let the one who is entrusted deliver that trust’. This verse is then explored and dissected in the context of the marital relationship, focusing on the importance of honesty and trust between spouses. Later months examine other wholesome concepts namely gratitude, spiritual connection and communication, among others.
The main page of each month of the calendar then consists of a task or reflection for each day, linked to or inspired by narrations from the Holy Prophet and his Ahlubayt (peace be upon them all). January’s tasks range from ‘let your partner know what your needs are today’ to ‘tell your spouse about a time when they rescued you in some way, but at the time you didn’t mention it’. I also really liked day 23 –‘Compliment your spouse, but not on their looks. Explain what it is that makes them admirable.’ This is a task that instantly shifts one’s perspective more positively and actively towards the other.
With a daily renewed focus on the marriage in a specific and practical way that fosters closeness and a positive outlook, new habits form which pave the way for a new understanding and fresh perspective on our spouse.
The power and impact of journaling has also become more recognised in recent years. Journaling allows us to pause and reflect in a world where all around us everything is vying for our attention. Those who remember a pre-internet age will recall having periods of calm and silence in the day, whether on the bus, train or on waking in the morning. It is rare to see people walking down the street now without their eyes on a screen. This lifestyle gives us little room to really reflect and be present, to make very active decisions on what we are doing and why. Journaling provides the opportunity to excavate those thoughts and feelings, facilitating the processing of these so we can be more intentional in what we do without the passive propulsion to follow the crowd.
In a recent podcast episode, Muslim Family Hub hosted Dr. Kawther Abbas where she spoke about marital disharmony. Much of the distance that occurs between couples over time results from a lack of focus and prioritisation of the marital relationship. We change over time and so does our spouse but we continue to make assumptions on who they are if we haven’t got to know them as we both grow. This can create a real distance where we become transactional rather than close and loving. We become resentful because we are not being supported in the way we would like or not feeling loved or appreciated. But we often don’t realise how much power we have in changing our own behaviour and interaction to create that positive change.
The relationships expert Dr. John Gottman advocates nurturing ‘fondness and admiration’ for our spouse. Something only we can do and we do not need to rely on our spouse becoming ‘admirable’ before we do this. It can be achieved through reflecting and simple habits that build connection to foster this fondness and admiration.
As Dr. Kawther stated, marriage is work, but it’s fun work.
And this is precisely why I won’t be celebrating Valentine’s day this year nor marking it in any way. Leaving aside any historical context or associations Valentine’s day may have, it simply doesn’t serve my marriage. A night out and bunch of flowers one night of the year is not what makes a relationship worthwhile nor make either individual in the couple feel loved or appreciated. This show of appreciation needs to be consistent and specific to the individual. Some may enjoy gifts, while others enjoy loving words, regular quality time or acts of service. Our love languages differ and flowers and balloons are great but may not touch everyone’s hearts in the same way.
Moreover, the expectation of something special on Valentines can leave many, especially women, feeling disillusioned and unappreciated. Because other husbands are doing something or the whole world around us is parading red balloons and roses, expectations are high and unfortunately on the whole, not met. Many years of experiencing this adopted unmet expectation have caused me to really reflect on this event.
If my marriage is not doing well, a valentine’s meal out would be a very temporary plaster on the wound. And if it is doing well, I won’t feel the need to be out or celebrate on the same night as everyone else is.
Islam encourages us to be intentional in everything that we do, to put Allah in the centre of our decisions. If we feel the pressure to conform or our expectations are set by society and what everyone else is doing, this is not intentional and maybe conversely causing a disconnect as one spouse’s expectations are not met, leading to resentment and frustration which is reflected in the relationship.
Instead, I will be making a daily effort to connect with my husband, to try to see his perspective and get to know his thought process. To communicate my thought process without expecting him to mind read. To share my feelings and needs so he is better able to meet them. We are a team and need to feel that we are on the same side. Making marriage a specific focus rather than an afterthought when every other task is done means we can elevate it to the best level it can be and feel supported and loved within it. A platform from which we can navigate the wider world and all our other relationships. For Allah has said in the holy Quran ‘And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought’ (30:21)
If you would like to purchase and download the Kisa Family Marriage Calendar or the Journal these can be found here.