Unspoken Heartache: Ramadan & Your Marital Relationship
By Megan Wyatt, Founder of Wives of Jannah
It is a month of spiritual purification and discipline through fasting.
It a month where we seek out Laylatul Qadr, a night hidden on the odd nights of the last ten nights, where we seek the company of angels, the answering of our du'a, and to seek the forgiveness of Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala.
It is a month where our goal is to increase our acts of worship knowing each action is increased in reward and to come closer to our Lord and our purpose for this dunyah.
It's a month of generosity in providing food for others to break their fast, charity for those needing a hand, and a time encouraged to forgive others and cleanse our hearts of grudges.
Ramadan is also, from my experience working with wives and couples over the last thirteen years, also a month that can increase tension between a wife and her husband.
How is it possible that this month filled with so many reminders and so many beautiful acts of worship can increase heartache? I'd like to address a few common issues and some solutions to help this month go more smoothly.
Accepting Ramadan isn't going to change long-standing issues.
Ramadan isn't going to make long-standing marital issues magically disappear.
Long-standing issues need to be addressed formally, out in the open, and worked on over a period of time.
I've heard the heartache in a wife's voice when she would say to me, "How could my husband do something like this even in the month of Ramadan!"
You and your husband are human beings who do not transform when Ramadan begins.
On the contrary, Ramadan is intended to be a month-long exercise in spiritual development. We don't become angels when the month begins. Instead, we recognize how much of ourselves needs to be refined and worked on as the month progresses.
The blessed month of discipline and deprivation of food, drink, and intimacy in the daylight hours offers us an opportunity to increase our ability to tolerate distress, discomfort, and dig deep into our spiritual beliefs regarding self-control, disciplining our nafs, and personal muhasabah (accountability) of our actions.
Optimistically, knowing that we are to control even our temper while fasting could certainly be the reset and reminder needed for a couple as they recognize they do have the ability to maintain greater self-control and manners around each other.
Generally speaking, however, whatever needs addressed before Ramadan will still need to be addressed during and after. Don't set yourself up for the expectation that anything will be dramatically different.
Embracing where things are at can allow you to be strategic in how you approach this month insha'Allah.
Focus on what is within your control and sphere of spiritual development.
"A question that can help you shift back into a place of empowerment is this:
"If the problem you are focused on was immediately solved, what would you spend your time doing instead of thinking about the problem or engaging in it?"
You can absolutely say, for example, "What you just said hurt my feelings," or "I'm feeling hurt and unheard so I'd like to discontinue speaking for now." Sharing your feelings and setting boundaries that advocate for your well being is part of a healthy marriage. But it does mean redirecting your focus to yourself and, again, focusing on what is within your control.
Sharing your feelings, as an example, is something you can control. How your husband reacts you cannot. Sharing your personal boundaries is something within your control. Whether or not your husband will honor them is not.
A question that can help you shift back into a place of empowerment is this: "If the problem you are focused on was immediately solved ,what would you spend your time doing instead of thinking about the problem or engaging in it?"
Choose to act with rahmah when the mouada feels faint.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “When Allah completed the creation, He wrote in His book with Him upon the Throne: Verily, My mercy prevails over My wrath.” (1)
Bring this concept into your marriage as much as you can (keeping in mind what I mentioned before about healthy boundaries.)
Acting with rahmah, or mercy, means that you focus on taking the high road and giving your best self to your spouse even if you feel they don't deserve it.
Being merciful is a choice you make because it reflects the kind of person you want to be.
When feelings of mouada (love) are low it's encouraged to maintain a relationship and act according to rahmah (mercy.)
I would argue that mercy includes behaving respectfully, kindly, and being considerate in situations that tempt you to do the opposite.
You aren't always going to like your husband. You might argue that deep down you love him but on some days you may just not really like him! I say this with a touch of humor but also honestly.
When you live day in and day out with any human being there are going to be moments you just don't really like them. It's normal but it's equally important you choose who you want to be during those moments or periods of time.
How you conduct yourself is part of what you are held accountable for with Allah.
During a month where there is a little more exhaustion, busyness, and challenges of fasting and late night prayers a dose of mercy can go a long way in your relationship.
Discuss your Ramadan schedule to examine stressors ahead of time.
A husband praying tarawih every single night and being gone for hours for an entire month leaving a wife home with a baby and young kids to clean up after cooking iftaar after her own day of fasting while also trying to pray extra on her own is not a necessary stressor.
Unfortunately, many cultures have given men a free pass in Ramadan to disappear after iftaar assuming that women are some kind of second-class worshippers who aren't due the same opportunities in the month as the men are.
For those living near a masjid, the five daily prayers in jama'a for a man would be fard.
After this, everything is recommended and not required. Serving your family and supporting one's family is required.
Which means having a frank conversation about your needs as a wife and family is fair and necessary.
Otherwise, many wives express deep resentment towards their husbands and end up feeling that they matter less to Allah than men. This couldn't be further from the truth!
I remember one year hearing a local imam address this in tarawih prayers. He reminded the husbands that tarwawih wasn't fard and to take turns with their wife if there were kids present.
He encouraged the husbands to pray four rakat and then watch the kids while she prayed four rakat in peace. It was a beautiful example of love in action and an example of wanting for your spouse what you want for yourself.
Other leaders remind husbands to help their wives clean up after iftaar so the whole family can make it to the masjid if this is the goal (which is common in Western Muslim communities.)
One of my teachers would come and pray a few rakat of tarawih in congregation and then head home to lead his wife and kids at home.
The change in schedule and the natural stressors it can cause can be discussed so that you and your husband are both on the same page.
Knowing your own personal goals and limits is important too. Knowing what is too much for you and expressing that is important.
Feeling resentful, neglected, and alone during this month should not be the outcome of a month of increased worship! What an irony, right?
Couples can avoid this with open and supportive dialogue regarding each other's goals.
Stop putting yourself last.
Take time for yourself to plan out personal Ramadan goals.
The feminine, by default, is a nurturing and collective energy. Women are naturally more adept at keeping a pulse on what is happening in the family, what everyone is going through and needing, and organizing the family calendar.
Our greatest gift is our ability to give so much to those we love and care about.
Coincidentally, one of our weaknesses is taking time for ourselves to nurture our own spiritual, emotional, physical, and psychological well being.
"I feel so guilty...." is an oft-repeated phrase by many women even when their husbands are incredibly supportive of their wives goals!
I used to wing Ramadan goals because I didn't take time to think about what was really important for me though I was on top of meal planning for iftaar, arranging iftaar invitations, activities and crafts for my kids, decorating, etc. All of these are valuable to me but they aren't what my own soul and heart need for development and growth.
This is one reason why I am hosting a pre-Ramadan workshop with my dear mentor and friend Hosai Mojaddidi. The goal is to help me, and those who participate, have a gentle on-ramp to prepare our hearts and minds for Ramadan. If you'd like to join us, click the link above or image for more details.
If not, I encourage you to spend one hour thinking about Ramadan and taking time to allow your mind to slowly focus on what is coming up and decide what your few simple, tangible, and meaningful Ramadan goals will be.
May Allah allow us to live for another Ramadan and be amongst those whom Allah loves in this dunyah and in the akhirah. Ameen.