What Can I Say to Make Him Care Again

Question and answer details
S (23-female-US)
We have been married less than a year but have been in a relationship for 3 years. I wanted to make sure I was marrying the right guy and I honestly believe that he is my match. But, our marriage is unraveling at an alarming rate! I am half Middle Eastern he is Moroccan. He always brings up about how "white" I am and how Muslim marriages aren't like this, that I need to learn my place. I find this offensive. He is always coming down on me about everything. I can do nothing right. And if I don’t reply back to him he will keep going until I respond and then it will be an explosion. I have mentioned getting help but he insists that it is "white" people ideas. He sees nothing wrong with the fact that he stays up all night and I sleep alone. When he gets mad he yells and throws things at me. And he doesn't even want me asking how his day was. I feel so alone in our marriage and have tried to talk to him. He deflects and states I am lucky he isn't hurting me. I have caught him talking to women on Skype and chatting. I don't know what to do? This isn't the man I married! What can I say to make him understand? I tried to encourage him in Islam but he resisted. It has gotten to the point where I am seriously considering divorce.
Dr. Maryam Bachmeier

Assalam Alaykum dear sister,

Your struggles are difficult and I can see that you are also in pain.

First, Islam is not culturally specific. The awareness of Islam (the path of Peace) as expressed and revealed in the Quran (recitation) came through the angel Gabriel (who is not western or eastern, but is rather angelic) to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) who came from the Middle East, and those who received this message and embrace it call themselves Muslims, for a Muslim is a person who submits his or her will to God.  We must separate faith in Allah from faith in cultural norms.

The problems that are occurring in your marriage seem to have some root in the area of communication. It is unclear as to where the communication broke down between you and your husband.  Also, it is not uncommon to have specific ideas in one’s own mind about what marriage looks like and to have expectations about marriage that are not necessarily there when you are simply dating.  It is important for couples to discuss these expectations and ideas of how a marriage works, including which partners will perform what function, and what model of marriage the couple is going to follow. When these agreements are not understood prior to marriage, unspoken expectations of both partners can clash and the couple will find the union is in conflict.

It is possible that your husband has expectations that were not discussed and that he is feeling disappointed. Likewise, your expectations are not being realized either. I would be willing to guess that you may have missed this step in your courtship prior to marriage. The positive feelings that you had for each other were likely based on how you felt when you were together, and how you felt toward one another without the life realities of responsibility to each other and in life as a couple.

Indeed, both partners need to “know his and her place” but this “place” needs to be discussed and agreed upon prior to marriage; especially in a cross-cultural marriage. Otherwise, expect chaos.

It is likely that although you are half Middle Eastern, you may also have some western orientation; more so if you were born in the USA.  Likewise, it is possible that your husband’s expectations are culturally shaped and that he was expecting a marriage model that is similar to those he grew up with.  So, some of your conflict may be due to cultural clashes.

There are some cases, however, where an individual will use his or her culture as an excuse to behave in dishonorable ways. For example, it is almost universal throughout all cultures, that adult men and women have a code of conduct that demonstrates maturity and adulthood.  This code of conduct includes being responsible to and for your spouse. Sometimes an individual, regardless of what culture they identify with, has not yet achieved this level of maturity and will become angry when frustrated by the demands of adulthood and marriage.  Without understanding one’s own self, the individual might resort to “hiding” behind a cultural identity or by blaming someone else for his or her disappointment and frustration.

I would be curious to know what your husband means by “white” ideas.  If he is referring to the possibility that he wants a second wife (polygamy), and most culturally “white” or more accurately “western” (there are many different ethnicities within the western culture mix) are only willing to enter into monogamous marriages, then I would wonder if he is also willing to take responsibility for that model of marriage.  Often, what appears on the surface as a religious or cultural argument is really an issue of becoming a mature adult and being willing to take responsibility in an honorable manner.  This unwillingness to stand up and own one’s own responsibilities usually stems from a fear of failure or inadequacy.

Unfortunately, a myth about the “elite-ness” of “white culture” still exists in either the conscious or unconscious minds of some non-western human beings. We can talk about the roots of this myth, but that is another topic and another story for another time.  For now, just consider that this may have been lurking in the subconscious of your husband, and marriage itself, to a woman who is “half white” may have triggered unconscious fears and uncertainty.

Indeed, there were a group of humans, who were also ethnically white, that dominated many people’s for some time and separated themselves into a different “class” from those whom they controlled. Though that situation no longer exists, the pain of the experience may still lurk in the subconscious of some people, and the experience of the oppressors being “white” can be generalized by the subconscious to anyone that has features resembling this group. This is the way the human mind works and generalizes from one experience to another.  We cannot know if this is the case or not, but only be gentle in knowing of the possibility.

For now, take a step back and don’t do anything rash. It will be your job to find out what is really going on with your husband. See if you can decipher what his expectations for marriage were.  Try to discover if there are other things bothering him. Are there any financial problems?  Is he comparing himself and judging himself to be inadequate?  Is it possible that he is using drugs? Is he depressed?

It will help you to make good decisions if you are able to distance yourself from the “drama” and try not to engage in arguments so much as to listen and try to understand what is really happening. When your husband speaks to you and expects an answer, try paraphrasing what he said to you and asking him for clarification when needed to ensure that you understand him correctly. When you paraphrase back to him, ask him if you understand him correctly and listen for his feedback. Make sure that you do this with sincerity and make a concerted effort to listen to his heart and his words, with the intention of understanding what he is saying. Try to remove the filter that you might have in your own mind that causes you to hear a distorted version of what he is trying to communicate to you. It is possible that if your husband feels understood and that you care about him, that he will calm down.

It would also be helpful if you can show him that you have honor for him and for his culture. Consider cooking more of his favorite morocco dishes, and decorating the home so that he feels at home.  If your husband is Moroccan, then you are a Moroccan wife; consider adapting some of his cultural norms into your way of life if possible.  This might help to lower his defenses and create an environment where he will be able to communicate with you.

If you can start over, and decrease the anxiety and animosity between you, perhaps you can “meet again” when things are calm down so that you can talk about the model of marriage that you both would like to participate in, and some of the other important issues that may not have been addressed properly prior to marriage.

The first step is to decrease negative feelings and emotions, increase positive feelings and emotions, and then create a communication system that will be effective for both of you. In order to do this, you will have to temporarily ignore his bad behavior of talking to women etc. This isn’t to condone his behavior. But it is counter- productive to the goal of establishing positive rapport and communication with him if you focus on these issues now.  I imagine you are feeling betrayed by these behaviors, and you will want to work through your feelings and emotions about this. This is something you will want to address later, after you have a communication system and positive rapport.

The advice I have given you is definitely a lot to absorb.  I would also encourage you to see a marriage counselor on your own. You do not have to push your husband to go. A marriage counselor can teach you a lot of techniques for developing the positive rapport and can also help you to sort out and manage your own experience and emotions so that you can make healthy decisions.

To answer your original question; “What can I say to make him CARE again”. The answer is not to focus on what you are going to say. Don’t try to control the outcome. Don’t try to control your husband. Pray to Allah for guidance and wisdom and strength. Ask Allah to give you the correct responses and words when you husband talks to you. And focus more on developing positive rapport and communication. Focus on trying to understand your husband.  It is possible that when your husband feels understood and honored, that his heart will open up to you again and that he will care again. Be patient. Be Persistent in your Patients.



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About the Counselor:
Dr. Bachmeier is a clinical psychologist who has been working in the mental health field for over 15 years. She is also a published researcher, former adjunct professor at Argosy University, writer, and consultant to her Spiritual community in the areas of mental health, clinical disorders, cultural, family and relationship issues, and more.