THE SPIRIT OF MARRIAGE 4.02 (The Must-knows of marriage)

Audio 4.01 AND Audio 4.02 

There are some things you must know and you must keep re-discovering about your spouse in order for your marriage to be healthy. The first of these must-know things is your spouse’s love language.

Continue to update your knowledge of your spouse because as we go through life, experiences do reshape us; aspects of our personality are revealed by circumstances and the needs of particular moments.

A’udhu billahi min al-shaytani al-rajeem. Bismillahi al-rahmani al-raheem. Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barkatuh. This is ‘The Spirit of Marriage 4’. We just concluded TRUST FACTOR where the focus was on laying the foundation for a relationship to thrive.

We will be moving on now to SOME THINGS YOU MUST KNOW ABOUT YOUR SPOUSE. The theme is still FRIENDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIP IN MARRIAGE based on the lessons from Surah Al Rum and Surah Al Nisaa that Allah created azwaaj i.e. mates or partners for us from among ourselves; and the lessons from Sural Al Taubah where Allah describes believing men and women as one another’s awliyaa i.e. protector, protecting friend, guardian etc.

I encourage you to listen to or read the previous episodes of The Spirit of Marriage so that you can tie the ideas in this episode to the ones that came before it. I also encourage you to listen or read these episode together with your spouse.

One thing that helps keep marriages is when the spouses are each other’s friends. Friendship is built on trust as well as on knowing your friend well enough to do what is right for them.

We get to know some things about our spouses before marriage, and more afterwards. It is important to keep learning about your spouse. Even where you feel that you know your spouse very very well, and even though adults hardly change much, continue to update your knowledge of your spouse because as we go through life, experiences do reshape us; aspects of our personality are revealed by circumstances and the needs of particular moments.

There are some things you must know and you must keep re-discovering about your spouse in order for your marriage to be healthy. The first of these must-know things is your spouse’s love language.

First, let us talk about this ‘love’ thing. Many of us get married because we fall in love. We hesitate to admit it but that’s the truth and that is as it should be. Remember Surah al Rum? ‘Wa ja’alna baynakum mawaddah’? And He put between you love…

Love, like fire, starts with a spark; then through actions, we fan into a strong fire. We are filled with thoughts of our spouse and we do things for our spouse automatically. We strive for compatibility, we try to blend into our spouse’s world and bring our likes and even our personality into sync with those of the one we love. Being in love makes us want to belong with the one we love. This is what being in love does to us. It is useful because just as fires can get an engine going, so also does the power of love push us to commit to another person.

Again, like fire, love cannot burn non-stop. The ‘in-love’ phase lasts for some months or a year or two. After some time, we settle down into something less fiery, less intense. Love loosens its hold on us; we shift back into the centre of our lives and return to many of the routines and priorities we had before we fell in love. You could say that we climb out of love. When this happens, you have to strive harder to feel as though you belong in the marriage, and it’s the same for your spouse. You no longer automatically turn to your spouse and want to do things for him/her. You know you love your spouse but you find it harder to express this, to communicate it and it’s harder for your spouse to do the same for you. This is where the real work of keeping mawaddah alive starts.

If we learn what we need to do to keep each other feeling loved and feeling at home in the marriage, and we do those things even when our hearts are not going ‘poppity-poppity-poppity’, we will keep that flame burning steadily. It won’t be that impractical all-consuming passion, but it will be long lasting in sha Allah. The love languages are groups of actions which we carry out to express love in a way that your spouse will feel loved even when you are occupied with the necessary routines of day-to-day life. Allah put love between two people, but it is entirely up them to keep it going.

The concept of ‘love language’ was coined by Gary Chapman in his well-known book, The Five Love Languages. The love languages refer to the ways we express our love for others and the ways we prefer to be treated in order to feel loved. Gary Chapman, a relationship counsellor, classified these ways into 5 – Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Service, Physical Touch and Quality Time. A brother, Irfan Khan, has added to Gary Chapman’s original 5 love languages beautifying one’s self for one’s spouse and spending money on one’s spouse; he separated sexual intimacy from physical touch. You might think of other things which would not fit under any of these headings. Whatever classifications there are, they are simply ways to help us understand them. The most important thing is to know what actions make your spouse feel loved.

We all understand and speak these various love languages but the average person has two or three ‘love languages’ that they respond to better than the others. If you think about it, there are things your spouse would do for you, to you or with you that would make you feel warm, happy, relaxed and a bit like a little girl or boy; that you would really like and might keep referring to it or talking about it. Those things are the love languages you understand and respond to best, your primary love languages.

What would you do that would make your spouse feel totally loved by you, that would make your spouse feel that he/she belongs with you in this marriage? What would you do that would make your marriage feel like home to your spouse? You can ask your spouse directly, or you could think about the ways your spouse tends to express his/her love to you. This is because we subconsciously speak our own love language to our spouses. We respond to every one of these love languages, although in varying degrees; so it is useful to speak them all to our spouses. Sometimes, a person will start to respond better to a particular love language because of how well his/her spouse speaks it.

So a must-learn is your spouse’s preferred love language combined with learning to speak all of them. In short, be a love polyglot but speak your spouse’s love language more often.

Let’s start the lesson in applied love languages!

WORDS OF AFFIRMATIONYou say things and speak in ways that make your spouse feel appreciated, respected and encouraged; you speak in ways that add to your spouse’s self-esteem. Without being asked, you express respect and admiration for your spouse through words.

  • Offer sincere and specific complements even when there is no real occasion such as ‘You are my number one person’ ‘my personal person’ and so on. Or as your spouse walks past you, you say, ‘Beautiful woman.’
  • Use endearments such as ‘sweetheart’, ‘darling’, ‘baby’, ‘my girlfriend/boyfriend’, etc. Use endearments in other languages as well – Arabic, Yoruba, Hausa, French, etc.
  • Create loving nicknames for your spouse, use them generously and openly.
  • There is something interesting about the tradition of the Yoruba people – when a child is born, in addition to the first name given to the child, a number of other names called ‘praise names’ are given as well. A friend said her grandmother called her by her praise-names when waking her up in the morning – that definitely put her in a good mood.
  • Celebrate your spouse’s virtues in words through poems, short quotes and the like – these could be authored by you or taken from a book; what would matter most to your spouse is that the words are meant for him or her.
  • Call/text your spouse just to say something really nice, just to pay a complement or to express your love.
  • Express confidence in your spouse’s ability to succeed at something he/she is doing. Say things like, ‘I know you can do this because you have xyz ability’, ‘I am looking forward to seeing you accomplish this’, ‘I can already see you succeeding’, ‘If you are the one handling this, then I know I have nothing to worry about’.
  • When your spouse shares an idea, you say, ‘You are really intelligent, ma sha Allah,’ or simply exclaim, ‘That’s my wife!’
  • Playfully tell people, including your kids, ‘Do you know who this beautiful/amazing/man or woman is? Do you know that this is my wife/husband?’
  • When one of you returns from a journey or is away, you say, ‘Honestly, this house is not the same without you,’ and ‘I really do miss you.’
  • When thanking your spouse, add to ‘thank you’ or ‘jazakallahu khayran’, things like ‘you’re the best’, ‘you have made my day’.
  • When your spouse is cooking, replace the statement, ‘You still haven’t finished?’ ‘Isn’t the food ready?’ or ‘I am hungry’ with ‘My darling, may Allah reward you for all this work,’ Or ‘Only you know how to make stew smell so good. I am going to eat even the spoon today,’
  • If your spouse says, ‘I have a problem,’ say, ‘Talk to me. What’s wrong my love?’ Your spouse says, ‘I need your assistance,’ respond with, ‘For you, anything my darling,’, ‘Just ask, baby, I am here for you.’
  • Write love notes and love letters to your spouse; sing to your spouse.

Someone might feel that all this is ‘too much’. ‘Praise my spouse?’, ‘Shower complements’, ‘Give nicknames?’, ‘No, I don’t believe in such.’ This isn’t about you and what you believe in or prefer, it’s about your spouse’s preference and what your spouse will respond to.

If you want your spouse to see you as his/her friend and trustworthy partner, committed helper, place of safety, then don’t hold back just because something is not your love language. Pick your words carefully because they could build up or break down your spouse’s spirit.

 

QUALITY TIME which I also call ATTENTIVENESS is paying attention to your spouse, being attentive to what your spouse has to say and your spouse’s needs (your spouse’s needs are another must-know which will be covered in future sessions), you make time to be with your spouse and dismiss things which distract you from focusing on him/her; you give your spouse the sense that you have time and eyes for him or her. It is hard to fake this because your spouse will feel your attention. Think of it like the way we ‘follow’ blogs, websites, and so on or like paying attention to your phone.

How do we speak this language?

  • Do something with your spouse e.g. play a game, solve puzzles, go on a walk/for a drive, visit someone, stop at a supermarket or shop to do really light shopping
  • Chat with each other over a meal or even over the phone. What could you talk about? Everything and anything – how your day went, something about your history, some future plan, an idea one of you has, how to manage the kids or the home, some wish you have, etc.
  • When you speak with your spouse, pay attention not just to his/her words but to facial expressions, body language, hand gestures, etc. Think about what emotions and ideas are behind the words.
  • Do some work around the house together. You could sometimes choose to wash the car, wash dishes, clean the yard, etc. Or you could chat while one of you is busy with such activities.
  • Read together. The emphasis here is on reading the same book. Read to each other or sit/lie down together and read from the same book or magazine, journal or newspaper.
  • Listen to something together; something both of you find interesting, and talk about what you are listening to.
  • If one of you has an errand to run and the other is free, suggest that you go together.
  • When your spouse is speaking, you leave off what you are doing to listen, i.e. divorce your phone, laptop or television, look at him/her, acknowledge their words, don’t pretend to be listening.
  • When you have made such time for your spouse, be ruthless with distractions. Do not break off your chat or time together in order to check your messages, stop to engage someone else in any lengthy conversation.

Sometimes, what you might think is mere ‘jealousy’ or ‘possessiveness’ is really a spouse whose love language is quality time trying to get your full attention, wanting to feel that you have time and eyes for him/her alone at that point in time. Constantly have an attitude of ‘I have time for you.’ Remember how before you got married or just after your marriage, you hated to have your conversations and time together intruded upon? Revive some of that by guarding your time with your spouse jealously if his/her love language is QT.

GIFTS

Some people’s preferred love language is gifts. They love to be given things. Differentiate this from someone who is materialistic. When it is a person’s love language, the gift isn’t just a ‘thing’, it is a tangible evidence or representation of your love for that person. If this is your spouse’s love language, shower him/her with gifts – bought or made, expensive or not, give.

  • Make it thoughtful i.e. something that shows you were thinking specially of him/her when you chose it. Give something your spouse has been looking for or really likes. A man gave his wife a gift of the Qur’an where he had marked her favourite ayas and surahs. This combines QT (he was paying close attention when she said what ayahs she liked) and gifts.
  • If your spouse’s love language is ‘gifts’ and ‘words’, then a gift might be a recording of poems, quotes and words which highlight their good qualities and express how much you care about them.
  • Does your spouse love nature? Then give a gift of recorded sounds of the sea, wind in the trees, etc. There are some apps that have these which you could purchase or download specially for your spouse.
  • Make a recording of songs sung by you and the children too or other loved ones, include words of love and appreciation – and present it to your spouse.
  • Is your spouse learning to recite or memorise the Qur’an? Think of a gift tied to this, which could make the learning easier – a penman or some other Qur’anic recitation device perhaps, or an audio file containing the sections he/she is currently learning, or an app for learning the Qur’an.
  • Give a gift of recorded recitation of your spouse’s favorite verses or verses which hold some special meaning for your spouse
  • For some, a gift you made yourself, such as the recording above or some crafted object, if you have such skills, would mean an extra deal to them because it is a gift of your time, your skill and the item itself – many gifts in one.
  • Surprise them with the gift by giving it when there is no particular reason to – if your spouse loves variety and spontaneity, this is a great way to give the gift extra value
  • Give gifts which are connected to their childhood, a city/town they love, a memorable experience they had.
  • Many people are used to receiving gifts from someone who has just returned from a journey. Do yours differently – when you are going away from home, leave a gift behind – an item, a letter, a poem, a cooked meal, and so on.

 

ACTS OF SERVICE – This is doing something for your spouse that helps take some weight off him/her; serving your spouse as an expression of your love. It could be related to work, running some errand, solving a problem and so on. As long as it reduces your spouse’s workload or burden, or it provides some relief for your spouse, it is an act of service, an act of love.

Examples include

  • Cleaning and picking up after yourself when your spouse is often the one doing that
  • Switching off lights and fans when they are not in use if your spouse often worries about the electricity bills
  • Running some errand on behalf of your spouse such as taking some provision to your in-laws
  • Fuelling your spouse’s car or taking it for repairs
  • Assisting your spouse in completing some office work
  • Running a bath or filling a bucket for your spouse’s bath. You can even give your spouse a bath.
  • Filling the ablution kettle for your spouse and laying the prayer mat for your spouse
  • Giving your spouse a massage, back/foot rub after a hard day or when he/she is stressed or tired. This combines act of service and physical touch.
  • What is your spouse passionate about? Get involved, be of service to him/her.
  • Join your spouse in getting things done. Giving a helping hand in the kitchen- even if it is just to cut up vegetables or hand the salt to your spouse. In cultures where it is considered a woman’s job to do the cooking, men and even women might not appreciate this act of service. Where, a woman’s love language is service and she does not mind the husband’s presence in the kitchen, such actions would go a long way to make the woman feel loved. This especially so where the man is acting contrary to cultural expectations. I remember once seeing a man whose wife was cooking pick up the baby who was crying, and when the wife came out of the kitchen to take the baby, he told her not to worry that he would soothe the baby while she finished cooking. When I narrated this to some roommates in my university hostel, they exclaimed that that was unusual indeed. One actually said she didn’t believe me. So, it is a big deal for many women when a husband takes some load off them by getting involved with household chores.
  • Plan together – for eid celebration, for getting the kids off to school, for trips, for receiving guests – don’t leave your spouse to do it all alone especially if his/her love language is service.
  • Even when your spouse doesn’t need your help, the fact that you are ready to assist is still greatly appreciated.
  • Learn to look out for what your spouse wants done, what your spouse considers as ‘work’ or ‘weighty’. Ask often, ‘How can I help?’

PHYSICAL TOUCH – this could be non-sexual (which we’ll keep referring to as physical touch) or sexual which we’ll call touch with benefits. For some people, touch means ‘love’ so being touched means being loved.

  • Physical touch could be a hug that you give your spouse which you allow to last for more than just a few seconds. For instance when you wake up, you greet your spouse with a hug while you ask you both say the dua for when you’ve just woken up and each asks if the other had a good night. Make these longish hugs a habit.
  • When you walk past your spouse around the house, lightly brush or rub your spouse’s back, hair or arm.
  • Rest your head/feet on your spouse’s laps; if it’s your spouse who rests his/her head or feet on your laps, stroke the feet or hair
  • When you sit or lie together, let your feet touch.
  • Come up behind him/her and wrap him/her in a hug.
  • Play physical games with your spouse – wrestling, arm-wrestling, football, basketball, or any other contact sport/game. If you are not into sports, step out of your comfort zone, focus on your spouse’s needs and speak the right language.

Some of us would look at the list above and say ‘He/she will think I am looking for something more.’ Now there is nothing wrong with looking for something more, that is looking for touch with benefits but that’s not the point here. If your spouse’s love language is physical touch, these gestures will be deeply appreciated and will make your spouse feel at ease with you which in turn boosts the trust level in your marriage. These gestures are not reserved for newly weds – older couples derive the same benefit from them. There are hadith narrated by Aisha which mention the prophet placing his head on her laps. There is the famous hadith of him lifting her up so she could watch the entertainment going on in the mosque and how he asked several times if she had seen enough but each time she said ‘no’ so that he would keep holding her. In another hadith, she reported that he was performing qiyamu layl and she was lying down with her feet in front of him. He would move her feet out of the way when he performed sujud, she would return them when he stood up and the next sujud he would move the feet out of the way and she would return them afterwards. They had a physically comfortable relationship, what some might describe as ‘touchy-feely’.

I must add here that even if touch is not the preferred love language of either of you, it is still essential in a marriage because physical comfort sets the tone for better physical intimacy that is touch with benefits.

Speaking about touch with benefits: This has been said to be a language favoured more by men than women and studies have shown this to be true. Yet, one must not forget that men are not all alike and women are not all alike either. So you still have to understand your spouse. Touch with benefits is vital in a marriage. Without it, the marriage suffers and your health suffers.

Sex has been proven to reduce stress, boosts your body’s ability to fight off diseases, help you respond better to stress, improve sleep, mood, self-esteem and heart health; lower blood pressure grant some relief from pain and strengthen women’s pelvic floor muscles,. Studies show that men who have sex at least twice a week were 45 percent less likely to develop heart disease than men who did so once a month or less.

A marriage and sex counsellor advices that even if you are ‘not in the mood’ – which is the reason many people, especially women, give for not having physical intimacy for weeks at a at time – so, even if you are not in the mood, have sex anyway. Research has shown that the mood tends to sometimes come after the action has begun and that the more often you make love, the more likely you are to want to keep doing.

Men, who often are in the mood, need to empathise with women who look after the home and the children. Being in ‘mommy mode’ and ‘housekeeper mode’ are like computer programs which prevent ‘touch with benefit mode’ from functioning. So, it helps if a husband actively finds ways of helping the wife when she is being ‘mummy’ or ‘housekeeper’. When wife isn’t thinking about the soup in the fridge, the diapers, the homework that needs to be done, the cough the little one has and so forth, she is more likely to want to play. Women in ‘mommy mode’ or ‘housekeeping mode’ are serious, they are about efficiency and functionality. They need to have the parenting and housekeeping load lessened so that they can focus on having fun.

Some barriers to a healthy and balanced sex life Anxiety, defensiveness, fear, poor communication stress and lack of trust. Stress can be relieved by sexual activity but if you do not trust your spouse, you would not want to go to them for relief, you wouldn’t turn to them. This is one of the reasons why trust is very, very important. Having a friendly and relaxed relationship also helps a lot particularly for women for whom touch with benefits is more of an emotional encounter than a physical one.

  • Approach it as a game, fun, a gift of your body which you give your spouse
  • Add variety – change the place and time as much as space and privacy would allow
  • Find out through conversation (you know, one of those times when you sit and just chat) or through observation, what your spouse’s preferences are. Also find out what turns your spouse off. You can have an open and trusting conversation about this.
  • Start with physical touch – i.e. any of the ideas we mentioned before – then if it leads to touch with benefits, fine. Have an attitude of ‘This is an adventure. Let me explore and see where it leads!’
  • Set the overall tone for your marriage by ensuring trustworthy and trust-giving communication and behaviour, expressing your love in a way that your spouse understands best and by engaging in a lot of play

Touch with benefits has benefits for everyone regardless of their love language but it is especially beneficial for those whose love language is physical touch.

 

PLAY – I consider this a love language and one of the most important which all spouses should speak and understand. Friends are usually those we can be silly and playful with. When you play with each other, you increase your mutual sense of ease and trust. Conversely, without a feeling of trust and ease, it would be very hard to be relaxed enough to play.

Play. Play as children do – carefree, with full-bellied laughter and with energy. Be children with each other from time to time.

  • Race each other to the door or to the bed.
  • Play ‘I touch you last,’ a game where each one tries to be the one to touch last before heading out the door.
  • Have water fights; borrow your kids’ water guns or buy two then have a battle in your backyard or courtyard.
  • Wrestle each other
  • Play board games
  • When you come home or your spouse comes home, as the door opens engage in play: Introduce yourself, ask your spouse for his/her name, say you are interested in getting to know him/her, etc. So you combine play with flirting. Alternatively, hold your spouse’s face in your hands and say you are just checking that ‘he/she’ is still as ‘nice’ ‘attractive’ as they were when you last saw each other, then conclude with something like ‘Ya Salaam! Even nicer or more attractive’ – combine play with words of affirmation. Did I mention that you need to be polyglot who switches between languages mid-sentence?

Play opens the door to humour, creates a mood in your marriage that helps to stabilise you even when you are having disagreements. Play eases the way to touch with benefit. The prophet played with Aisha. Ask around, couples who play with each other have happy marriages. Play is a symptom of a healthy marriage as well as a contributor to healthy marriages.

All of the suggestions about love languages would work if you have a foundation of trust. If your marriage lacks trust, your attempts to speak your spouse’s love language will be viewed with suspicion. So I re-emphasise the importance of basing your marriage on trust.

Never ever use as a weapon knowledge about your spouse’s preferred love language, or knowledge of any other sort. I mean deliberately holding back from doing those things which you know your spouse loves e.g. not giving any gifts  when your spouse’s primary love language is ‘gifts’ or not paying your spouse any complements when your spouse’s preferred love language is ‘words of affirmation’ – such behaviour kills trust.

Also, I have put down suggestions taken from experience, research, anecdotal evidence and the like. You can adapt any of these suggestions to suit your situation. If you have suggestions and ideas that you would like to share, please feel free to send them in.

Go to the end of this and download the love language questionnaire taken from Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages website or visit the website itself. Things to do: Find out your spouse’s love language then make your own list of things you could do to speak the love language. Secondly, share with your spouse your preferred languages and things to do. Thirdly, and most importantly, since we are talking about doing things, do one thing on your list for your spouse every day or, at least, every week.

To get automatic updates of postings on salatusule.com, please go to the homepage and sign up. When you receive an email asking you to confirm your email address, please confirm and you will be all set. Jazakumullahu khayran katheera for listening to this series and sharing it. May Allah continue to help us grow, to keep our marriages healthy and our hearts in a state of saleem.

Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barkatuh.

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