Case Study: Growing Apart
I feel like we are growing apart!
Zahida and Tarek have been married for four years and they have a son, Ali, who is one year old. Zahida is very concerned about her family, she feels that her relationship with Tarek is not at the level where it should be. Zahida feels that her and her husband are growing apart.
Before Zahida and Tarek got married, they spent a lot of time planning their life. They discussed their priorities and agreed that they will share their lives together. They both promised themselves that they wouldn’t let “it” happen to them. They never wanted to turn into “the two strangers living under the same roof with a bunch of kids”.
Since they got married, both Zahida and Tarek have been very busy and under a lot of pressure. Tarek has been working long hours to prove himself at work, while Zahida has been studying hard to get her college degree. They did not have much spare time, but with the little spare time they had, Tarek always wanted to spend it quietly with his wife at home or go on the internet, while Zahida desired to spend it going out on a walk or taking a hike at the park. Whichever way they ended up spending the time, one of them was always unsatisfied and displeased.
One year ago, Allah SWT blessed the couple with baby Ali. Zahida and Tarek were very happy to be blessed with Ali and are doing their best to take good care of him, which requires lots of time, particularly from Zahida.
Tarek complains that even after Ali goes to bed, Zahida talks about him and nothing else and that this is beginning to annoy him very much. Tarek feels that as a couple they don’t know how to talk about anything but Ali. Tarek tried a few times, without success, to try to get Zahida to talk about other subjects saying “Zahida, do you notice that all you ever talk about is Ali”? On the other hand, Zahida complains that Tarek doesn’t put enough effort into sharing in the activities she enjoys. She says that other than eating and sleeping, they do nothing together.
- Is this a common problem
- Is this a serious problem
- What do you think the cause of the problem is?
- Tarek and Zahida made a promise to themselves before they got married. What can they do to fulfill this promise?
- Do you know of a similar situation?
- Is this a common problem?
Yes it is a common problem, especially in the first few years of marriage.
- Is this a serious problem?
We believe it is a serious problem because it affects the feelings of each one of them toward the other. Usually each spouse is left with the impression that the other spouse doesn’t care about his/her feelings and needs. This becomes a vicious cycle that creates a huge gap between the couple.
- What do you think the cause of the problem is?
The cause of this problem can be summarized in the following:
- Both Tarek and Zahidah consider their own needs to be the most important to them and don’t consider the needs of the other spouse as legitimate or as important as their own needs.
- The expectations of Tarek from his wife and the expectations of Zahidah from her husband were never discussed in detail or mutually agreed upon. Each one of them has certain expectations from the other but has never communicated these expectations clearly to their partner.
- Tarek and Zahidah made a promise to themselves before they got married. What can they do to fulfill this promise?
Most probably, Tarek and Zahidah have seen a model of “the two strangers living under the same roof” and they didn’t like it, and that is why they made this promise before marriage. However, sometimes things are easier said than done. It is not enough just to theoretically believe in something. It takes effort, hard work, self-discipline, and a strong will to change oneself. But above all, it takes an open minded attitude. Both Tarek and Zahidah may agree on the principle that it is important to compromise, but when it is actually time to compromise and sacrifice one’s preference, s/he doesn’t feel like doing this, and thinks that it is not fair, and that her/his need is more important. They get into the attitude of “if he/she really loves me, he/she will do it for me.”
Let us now see what both can do together to fulfill their promise:
- Be indispensable; Both Tarek and Zahidah may like to consider making themselves indispensable to each other. There is a great benefit for this. It cements and bonds the two spouses together at an emotional level, as the memories they have about the time they spend together are highlighted by a feeling of comfort, satisfaction, and joy. Each of them would feel that the best time they ever had is when they are around each other. If Tarek is away on a business trip, Zahidah would really miss him and would be eager for him to come back. If Zahidah is away visiting her parents, Tarek would be counting the days, eagerly awaiting her arrival.
- Learn to compromise in a graceful way; Compromise is a basic requirement for the success of any relationship. A spouse, who puts his/her partner’s need ahead of his/her own, is sending a strong message of love, consideration, and sincerity. No message could be more powerful than this, even gifts or a thousand “I love you” notes. On the same token, a return of the compromise by taking turns in putting the other spouses’ desires first is an assuring message that the love is mutual. If the same spouse keeps giving in to her/his partner’s need and, hence, keeps putting off his/her own needs, they will end up feeling rejected and uncared for. He/she will feel like all his/her partner cares about is the service he/she provides, not he/she personally. No matter how many times they hear, “I love you”, they won’t believe it; it will sound phony to them. At this point, he/she will begin to feel resentment and question whether he/she should compromise at all. He/she will also start taking a new stand on the way he/she deals with his/her spouse.
Whenever spouses compromise, they need to do it in a graceful way and with willingness and acceptance, otherwise, it doesn’t carry a loving message.
- Keep in touch; It is very important that the two spouses keep in touch at an emotional level, such that each one of them is assured that her/his partner still strongly loves and cares for her/him. In a busy life such as that of our times, people are always living under pressure. Tarek and Zahidah need to get away from the every day routine, and spend a little time, just the two of them. They can arrange to leave the baby with a family member or a friend. Going for a walk twice a week, lunch or dinner in a restaurant once every couple of months, or a picnic at the park for an afternoon, will help them stay in touch. Such outings will give them an opportunity to listen to each other’s concerns, exchange ideas, and brainstorm solutions to the issues occupying their minds. This requires willingness from both of them. Also, Zahidah should talk to Tarek about how she feels. This will help the relationship stay on the right track as long as it is done in a caring way and not a blaming way. Tarek and Zahidah should also consider reading a book together or following up on each other’s Qur’anic memorization, even if it is just couple of verses a week.
- Keep the romance alive; To enrich their relationship and stop it from turning into a dry mechanical one, Zahidah and Tarek should do their own little things to keep the romance alive. Writing notes of kind words and buying each other little gifts is one way to do it. Also doing something special for one another is a great idea; for example, Zahidah could prepare Tarek’s favourite meal, and Tarek could prepare breakfast in bed for Zahidah every now and then.
- Maximize efforts and time; Tarek and Zahidah need to learn to be more efficient and organized. This can save them a lot of effort and allow the couple to have some free time. Preparing simple meals rather than complicated ones, and considering cooking enough for two to three days at once may be a good idea for their purposes.
- Be patient and allow room for adjustment; Both Tarek and Zahidah need to allow each other some room while adjusting to the new perspective of looking at things. They need to overlook any behaviour that might look too withdrawn or resentful and give the other spouse enough time and room to adjust and accept the new situation.