Recently I was forwarded this article on what makes a ‘successful marriage’ :
The piece is written by Yasmine Mogahed, whose popular work includes an article in response to Amina Wadud’s leading of Islamic prayer back in 2005-”A Woman’s Reflection on Leading Prayer” http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/13883/Mogahed commonly adopts a ‘cultural feminist’ view that reflects an essentialist notion of gender by emphasizing what are seen as innate and undeniable differences between men and women.
To answer her question on “What is going wrong when so many of our marriages are ending in divorce?” Mogahed states that “According to Dr. Emerson Eggerich, author of Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs, the answer is simple. In his book, Eggerichs explains that extensive research has found that a man’s primary need is for respect, while a woman’s primary need is for love. He describes what he calls the “crazy cycle”—the pattern of argumentation that results when the wife does not show respect and the husband does not show love. He explains how the two reinforce and cause one another. In other words, when a wife feels that her husband is acting unloving, she often reacts with disrespect, which in turn makes the husband act even more unloving.” http://loveandrespect.com/
Mogahed writes in her typical eloquence, citing hadiths and spiritual reflections along the way. It is easy to be taken by the purity in her tone. Many actually do buy into it.
Me- not so much. Mogahed writes as if she’s offering a dissection of painfully clear logic. However, the pervasive, gender-stereotyped, and formulaic perspective on marriage that was being promoted by the article is problematic. It can impede a couple from deeply evaluating the individual expectations and preferences that each member might have from the relationship and instead endorses a ‘rigid’ standard of conduct. It could very likely be the case that the woman senses a lack of respect and the man a lack of affection.
Gender differences are valid. I am not negating the idea that men and women may have different needs. I find beauty in the yin and yang. I am wary, however, when these differences are stated as a dichotomous straightforward reality. As we know, one’s sex is simply determined by X and Y chromosomes, while gender is much more complex and is derived from socio-cultural contexts, personal individual histories, and even varying levels of predisposed sex hormone levels. Gender sensitivities are required in a marriage; however, these should be dealt with on tangible and nuanced terms not by an over-simplified external reality of how a husband and a wife are to be differently treated.
Also, by adhering ‘respect’ for the husband and ‘love’ for the wife, Eggerich’s preconception emphasizes male authority and the notion that females need to be pampered. The purporting of respect for the husband and love for the wife, instead of the idea of a mutual level of respect and love for both, insidiously supports a ‘top-down’ power dynamic between the husband and the wife. This is cautionary especially due to the fact that many of us come from cultural backgrounds which advocate a dominating role by the husband and a subordinated role by the wife, with the assumption that this dynamic is ‘Islamic.’ To move our community towards the complementary balanced relationship that Islam does in fact advocate, I say let us become hypersensitive to any (usually well-intending, albeit) dogmatic thinking on marital relations. The answer to what makes a successful marriage is, often, anything but simple.