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Keeping The Love Alive After 25 Years of Marriage

Posted on Aug 29, 2017
Noor Suleiman

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It's rare that we get a peek inside a genuinely happy and harmonious marriage of an older couple who's way past the newlywed stage; most things shared tend to be the overly sappy 'Hollywood movie' type affection (mostly seen on social media), horror stories of divorce, or marriages gone dry after a few years.  A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across a post that featured an older Muslim couple celebrating their 25th anniversary with a Costa Rica vacation. There was obviously a beautiful story there, so I immediately reached out to Mubarakah Ibrahim, the woman in the video to pick her mind and share what I learned with everyone here on the blog!

Overview

Mubarakah was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, and her husband is from New Haven, Connecticut, where they currently reside. They have four children, three boys, and one girl - all two years apart. The oldest is 23, and the youngest is 16. 

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MY HUSBAND AND I met through a mutual friend. My mother had a friend who was getting married in New Haven, Connecticut. We came down for his walima, and three separate times that night, I was asked if I was interested in marriage because, "There's this brother here who is looking for a wife and you seem like you would be perfect for him." I was 15 at the time, so my response was always, "No I do not want to get married!"

IN MY FAMILY, my mother was very strict and very traditional. I am number five out of six kids. My older brother and sisters all got married at 15 and 16. My mother's philosophy is that when you feel like you need a companion, then that means you understand the responsibility of marriage - so everybody got married young.

THAT PARTICULAR DAY, my husband had been out of town visiting some relatives in New York. Once he came back, I was mentioned to him and he saw my picture (he later told me it was not a good picture of me. ;) ) The next day, he got my mother's number and called her. They talked for like two and a half hours and I then reluctantly talked to him for around thirty minutes. To be honest, I wasn't very nice to him. In an attempt to deter him and elongate the process, I asked for a picture of him, which he overnighted to us (I didn't like his picture either). My mother was like, "Pictures don't always tell the truth. Why don't you meet him one time? If you don't like him, we'll just leave it at that." My response? "Eh, Ok."

He came down to meet me on Saturday, and by the end of the night, he asked to place intentions on me. I prayed istikhara for three days, and then I accepted, and we got married six months later!

He was 25, and I was 16.

WHEN I FIRST GOT MARRIED, I didn't have a view of what marriage was supposed to be. My dad died when I was 11, and my mother had a couple of marriages in between then and the time I got married, but they did not last a long time. So I didn't have a 'this is what marriage is supposed to be' philosophy. I think I just learned it along the way through trial and error and reading - I'm a big reader. My life philosophy is there's always somebody that went through it so you don't have to reinvent the wheel. I love asking older people for advice, I love reading, I'm a big psychology bust, and I kind of just made it up along the way.

I LOOK AT MARRIAGE through two lenses: one of them is a general perspective on marriage, and the other is through the lens of being a woman. In general, for marriage, patience with one another and forgiveness are really really important. But the number one thing I would say is to pick your battles. You're going to have conflict, but you have to think to yourself, is this so horrible that I would divorce this person over? If not, you figure out a way to work it out. 

MY ADVICE FOR WOMEN IS don't lose yourself. Don't fall so head over heels for your husband that you forget who you are and you forget your duty to Allah (S). You can't lose yourself in your relationship; you have to maintain your own form of identity and understand that your love for him is not just about him, it's about you and your relationship with Allah (S).

When you meet somebody, see if you like them first. If you like them, see if this person can be your friend. Then ask yourself if they can be your BEST friend, that you can confide in, that you can be vulnerable with. Once you feel like they can be your best friend, then falling in love is easy, because love is an action word. AS A COUPLE, my husband and I have always tried to prioritize 'alone time'. Even when our kids were young, we recognized when we needed some alone time, get a babysitter and go on a date. And that level of spending time together has changed throughout the years; right now, many people know us for going on couples trips - but we didn't ever spend an anniversary away from our children until we had been married for ten years. At the ten year point, my sister called me, and said, "If you do not come and bring me those kids, I am going to come take them. You guys are going away." That was the first time I ever spent a night away from my children. At the time, the youngest was 2. After that, we went away for a few days every year on our anniversary, and every year it gets a little longer and a little longer. This year, for our 25th, we were gone for a full seven days. That couple time, I believe, is absolutely essential. We've been there - you forget why you love this person. We've been through lots of different phases; the phase of me being a stay at home mom, and him being the provider, me going to school and him going to school, me owning a business and working 50 hours a week and him working and trying to shift the kids between the two of us. Sometimes you get really busy that it becomes more like a business partnership as opposed to a marriage. So alone time rekindles the love and reminds you why you like one another. It reminds you why you're actually married to this person. Why do I want this particular person to be the person I lay down next to at the end of the day? I think that has been the most consistent thing in our relationship.

I AM ALSO A HUGE proponent of marriage counseling. We've had rough patches in our marriage, and we have tried every aspect of counseling. There were times when we have had to have sessions with the Imam, sessions with a professional therapist, etc. If you feel like you need a third party that will be impartial and will give you a way you can go forward, don't be shy to seek them out. Don't wait until it gets to the breaking point of divorce to go that route. So we have had marriage counseling in different forms in our relationship. Nobody's marriage is perfect.

MY BIGGEST ADVICE for anyone about to get married is: become friends - become best friends. In Islam, we don't really date, so it's not often that people will fall in love before they get married - it’s a different process. When you meet somebody, see if you like them first. If you like them, see if this person can be your friend - can you hang out with them, go to the movies with them, go out together, play ball together? Then ask yourself can this be my BEST friend, that I can confide in, that I can be vulnerable with? Once you feel like they can be your best friend, then falling in love is easy, because love is an action word. If you do things for a person you love, you will fall in love with them. I don't think people fall in love first. Become friends and then love is the thing you do to express that. So be a friend first and then you will fall in love.

I READ THIS QUOTE one day that said, "People don't fall in love with you, they fall in love with the way you make them feel." So I intentionally cater to his ego. If you make somebody feel like they are the center of the room or the center of your attention or the center of your day, then they are going to fall in love with the fact that they feel like you love them. So I've always intentionally tried to make my husband feel like he's the biggest thing in my world. Not that he isn't, but sometimes if I've had a rough day, and he's come home, and he's also had a rough day and is nonstop talking about his day, then I just keep my day to myself because I recognize that at that moment, he needs me. And I'm sure he's done that for me too. Listening. Give compliments - as women, we like to get compliments, but we sometimes forget to give them. If he gets a haircut, I make sure that I notice. If he smells good, I make sure that I say something. I really try to make him feel like the center of my day as often as I remember to.

ONE OF THE THINGS that was helpful for us was premarital counseling. At the time, Sheikh Zaid Shaker was the Imam here, and we sat with him a couple of times. We set ground rules from the beginning. We talked about the "no go" words or actions for each of us - words that, no matter how mad you get, you must never say or do. When it comes to arguing, oneSometimes you get so busy that it becomes more like a business partnership as opposed to a marriage. So alone time rekindles the love and reminds you why you like one another and why you're actually married to this person. of the things I can say about our relationship is we never ever argue in front of the kids. We'll get in the car, go for a drive, go to the bedroom and close the door, whatever. We've never had an argument in front of the kids, and in 25 years, we never raised our voice and screamed. If one of us starts to get loud, the other will point it out. We both grew up experiencing domestic violence in our houses, and we have that rule in our house that it is not tolerated, even in the form of cursing. We have the philosophy that cursing is verbal violence and violence only escalates. So once you start calling each other names, it is always going to escalate from there. That has been helpful for us in solving our issues. Not that we've never hurt each other, but it has never got to the point that we've said mean things that we can't forgive.

THIS YEAR, we celebrated 25 years of marriage by taking a trip to our favorite resort in Costa Rica. My husband and I have this anniversary tradition that we do every year: I pretend like I don't know what he's doing and he sneaks and talks to the staff and arranges a special dinner for us. It allows him to get his romantic side out so, alhamdulillah I love it. This year, I had gone to the spa, and he called the guy to the room to talk about the arrangements, but I came back too early, so the guy knocked on the door, and he was a little surprised to see me, so he goes, "Um did you call about the air conditioner?" And that's when I knew!

THE RESORT WE WENT TO is one of our favorite ones that we've frequented over the years because it's so perfect for Muslims; there's a Jacuzzi on the porch of your suite, and there is literally a ten-foot wall between you and the person next to you. Nobody will see you except the monkeys and the trees. It has a private beach, and if you go in low season, there will be nobody within eyeshot. I thought, "I wish every Muslim can experience this." So we ended up meeting the owner of the resort and started arranging a couple's retreat. It's a five day getaway for couples called the Hira Retreat, held in August. You won't have marriage counseling and stuff. It is just you spending time together. We do a couple of activities but the rest of the time it's you and your spouse. 

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And there you have it: some wise words and advice from someone who approaches her marriage consciously and positively. Mubarakah truly shows us what happily ever after can look like, mashallah. If you're reading this, please say a little prayer for her and her husband :) 

What are your thoughts on Mubarakah's insights on marriage? Let's discuss in the comments below! 

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