Autonomy: Independence in one's own thoughts or actions.
Autonomy is rarely addressed in marriage but it has the greatest impact on a relationship. In a healthy, meaningful marriage both partners should love themselves before the other, be independent,and at the same time be capable of making choices without the influence and/or pressure from their spouse.
Relationships where such boundaries of self-love do not exist are dysfunctional and limited. The possibilities of growth and advancement as a couple and as individuals is very small.
Across the board in almost all cultural/traditional backgrounds and communities both men and women face this predicament. Social constructs and expectations for married women push for them to make sacrifices to their individual needs and passions. Women are expected to choose their marriage, pregnancy, child bearing, and motherhood over their career, self-love, growth and independence. However these same requirements are very seldom pushed upon their male counterparts and as a result an unequal dynamic of power between the spouses slowly begins to emerge.
In the same way that women are discouraged from pursuing their independence, men are often looked down upon for giving their spouses greater autonomy. Stay at home fathers, house husbands, and socially aware males who push for female independence in marriage are seen as weak, and incapable of providing for their family. In cultural communities, dependency on your spouse is encouraged and almost always expected.
As young people navigate marriage and new relationships, these social expectations push them further away from pursuing marriage. Many adults push marriage off simply out of fear of losing their identity. Language around marriage is predominately about loving each other, selflessness and sacrifice for the sake of love and never about individuality.
In the following article I want to challenge prospective couples, and married folks to look at marriage as a sacred bond that promotes self love and selflessness. A journey that pushes two people to grow together as a couple but also as individual people with lives, careers and goals that are different to one another yet connected.
As a Brown Muslim woman my greatest fear about marriage was losing my sense of self. I did not want to compromise my aspirations for a relationship that did not value my hopes and dreams. Most of the married women I knew saw nothing wrong with living a life that is solely surrounded around a husband and children. I did not think it was possible to be Brown, Muslim married and still independent, career driven, passion focused and free to live life as me. Becoming so and so’s wife, so and so’s daughter in law, so and so’s mother - would be an identity that completely erased my name. I didn’t have a problem with marriage, or with these relationships - I just feared that my very existence would be narrowed down to just that.
My cultural upbringing and surroundings supported all these negative preconceived ideas of marriage. I feared marriage would be another constraint on self discovery. Alhamdulillah I overcome this fear early on in my marriage through intentional well thought out conversations with my husband. From very early on in our marriage I expressed how important and necessary it is for us both to maintain autonomy. Explaining my fears and anxiety around marriage helped us both navigate our relationship in a direction that worked for both of us. Marriage is vowing to spend the rest of your life with someone. That concept is both beautiful and intimidating, especially if the cultural constructs of marriage you are familiar with are very much against your ideals.
Luckily I’m not the only one desperate to preserve my sense of self - in fact our generations of Millennials, and iGens are revolutionary in that way. We are comfortable with change, and willing to nip away at its roots. Our generation challenges patriarchal systems that promote sexism, colorism, and gender based inequality without fear. And for that reason alone it is in fact very much possible to remain completely ‘you’ after marriage.
Don’t get me wrong there are still many challenges that exist when trying to establish a relationship that allows for greater autonomy and self love - but the good news is it’s not impossible. I want to highlight two aspects that I feel are extremely important in creating a marriage that helps us grow as a couple without having to forfeit or sabotage our individuality, and independence. This article will discuss the first one:
Establishing healthy boundaries both before and after marriage is crucial for preservation of self. For example our partners and/or potential partners should acknowledge that even married couples need personal boundaries. Although marriage is the unification of two souls - there is no doubt that some aspects of our lives require autonomy. Such as our sense of self, life goals, passions, personal growth plans. These aspects of our life can coexist in our marriage- but they should never have to be compromised.
Sure when you first get married you're more interested in spending time together than apart, or it could be the total opposite, Either way both scenarios are completely okay. You and/or your spouse may crave individual time alone, or with friends. It’s vital to establish a set time and space for both those needs. Balancing relationships, and making time for all the people in your life is probably one of the hardest parts of marriage.
The first step is to recognize that there is a need for balance. Work together to create a system that works. The process of setting up these boundaries does not have to happen over night. Nor does it have to remain the same all through the years. In my own experience spending time with my husband during the early years of our marriage was a priority for both of us. We spent the first 2 years of our marriage in a long distance relationship. Our marriage was literally placed on a hold until of course we started living together.
When we first moved into our apartment all we wanted was to be together. However as time passed and we became more comfortable with time apart. We slowly transitioned from only spending time as a couple to spending time with other couples, and friends. Now after 7 years of being married and 5 years of actually living together we are very comfortable with spending time apart, and alone. Just as date nights and spontaneous romantic activities outside the bedroom are necessary to maintain cohesion.
Scheduling to do things alone is also a major factor in our relationship. Time spent in solidarity reading books, writing, working out or simply just taking a stroll through the neighborhood are all small steps towards establishing space for the ‘self’ in a relationship that is team centric. The focus is a healthy balance that is based on each couples individual relationship and comfort level. If you don’t feel that you need to spend a lot of time apart because you're just happy to be together that is completely fine. As I mentioned before alone time is necessary to maintain your sense of self. It may not be obvious but a marriage without space for each individual to be just themselves creates resentment towards each other and could be extremely detrimental to the relationship in the long run.
It is assumed that time spent at work qualifies as alone time, but it’s not. Self-care/self-love time is planned, purposeful and spent doing things we enjoy. It can be as long as we need it to be, or as short as we can manage. A swim in the lake, 20 minutes of writing, a cup of chai, or a delicious home cooked meal accompanied by no one but our thoughts.
Basically it is a date with our souls dedicated to listening to our inner voice. In the same way that work is not qualified as alone time, housework and being at home with our spouse does not qualify as a date, or time spent for each other. Like self-care, time with our spouses should be dedicated to expressing love and taking time from everyday duties to unwind. Finding a balance between loving thyself, and being loved looks different for everyone. It is never a clear cut concrete schedule, but rather a work in progress that changes and fluctuates based on our needs and abilities.
Jabin Ahmed is an inspirational writer, artist, activist and creator. She has a Bachelors in Sociology from Russel Sage College, and a Masters in Public Health from the University of New England. Currently she is working towards her Masters in Islamic Studies and pursuing her passion for writing.
Jabin uses her life experiences as a Muslim, Brown, Second Gen. American woman to create change through various mediums and movements. Her work is themed around identity, religion, love, loss, mental health, trauma, healing, self-care, femininity, social justice, education, and empowerment. Jabin hopes to create change in her community and in the world through compassion and dedication.
Read more of Jabins' work at: https://jabeanie.wordpress.com/