The real question is: HOW do we disagree?
What should these arguments or fights look like?
Should they be a free for all?
Or are there some ground rules, guidelines for how to conduct ourselves as husbands and wives when we do fight?
Here is what I’ve learned from my own marriage and the marriages I’ve seen around me: Do not fight dirty.
Some people, when they get mad, aren’t able to contain their anger or control themselves. They feel their anger building and let it rage into a blazing inferno, raging out of control. In this state, they let loose, allowing themselves to say whatever comes to their angry mind. They deliberately target what they know their spouse is sensitive about, what will devastate and wound the spouse. They go for the jugular. They have no filter in that moment and will say literally anything and everything they can think of in order to hurt the other person and “win” the fight.
But there is no winning like this. Even if you “win” like this, you’ve lost.
You’ve lost the trust and love of your spouse, you’ve damaged the relationship, you’ve sacrificed your marriage to score some cheap points in the heat of anger.
If a couple gets into the mode of fighting dirty, it can be hard to fix. Some things, once said, cannot be unsaid. Once your spouse has heard you belittle, disrespect, or mock him or her in a certain way, he or she cannot un-hear that. The damage is done, despite the apologies that might come later. Not all jabs are erased by even a sincere apology. Some things cut deep, and leave lasting marks. This affects the relationship quality, weakens the marriage bond.
This reminds me of a hadith of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم:
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: “أَرْبَعٌ مَنْ كُنَّ فِيهِ كَانَ مُنَافِقًا خَالِصًا وَمَنْ كَانَتْ فِيهِ خَصْلَةٌ مِنْهُنَّ كَانَتْ فِيهِ خَصْلَةٌ مِنَ النِّفَاقِ حَتَّى يَدَعَهَا إِذَا اؤْتُمِنَ خَانَ وَإِذَا حَدَّثَ كَذَبَ وَإِذَا عَاهَدَ غَدَرَ وَإِذَا خَاصَمَ فَجَرَ.” [صحيح البخاري]
“There are four signs that make someone a pure hypocrite and whoever has them has a characteristic of hypocrisy until he abandons it: when he speaks he lies, when he makes a covenant he is treacherous, when he makes a promise he breaks it, and when he argues he is wicked.” [Bukhari]
It’s this last feature of the hypocrite that we want to study. In English, it’s translated as “he becomes wicked,” but the meaning of فجور (fujur) has to do with excess, extremes, like an explosion. It’s an open demonstration of disobedience and defiance brazenly, a gushing out of emotion like water gushes out and explodes in a tsunami. Out of control. Beyond all bounds.
We cannot get like this when we fight. We can’t fight dirty.
Here are some concrete things you should NOT do while fighting with your spouse:
1. No cursing, swearing, cussing. We don’t use the f-word or other filthy language, no matter how angry we feel.
3. No using what you know is going to really truly hurt and devastate your spouse. Don’t use the intimate details they shared with you in confidence once against him or her, just to twist the knife now in a fight.
4. No bringing in other stuff not related to the current fight. Focus on the issue at hand without piling on other stuff that’s irrelevant.
5. No dragging up past mistakes your spouse made in the past, if you’ve already forgiven him or her. This is unfair.
6. No threatening divorce willy nilly. Don’t keep bringing up the possibility of leaving the other person during every small and big argument. This is unnecessary.
7. No involving the kids. Go have your fight in the privacy of your own room, especially if it gets heated.
8. No belittling or mocking your spouse in the presence of others. Show respect and restraint even if you’re mad.
9. No mocking things your spouse genuinely can’t control or help, like an illness he or she has, a fertility problem, being too short/ tall, being dark or light-skinned. These are unchangeable features of your spouse that were determined by Allah who Created him or her; this cannot be helped. It’s not his or her fault. You knew this before marriage. Don’t come now and mock it because you’re mad. This is a cheap shot.
10. No attributing intentions to your spouse. You cannot know someone else’s intentions, because the niyyah is in their heart, known only by themselves and by Allah. You can say what it looks like, but you cannot just assign a specific (malicious) intention to the other person when you can’t know that since you can’t see into his or her heart.
These are the top ten etiquettes that are important to stick to during marital disagreements. It’s not a free for all. We don’t go wild. There are certain red lines we never cross, even at the height of anger.
The Muslim has taqwa of Allah, even when angry or in the middle of a heated fight. A Muslim is not foul-mouthed, vulgar, or merciless. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said,
“لَيْسَ الْمُؤْمِنُ بِالطَّعَّانِ وَلَا اللَّعَّانِ وَلَا الْفَاحِشِ وَلَا الْبَذِيءِ.” [سنن الترمذي]
“The believer is not one who insults others, nor curses others, nor is vulgar, nor shameless.” [Tirmidhi]
If done right, with restraint, self-control, and taqwa, a couple can actually get closer and more aligned after having a fight.
If done wrong, fights can destroy a marriage entirely.
May Allah grant us all taqwa of Him even during moments of anger, and bless the marriages of this ummah, ameen.