Closer in Quarantine: A Study of Successful Marriage in Social Isolation
May 7, 2020
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For more on this topic, see Faith in the Time of Coronavirus
We are living in unprecedented times with stressors that span social isolation to job uncertainty and everything in between. During this time, there may be added pressure on marriages. Issues that may have been previously dormant within marriages can rise to the surface. While difficult, if approached correctly, the current situation can present an opportunity to make a positive shift that is likely overdue.
All relationships require intentional and active effort to thrive. If a marriage has been neglected, the consequences will hit harder now than at times when we could have escaped or distracted ourselves from the painful experience of disconnect from our spouses. The ways to improve a marriage during social isolation will be similar to what is prescribed to couples during more typical times. However, as the areas of stress become more visible and feel more acute, the remedies may also need to be amplified.
Oftentimes, seemingly complex issues can be remedied by going back to the basics. The verse in the Qur’an that is printed on almost all wedding invitations reminds us of the core components of a thriving marriage:
وَمِنۡ ءَايَٰتِهِۦٓ أَنۡ خَلَقَ لَكُم مِّنۡ أَنفُسِكُمۡ أَزۡوَٰجٗا لِّتَسۡكُنُوٓاْ إِلَيۡهَا وَجَعَلَ بَيۡنَكُم مَّوَدَّةٗ وَرَحۡمَةًۚ إِنَّ فِي ذَٰلِكَ لَأٓيَٰتٖ لِّقَوۡمٖ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
And of His signs is that He created for you, from yourselves, spouses so that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you love and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for people who reflect.
There are three components of marriage that are referenced in this verse that give us a comprehensive framework upon which marriages are built and can also be rebuilt: sakīnah (tranquility), mawaddah (love), and raḥmah (mercy).
Allah describes the primary purpose of the union of a husband and wife as finding peace, contentment, and tranquility in one another. Sakan implies that the hearts of the couple turn toward one another. The term sakan also connotes a sense of stillness and being in a place of safety and refuge. Our relational capacity as humans requires trust and safety within a marriage in order to connect through curiosity and receptivity toward one another. In other words, safety is a prerequisite to developing intimacy and tranquility. From the foremost of human needs is the need for safety, including physical and psychological safety. At a time when our physical safety may feel threatened due to the coronavirus, it is even more important that we find safety in our spouses and those closest to us. Just as we are rushing to figure out how to strengthen our physical immunity, we need to be just as—if not more—intentional about ensuring the immunity of our relationships against the stressors of this time. When safety is truly established, love and belonging can blossom.
Often translated as love, the term mawaddah goes beyond the initial stages of dopamine-filled passion that is often present in the early stages of a marriage. Allah has created us to connect to Him and to others, and mawaddah is the love between spouses that meets this innate need. As spouses grow together in marriage, they will learn about the many things that they do not see eye to eye on. The beautiful part of mature love in healthy relationships is that it can be offered, received, and experienced despite spouses not being on the same page about every single thing. Research on more than 700 couples over time has found that 69% of marital conflicts cannot be completely resolved. This is the natural result of marriage being the union of two different people with different histories. Mawaddah is the love that connects a couple with all their individual differences.
Often translated as mercy, raḥmah is both a natural byproduct of, and a contributor to, both of the previously mentioned characteristics of a healthy marriage. This encompasses the ability to show grace, empathy, and compassion. It is something that should be visited and revisited frequently within a marriage, especially when external stressors increase and may cause either or both partners an inability to show up at their best in the relationship.
Love and mercy are necessary ingredients to achieve tranquility and satisfaction in marriage. Love and mercy are multifaceted and include many actions including being helpful, supportive, and creating a safe environment where spouses can speak openly with each other. Another dimension of love is gratitude. Appreciating one’s spouse is a central component of healthy marriages and should be practiced regularly. Couples who regularly express gratitude report more satisfaction in their marriages.