In this counseling answer:
• Safety always comes first.
• A man needs to feel respected. He needs to feel his woman looks up to him. The loss of that is emotionally debilitating. Consider ways you can genuinely show appreciation for him.
• One thing that could help you both is sitting down to discuss your vision as a family.
• Remembering Allah often helps to keep the tongue busy with the remembrance of God and the heart more aware of Him.
Thank you for your question. I pray this offers some guidance.
First Address Safety
I’m going to start off by telling you that I was forming one set of responses in my mind while reading your questions until I got to the end where you said you have thought of packing your things and leaving because you fear he might kill you and your kids. That changed where I was headed.
So, first, I’d like to address this point. If you really truly fear that you are with a man who might harm you or your children, then any and all other marital advice is not going to be sufficient. If this is a fear you really have then I would ask you to explore this with a counselor directly. I would have to take this as the most serious thing in your entire question because safety always comes first.
If, on the other hand, you wrote that while upset but do not believe that he would ever actually harm you or your sons, then what proceeds is advice that may support your marriage.
Dealing with Insecurity
Your husband has expressed, based on your question, that he is struggling with insecurity in a number of ways. You have been successful at advancing your career and earning a good income. For him, the inability to be as successful as you or even “more” successful as you have been a challenge to his manhood.
You also provided for his sons, yourself, and even him while he was arrested and I assume locked away for a period of time as a result.
You are a total woman and a total catch. A beautiful, strong, successful woman. He knows this about you and it’s very likely he doesn’t feel that way about himself. So, he feels insecure partially because he may assume that you also recognize there are better men out there than him and you may meet one of them and develop a relationship with someone and then leave him.
The question is whether or not he’s right. While your feelings have gone up and down, are there qualities in him that you do admire and appreciate? If you didn’t have your two sons together, would you have any good reason to stay with him?
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If the answer to this is yes, then it’s time he starts to hear what those good qualities are. If the answer to this is no, then there is no surprise that there is low trust in the marriage and a lack of love.
A man needs to feel respected. He needs to feel his woman looks up to him. The loss of that is emotionally debilitating. Some men fall into depression, withdrawal, and closing off to not just their wife and kids but job opportunities and effort that could be made. Others become irritable, controlling, and put their wife down in an attempt to regain some sense of domination in the marriage.
It’s the shadow form of masculine strength – the one that is negative but still leaves the man momentarily “feeling strong and powerful.”
For your relationship to transform, there have to be areas where he is the leader, you do rely on him, you do look up to him, and you do respect him. This balances out the areas where you have a lead, he has relied on you, and he has respected you.
So, consider ways you can genuinely show appreciation for him.
Build Your Family Vision
One thing that could help you both is sitting down to discuss your vision as a family. What do you want in your family? What do you want as a future for the next five years for your sons? What kind of environment do you want for them at home? What kinds of friends or families do you both need to build relationships with in order to build that environment for yourselves and your sons? What matters the most as a family?
Visiting deeper family values and creating a vision can be an inspiring way to get you both on the same page. Something to strive for together. Potentially, it could reduce some of the strain he feels in not providing as much when he recognizes there are other things that are essential for him to do. For example, taking his sons to the masjid for prayers on a regular basis or taking them out for sports and physical activity.
Consider Life Transition
This part isn’t going to seem fair but I’m sharing it for something to chew on for a while. One of the things I was taught was to consider how skipping a major life transition phase could harm someone in the future. For example, getting pregnant while young or becoming a parent while young. Things happen out of “order” for what is considered a societal norm. School, then graduation, then a job, then marriage, then kids. Your situation was kids, school, graduation, job, then marriage. It’s almost backward.
This might explain your husband wanting to see you and the boys but then being out late with friends. While we could easily judge him for that, I’m here to offer more than judgment: understanding. When there is understanding, compassion develops. When compassion develops, change in a relationship has a chance.
He wasn’t ready for the changes that came with children. It’s likely you weren’t either, but you had the emotional capability to be a young mother and continue school and get a job and the resilience, even up to this day, to keep moving ahead despite the circumstances. Those are based both on the character you are built with a decision you have committed to.
At this stage in your life, the question is: where is heat in the commitment and decision-making process? My hopes are that now he has fully matured into the reality that he is a husband and a father. While things didn’t happen the way he may have expected, it is also the path you were both meant to walk.
In this, you both found Islam, alhamdulillah, and are now raising a Muslim family.
Going back to vision again: are you both in a place where you can build moving forward while accepting the extremely rocky past and your husband’s insecurities? Can he make peace with the path he’s walked and now build the future?
These are deep heart to heart conversations that could ease you both into a better understanding of each other.
Assurance & Support
Knowing your husband is insecure and jealous, you may decide to develop a reassuring but playful attitude with him. When he accuses you of being with another man you could respond, “I think what you’re trying to say is you like me a lot right now!” and turn his fears into expresses of his appreciation and attraction to you.
For that to work has to come to the assurance that you are committed to him and he needn’t worry about you leaving him. (Visiting the vision comes in handy here once established.)
For that assurance to come is some building to happen so that when you say it you really mean it and he can feel that. You can make space for insecurities to exist without letting them control the decisions you make about your professional and personal life.
You can recognize, compassionately, that he is feeling worried about losing you without taking on the responsibility to change anything you are doing. It’s his battle to fight and work through, but it helps when he knows he has your heart and vice versa.
Increase in Dhikr as a Family
Remembering Allah often helps to keep the tongue busy with the remembrance of God and the heart more aware of Him. This following, which is saying “Bismillah, tawwakultu ‘ala Allah, wa la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah.” has an amazing benefit.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said: When a man goes out of his house and says: “In the name of Allah, I trust in Allah; there is no power and no power but in Allah,” the following will be said to him at that time: “You are guided, defended and protected.” The devils will go far from him and another devil will say: How can you deal with a man who has been guided, defended and protected? (Sahih)
May Allah support you both to build a strong mutually respectful relationship together where you both find contentment and are able to build a solid family with your sons. Please, do keep in mind my opening statement and if you need to clarify by writing to us again please do so.
Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information provided in the question. In no event shall AboutIslam, its counselors or employees be held liable for any damages that may arise from your decision in the use of our services.