Before Marriage

Reading the Red-Flags

Getting to know someone for marriage can be a nerve-racking and an exciting experience all at the same time.  Through conversations, a couple seeks to learn about each other and determine compatibly for a lifetime together.  However, many couples get so emotionally attached in the early stages of the relationship that they cannot see or choose to deny red flags that arise.  Being self-reflective and in tune with your feelings is important in identifying potential problems in a relationship.  Divorcees and married couples with significant problems always cite early signs or red-flags that they did not realize were important or did not know would have a major impact on the relationship.  Red flags are signs that something is not sitting well with an individual and can become a source of conflict within the marriage. Not all problems before marriage are signs of a doomed relationship.  Some issues that arise before marriage can be discussed and compromises can be made.  Open communication and problem solving are foundational to a healthy, successful, and happy marriage. It must be said that there are some problems or red flags that indicate deeper personal issues that can only be addressed through individual or pre-marital counseling.

Communication before marriage is vital because it is the only way one can connect with a potential spouse and understand his or her viewpoints.  Communication is not only about the ability to talk, it is also about the ability to listen. Red flags in this area of the relationship are that you do not feel like your potential spouse understands you, nor seeks to understand what is important to you in your life.  If your feelings are dismissed or you are constantly being cut off, then you may be considering someone for marriage who is not a good listener and is not in tune with the feelings of others.  In addition, being criticized and/or spoken to sarcastically are signs of disrespect.  This is a problem because mutual respect between spouses is the cornerstone of a successful marriage.

On the other hand you may feel like thoughts and feelings are shared and heard, but your potential spouse does not share his or her own views and feelings.  This may be an indication that your potential spouse is emotionally unavailable and not ready for the emotional attachment required in a marriage.  A requirement for a successful marriage is that each spouse is emotionally ready to be vulnerable and intimate with another human being.

The way a couple communicates and resolves conflicts are important aspects to consider before marriage.  If a couple is constantly arguing and leaves arguments unresolved, they face serious problems in a marital relationship.  If you find yourself consciously avoiding certain topics out of a fear of your potential spouse’s reaction, then you are not being fully honest in the relationship.  In order to be in an authentic marriage, each spouse must be able to be his or her true self and not shy away from discussing difficult topics.

A potential spouse that expresses extreme emotions, such as uncontrollable anger, excessive fear, or irrational jealousy is a major concern because these could be signs of an abusive partner. A person that tries to control and manipulate another person’s behavior, such as how to dress, how to interact with family and friends, how to live, etc. all signify that this person desires power in the relationship.  When getting to know one another, couples usually mistake this classic red flag as a sign of care and concern rather than a pattern toward an emotionally or even physically abusive relationship.  A potential spouse who is unable to resolve conflicts, admit mistakes, or deal with constructive criticism is likely to be someone who is not able to take personal responsibility in their life.  All of these personal issues are signs that the individual is in need of personal growth and change before attempting to have a healthy marital relationship.

The adage “actions speak louder than words” cannot be truer than when observing the behavior of a potential spouse.  Lack of consistency between what a person says and does is a red flag that the individual cannot be trusted and/or that there are major character flaws. In addition, if your potential spouse says and does things that do not reflect your own values, this is a wake up call that you may not be compatible. Any pattern of dishonesty, rationalizing questionable behavior, or twisting words to his or her benefit is a red flag that the individual has difficulty with personal responsibility and needs time and support to mature emotionally.

Many times, problems in marriages arise because of in-laws and couples do not pay attention to the early predictors of these issues.  A potential spouse that is overly dependent on parents for finances, decision-making and/or emotional security is someone who may not be ready to get married.  A potential spouse who is in an overly dependent family relationship will have difficulty moving into an interdependent relationship with a spouse.  While it is of course natural that both families remain connected to the new couple, the shift to emotional independence from the family is a growth process that is necessary so that the new couple can begin creating their own life together.

Trusting your intuition and addressing uneasy feelings that arise during the process of getting to know someone is important.  Intuition is your compass and is alerting you that something may be wrong in the relationship with your potential spouse.  One must find the courage to follow this intuition.  To continue getting to know someone or proceed toward marriage with these uncertainties can be disastrous.  Many choose to ignore the red flags out of a fear of hurting a persons feelings or what the family and community may say.  Getting married out of a fear of letting others down or because of pressure from others are signs that the relationship is unstable and that is not a foundation for a healthy marriage.  In order to be in a healthy marriage, individuals need to grow up and grow emotionally before they can be in a relationship with another individual.  No one is perfect, but each individual has a responsibility to work on his or her own personal issues and flaws. As ibn Arabi says, “He who knows himself knows his Lord.”  Self reflection is vital to help you understand yourself, your relationship with others, and ultimately help bring you closer to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).

About the author

Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine

Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine

Munira Lekovic Ezzeldine formally contributed to the VMCounselors Column from 2011-2014. She 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.

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  • This article brings up issues of great importance that one must definitely think deeply about when choosing a spouse.

    That being said…

    “Lack of consistency between what a person says and does is a red flag that the individual cannot be trusted and/or that there are major character flaws.”

    The above sentence, while being true to some regard, seems to almost encourage us to be a little too idealistic before getting married. This is not to say that one should not be stable by himself and have worked on personal development before getting married, but I feel that most people tend to exhibit the aforementioned contradictory behavior to some extent without it necessarily be a red flag deal-breaker. Would you recommend that to try to sort out all your own major character flaws before getting married or can you be in the process of doing so and enter marriage and insha’Allah still create a successful one?

    • good question here by ‘a Muslimah’.

      For eg; do we write off a misdeed by a potential spouse (or more appropriately I should call it a sign of a ‘not flawless character’) as ‘we all make mistakes and aren’t perfect’? I know that I myself am not perfect although I aim to be,

      I think that as long the potential spouse is honest with themselves and you and honestly, and not just cause they got put in a corner, admits these mistakes (which is a wonderful character trait) and moves toward improvement, then your looking at a great individual.


    • Asalamualaikum. I know what you mean, since I too am like that (inconsistent), as consistent as I try to be. I guess what the article means by that sentence is that, if the partner deliberately breaks his/her promises. Or maybe he/she really didn’t mean to, but when they apologize, they don’t seem very sorry. I think sincerity makes all the difference.

  • Lovely piece; really important concepts / ideas that we singles should keep in mind when the time comes. We need all the help we can get! Made me feel good actually and less afraid to be honest and open, though one of my ‘weaknesses’ is to share what lies deep inside that pumping muscle in my chest, very easily. 🙂 Jazak’Allahu Khairan.

  • Great article Munira. Thank you for writing this out, because I agree with anyone I’ve ever worked with having issues in marriage related to control, etc, that the red flags were usually there, but ignored.

    The issue I have noticed as a cultural one, is that some couples in the pre-marital stage aren’t given sufficient time to get to know each other, and much of the conversation and dialogue takes place between families, and much less between those getting married. Because of this, we see a rise in people talking to each other alone in an attempt to make sure they actually know each other before marriage, but ironically, this is one of the sure fire ways as well, as you mentioned in getting emotionally close, to become blind to the color red too.

    I highly recommend any single individual to make sure they request sufficient time to get to see the character of a potential spouse AND to do it with a mahram in the picture. I included my link here for my blog with my work with Practimate, where I did a 2 part video series called “How To Avoid the Mr. Right Imposter” – pertaining to sisters, to get wiser on how to see the red flags (and everyone can read the posts by other sisters who nearly married someone like that, and DID see the signs)

  • it is amazing how little attention is paid on how muslims arrange their marriages in the current times by our scholars of islam. we are quick to point out the escalating divorce rates but hardly anybody writes about the issues young muslims must face going through the process of finding a suitable mate. in this context this article meets the unmet need.

    there are many issues that i would like to raise but the one i can readily point out is problem of filial piety the islam enjoins upon its followers and the obstacles that can emanate from it if its not properly understood. simply put, a lot of well meaing young muslims put their complete faith in their parents to find them a mate and ignoring the importance of pre-marital counselling and compatibility checkup. and obedient young individuals dont question their parents and sometimes are rudely disillusioned with their faith due to marital problems that ensue.

  • Spot on article,
    Kamran – I couldn’t have put it better myself, people don’t realise the harm in being over obedient and not taking responsibility for themselves.

  • Alhamdulilah, this is the exact reason why I separated from my wife after just 2 months of marriage. I ignored the red flags and chose to go forward with the marriage anyway out of fear of being alone or not finding the one.

  • I am a little confuse,getting to know about your spouse was that happening at the time of Prophet pease be upon him?
    I as a parent feel every body has flaws,and each spouse should try their best to make their marriage successful.
    New generation has adapt this westren culture where they want to spend time with each other,but still the divorse rate is too high.
    Please someone explain?

  • Salaam dear brother, please do find some counsel in the fact that if anything happens it happens by the grace of Allah. Don’t be disheartened by your situation and I believe that Allah has the best for you. I know a number of rejections can be hard to deal with but see it as a way of being saved from ending up with the wrong person(and being saved by a lifetime of remorse).

    Just the fact that somebody prays 5 times everyday does not guarantee anything in itself. It can be a big issue though. Please take heart in the fact that Allah has sent everybody with their Rizq and HE is the Most Merciful.

  • Assalamu’alaykum,
    I am in the process of getting to know a potential spouse, so this article is very useful. Nevertheless, I’m seeing the red flags in myself, instead of in the guy. Is it a sign that I’m not yet ready to commit myself to a relationship?

    What do I do? The potential spouse seems to be the perfect one for me..Please advise.

    • Are u seeing the red flags urself or is ur potential spouse “helping” u to find them? Is he saying things which make u aware of faults u didn’t think existed in u? In either case u need to be sure that u would like to spend the rest of ur life with him b4 u commit urself

  • Thank you so much for writing this helpful article. It helps me venture in to deep thinking of marrying my fiance. I don’t know why but I have mixture of feelings while reading this article – fear and anxiety. I have been together with my fiance for almost a year now and I’m already beginning to spot some red flags. I chose to not look at it as I used to believe that this issue is something that can be resolved before marriage however I am afraid at the same time if this issue continues to arise in the long run or even after marriage. I have to admit that this issue is something that makes me break down whenever I give it a thought about it.

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