By AMAL KILLAWI
I spent my time at a recent wedding listening to people’s marriage problems. As the guests danced the night away in celebration, I sat in the back of the hall talking about shattered dreams and unfulfilled expectations. Sometimes, we had to scream to hear each other over the music. There was the young woman whose husband wouldn’t let her finish her education. Then, a friend wanted advice about dealing with her in-laws. And a mother cried as she shared her worries about welcoming her daughter home as a divorcee.
What a night! The reception ended with the passing of favors and du`a’ (supplication) for the newlyweds. I remember making extra du`a’ for the bride and groom. Dear God, please bless them with a lasting and healthy union. Ameen. I left the wedding in deep thought and had trouble falling asleep that night. I was so moved by the irony of that experience.
In just the past few months, a significant number of marriages in my community have ended in divorce. I know many more couples are on the verge of separation. Don’t get me wrong. I personally believe that divorce can be a healthier, and sometimes necessary, option. But why are so many marriages ending so soon? What needs to change to foster a culture of commitment and responsibility?
All the stories shared with me that night had a common theme: None of the couples had premarital counseling before they got married. No one had prepared them for the challenges of marriage, and many of their problems stemmed from issues that were not discussed before the wedding. A recent study1 about divorce in the Muslim community found that none of the divorced men and women in the study had formal premarital counseling, other than a brief meeting with an imam. Many of them wished they had been offered more extensive premarital counseling, and that they had easier access to counseling services once they were married and experiencing problems. It’s a sad testimony to the lack of marriage preparation in our communities.
When a couple announces their engagement, we rush to celebrate. Have we stopped to consider how much preparation and support the new couple will need for this decision of a lifetime? How many couples truly know what they’re getting into when they’re smiling for pictures on their wedding day? The love and excitement of the new relationship often blinds them from comprehending the reality that marriage is a sacred covenant with God. Wouldn’t it make sense to prepare for this spiritual partnership?
How is it that we invest so much time, money, and energy preparing for the wedding celebration and not for the marriage? We consider the smallest details for that special evening; yet we ignore the essential reason for our celebration—a commitment to spend a lifetime with another human being. As one woman said to me, “I had two months to plan for the wedding. I was in love, and didn’t have time to think about any issue!”
Many couples mistakenly believe that they don’t need counseling before marriage and that conflict should be avoided. However, a certain level of conflict is healthy and necessary, and premarital counseling can offer an opportunity to discuss potential problematic issues.
Consider premarital counseling before you make a commitment for marriage. According to Lisa Kift2 , a marriage and family therapist, premarital counseling will help you:
- Discuss role expectations. It’s important to talk about the responsibilities of each partner in marriage – who will take care of the finances, chores, etc? Discussing roles early on will clarify expectations for the future.
- Explore your spiritual and religious beliefs. What are your views on music, hijab, zabiha meat, and following a certain madhab (school of thought)? Discussing these issues ahead of time will help determine your compatibility and help you learn to manage different opinions.
- Identify any family of origin issues. Much of what we learn about relationships comes from our parents and other family members. Identifying our early influences and discussing our learned behaviors will help us understand how this might play out in marriage.
- Learn communication and conflict resolution skills. Couples that communicate effectively can resolve conflicts more effectively. This will allow you to spend less time arguing and more time understanding.
- Develop personal, couple, and family goals. You are committing to share a life with someone. Isn’t it important to discuss what you want your future to look like together? Where do you want to be in three years? How many children do you want to have? Outlining a plan for life can be a wonderful way to learn about each other and to strengthen your commitment to each other.
Premarital counseling can protect couples from much heartache and conflict. Since prevention is central to our deen, many imams and community leaders now require premarital counseling and education prior to the marriage ceremony—a guaranteed investment in happier couples and healthier marriages.
What’s your take?
- Do you think that premarital counseling would be helpful to prospective spouses?
- What issues should be covered/ discussed in premarital counseling?
- How can couples be encouraged to attend premarital counseling?