To fix your marriage, you must first begin with fixing yourself. By becoming a noble, compassionate and composed human being, you will be able to influence your spouse into becoming a better person
By Nabi Raza Abidi
The biggest mistake people make in a marriage is that they try to change their spouses. They see problems in their marriage and think that by attempting to directly change them, things will get better.
Often enough, things will only get worse because by trying to change your spouse, you enter a clash of egos and that ends up creating more hostility. If you are lucky, your spouse will only change short-term and will eventually go back to what they were once things get difficult again between the two of you. This is even after giving them harsh ultimatums (e.g. next you do this, I will divorce you).
So what is to be done? Remember that it always takes two hands to clap. The first and most important step is to introspect and seriously consider your own faults. If you have difficulties in doing so, you can listen to what others have to say about you and be appreciative instead of being offended or dismissive.
Your faults can manifest in an infinite variety of ways which can go unnoticed by you. These can be coldness, being unappreciative, ungrateful, or negligent or even resentful of certain duties. It can be prioritizing work, friends, hobbies or even blood relatives over your spouse, dismissing your spouse’s needs and wishes because it takes you out of your comfort zone or because you’re “too tired.” Other reasons can be the tone you speak in, messiness, not taking proper care of your appearance, health and physical fitness, your attitude with your children, your spending habits, etc. It just doesn’t end.
Sometimes it can also be the way you react to a problem. Your spouse may commit a major inexcusable mistake, and may have repeated this mistake several times over the years even after dramatic fights and promises not to repeat it; or they may have made an innocent mistake, yet your reaction (dramatic, condescending, insulting, setting ultimatums etc.) in either case only makes the problem worse.
Studies have shown that when parents react dramatically to the misdeeds of their children, certain parts of their brains end up shrinking or being damaged. Having a calm, mature and wise approach to misdeeds does the opposite in children and fosters a healthy development of the brain. Adults are no different. Wisdom-based and composed reactions not only ground the chaos of your relationship back into order and meaning, but they also foster a healthy psychological environment in which your spouse’s mind and behavior can grow and flourish.
If your spouse has behavioral or even moral problems in life, these problems are symptoms of an inner disease. It is only by addressing this disease that you can cure its symptoms; trying to mask the symptoms will only leave the disease untouched. The disease will simply grow overtime and get worse to the point where things will become unmanageable. Overly emotional and dramatic reactions will only make the diseases and symptoms worse. Spiritual diseases can be cured in many different ways. The most effective form of healing I have seen has been healing through association and positive influence. This is how children and teenagers grow up to be healthy adults, and this is how unhealthy adults are transformed into decent human beings.
To elicit true change in your spouse, you must begin with eliciting change within yourself. You must embark on a serious and objective investigation of your faults and introspect your inner demons and diseases. Part of this comes from self-examination, and the other comes from listening to the criticism of others. A helpful tool here would be to read religious works on spiritual diseases and try to locate yourself in them. Without knowledge of what is actually bad, you won’t be able to notice it in yourself.
The second step would be to take religious practice (including rituals) more seriously from fasting to doing prayers and by taking your time in practicing them and doing them on time. These practices are forms of discipline that help tame your body and your desires and helps your intellect gain mastery over your emotions and whims.
The third step would be to find people who are more advanced than you on the spiritual path whom you can extract wisdom and positive influence from. By transforming yourself, you anchor your being in this world of chaos. You become a person to be respected and looked up to. Your spouse will inevitably be influenced by you to some degree thanks to your calmer demeanor, as well as your positive, non-dramatic and encouraging attitude. Most sane people want to find inner peace, you need to become that source of inner peace and not aggravate a disease that is already out of control.
I’ve counseled countless couples for over two decades now and I’ve never seen a situation where one spouse was 100% at fault. Either the spouse has done something to elicit a negative response, or they are simply incapable of reacting to their spouses’ misdeeds in a wise and mature way. The fact that you married a person is testimony to the fact that you have accepted to deal with a person’s faults. This is the fact of life, whether you marry them, or you give birth to them, or befriend them. Any type of social relation carries with it the responsibility of dealing with its problems. By walking away and saying you don’t want to “deal with it” because you “did not sign up for it” will not solve your problems, it will only make it worse and will eventually lead to absolute loneliness.
Try putting your arrogance/ego aside and nurture your compassion for others. See yourself (first and foremost) as a person who is sick that needs healing. Once you have embarked on this path, try to see others this way as well. Try healing them by giving them “healthy germs” and above all, be patient. This process will never be complete and results may not be immediately visible. It may take many months or even years until you see substantial results. But the wait, effort, and patience is definitely worth it. You will come out a better and happier person in the end, and so will those whom you love.
Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Imam of the SABA Islamic Center
San Jose, California