By Munira Ezzeldine and Issra Killawi
It is important for individuals and parents to communicate with each other about their expectations for courtship and who is considered an ideal partner. This can only occur through honest conversations and active listening. By understanding each other’s expectations and sharing preferences with each other early on, parents and their adult-children can reduce misunderstandings and pave the way for a smooth marriage process. This requires multiple conversations, often over the course of weeks, months, or even years.
Below are some examples of parent-child communication styles and how they can play out in the marriage process. A family’s communication style may exist at any point on the spectrum, with many falling somewhere in between.
Connected families are open to differing opinions; they are flexible and know how to problem solve. The parents and adult-children have strong communication skills and are comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings directly with one another.
While connected families may still expect alignment between the values and expectations of the parents and the adult-children, they are clear about their wishes and will be open to having discussions and working toward resolutions that work for the entire family.
Some adult-children have a more connected relationship with one parent compared to the other, and they can ask this parent to help facilitate family conversations when discussing marriage.
A mature adult-child approaches their parents as allies in the process with a focus on respectful communication even when they don’t agree with their parents’ views. Maintaining a solid relationship is at the core of the dialogue as the adult-child makes a life-changing decision about marriage.
In connected families, the marriage process becomes an excellent opportunity for adult-children to strengthen their communication skills through open dialogue and transparency with their parents. Asking for guidance and receiving feedback from their parents helps to continuously build trust and confidence in the adult-child’s decision making.
Scenario #1: After much reflection, Ayman has decided that he would like to pursue marriage. Over dinner that night, he shares this decision with his parents and adds that he would prefer to meet someone through mutual friends or online. While they are excited that Ayman is ready to consider marriage, his parents envisioned a more traditional courtship in which the family would be more involved in the process. Ayman, however, feels that a process in which family is heavily involved will pressure both him and a potential spouse to move too quickly and to make a decision about committing without getting the chance to know each other properly. Over the next few weeks, Ayman and his parents have several conversations around the goal of courtship and how they can support him while allowing him the freedom to move at a pace he is comfortable with. All throughout the process, Ayman does his best to understand the reasons behind his parents’ expectations while respectfully articulating his needs and the type of support he desires from his parents. Ayman’s parents also make an earnest effort to understand his reservations around a traditional courtship, and attempt to address these concerns by keeping an open mind to his suggestions.
Disconnected families expect less conversation and more conformity from family members. The parents tend to expect that their adult-children will conform to their expectations and find very little need to provide explanations for rules and decisions.
The concept of “obedience” may be the driving principle to the family dynamic, so challenges to the family norms may cause conflict.
Adult-children may struggle to express their opinions and feelings when they do not conform to the parents’ views. These families may experience negative emotions when there is no communication about expectations and boundaries, or when an adult-child does not conform to the parents’ desires.
An adult-child that is comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings with a potential partner will feel conflicted being open with parents and may struggle navigating the two different communication styles. This will be an excellent opportunity for personal growth as the adult-child matures into an assertive individual within their family and as a life partner.
Some families have influences that extend beyond the nuclear family and include grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Decision making may be shared between multiple family members, and therefore the individual may feel less agency in their own choices.
These families will often require an intervention from an imam, counselor or another respected figure to mediate when there is misalignment between the marriage wishes of the parents and the adult-child.
Scenario #2: Majed and Aisha have decided that they would like to get married, but a significant obstacle stands in their way: Aisha’s father cannot accept the idea of his daughter marrying someone outside of the family’s South-Asian culture. Aisha has repeatedly attempted to speak to her father about Majed’s character, faith, and maturity – but the conversations between them do not go well. Aisha struggles to articulate herself when speaking to her father, as she rarely ever expresses her thoughts or feelings to him when they differ in opinion about something. To her father, Aisha has disobeyed him by even considering the idea of marrying someone outside of her ethnic group, and the fact that she persists with the idea even after he has expressed his disapproval upsets him. After several months of waiting for her father to come around, she and her mother enlist the help of a local imam and family friend whom Aisha’s father loves and respects very much. The imam meets with Aisha and her father several times to help them communicate their wishes and feelings with one another openly and respectfully. The imam eventually persuades Aisha’s father to invite Majed into his home for an initial meeting, and works with the family towards the marriage of Aisha and Majed.
Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine is the author of Before the Wedding: Questions for Muslims to Ask Before Getting Married. She has written prolifically for various Muslim publications and co-hosted a radio show on One Legacy Radio. She has a Master’s in Counseling from California State University, Fullerton and Bachelor’s in Economics from UCLA. She is a certified Positive Discipline educator as well as Prepare/Enrich Premarital Counseling facilitator.
Issra Killawi is a community organizer with the Muslim American Society and is passionate about youth development, mentorship, and education. Her interest in the Family and Youth Institute stems from a desire to make research an available and accessible tool to build strong communities.