As soon as I wrote that down I thought of those 60’s style magazine article’s that used to tell people to have the house perfect, look perfect and have the perfect martini ready in hand. But that’s not quite what I have in mind.
Alhamdulillah, my husband has always been a very patient man maashaa’Allah. He has treated me well from the beginning, putting up with tantrums, sulks, tears and mischief with grace and kindness. I have never been very domesticated (much to my mum’s complaints before I got married that my mother-in-law will hold her responsible for not having taught me anything!). This coupled with hubby being someone who does his fair share, means that I have skived off of housework quite a bit – including never having done more than the basic amount of ironing required for work and certainly not his.
Over the years his kindness has changed me more than any amount of reprimands or bullying could ever have done. At some point in our marriage I came to the conclusion that a man this good does not deserve a lazy, rude cow for a wife and that I must try harder.
I have always had a nasty temper (as my sisters will testify after I spent half of my teenage years terrorising them – including the time I hit Long Suffering Sister over the head with a humungous hardback book in the public library and scared the life out of an old man standing near by). I prayed during hajj for the anger to go away and for me to stop hurting people (and books). I thought perhaps my prayers had not been answered, but I found that instead of disappearing overnight, my anger has mellowed over the last five years or so. This is particularly important considering my kids deserve a mother who isn’t taking her anger out on them.
Anyway, I thought that being nice to him, mostly agreeing with what he wants and helping take care of his family constituted a good wife and was enough. That was until I met some lovely sisters during Ramadhaan who taught me what caring for your husband was about for a Muslim wife.
I spent some time with them and observed what role the care of their husbands had in their lives. At the approach of iftaar time (when we break the fast), I would think “I’m hungry, where’s the food”. The sister would think “he has been fasting today, what will he want to eat?” She would make fresh food separately for him to suit his specialised diet. Another sister would be busy washing and ironing her husband’s clothes. A third would be concerned that he should get up for time for his dawn meal before he began his fast.
They could not believe I didn’t do these things as a matter of course, they were amazed my husband did so much for me. It really made me understand that I should appreciate what I have and take care of those I value. The way we are raised in modern society is to value equality and part of that is not doing things for others and avoiding domesticity lest it make us appear that we are under the thumb of a man. A woman who does nice things for her husband is laughed and told to get a backbone instead of being encouraged.
I promised myself I would turn over a new leaf and try harder. Now this does not necessitate turning into a Stepford wife and spending the rest of your life chained to an ironing board. For me it simply meant being a bit more thoughtful about the way I behave in our home and marriage. I have to cook anyway, so why not something he likes (it doesn’t help that he is not fussy maashaa’Allah and will not say what he prefers, so after ten years I am still trying to work out what he likes). I am about to iron my abaayah, let me iron one of his clothes and put it on a hanger for him for when he gets back from work (he was dumbstruck for quite some time when this started happening!)
It’s not just about domestic chores though. I found myself biting my tongue more and letting things go more. In the end this meant more inner peace for me. Less reacting and more reflecting on what is being said. You may not agree with what the other person said, but you don’t have to answer EVERY SINGLE time, sometimes it easier to smile and leave it. Also less reacting and more responding gently; so I might not agree with what he says and I might not want to stay silent, but I don’t have to get upset. I might laugh it off or tease him about it so he understands that I don’t agree or he sees my point of view at least.
Trying to be a better wife has also meant listening to him. Considering his ideas or thoughts without instantly reacting with your assessment of whether it fits in with what you want or not.
Another aspect has been about the way I talk about him to our children. We have always presented a united front and when one gets told off by one of us they have long ago realised there is not point going to the other parent for consolation. However, we sometimes make comments about our spouses in front of our children that they will internalise: “Oh that’s just like Daddy, he’s ever so messy”. I am having to learn to bite my tongue on this one.
Finally it is about defending your partner in front of the wider family and community. My number one golden rule is never, ever take an argument back to your parents. If there is violence or abuse involved that’s different and you should look for help. If he annoyed you, or you upset him over the normal things that couples argue about: money, in-laws, work stress, housework etc, then keep the argument amongst yourselves and resolve between yourselves as far as possible. You may mention this to your family, complain and then feel better and go home and patch things up. You will both probably forget all about it, but your family will not. Your spouse will permanently have fallen in the sight of their in-laws even if the fault does not lie with that person.
I also don’t allow my cousin’s or aunts to bad-mouth my husband. I used to defend him nervously to relatives who liked to say mean things (I am sure I am not the only one who has plenty of those), until I realised he won’t let anyone say a word against me. That really heartened me and anyone who tried it now would get an earful they wouldn’t forget.
All of the things I have mentioned are just thoughts and I am struggling against my schooling and socialisation and nafs (ego) to try and come close to implementing these things in my life. But the underlying factor for any of them seems to be a little thoughtfulness, trying to think your actions through rather than reacting instantly and a little patience. It also helps to change your mindset from thinking about what "I want", to thinking about "what is best for us collectively", especially when you have children. Anyone can argue that you are being selfish when you focus on what you want, but when the focus is on the collective good and is through mashwerah (mutual agreement), there is nothing to argue about (in theory, some men will opine that women can find something to argue about in any situation).
Last of all, there is something small and easy we can do but which brings big results: make du'a (supplicate) to Allah (SWT). I ask Allah (SWT) to let us love each other for the sake of Allah (SWT) and for us to spend our lives together in the path of Allah (SWT) and to please Him. I make dua for my sisters that they find peace, respect and affection from their spouses and that their marriages become a means to attain Allah’s (SWT) pleasure inshaa’Allah. Aameen.