The full article was published on www.mentalhealth4muslims.com on July 6, 2011
By Hosai Mojaddedi & Dr. Nafisa Sekandari
“Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” – Aristotle
From the early days of pre-school and kindergarten through the final days of college and into our working years, we form friendships that are based on mutual interests, trust, loyalty, and of course fun. Some of those friendships come and go, some fade away completely and some evolve and are strengthened with time and life experience. The test of a truly solid friendship is one that we are certain will be there until the very end, the type that abounds with unconditional love and loyalty that we often only read about but rarely experience, unless of course, we’re among the blessed.
Friendship provides us with many mental health benefits such as a longer and happier life, as well as increased ability to deal with daily stress and life problems. Having even one good friend can improve your attitude and make life more interesting and enjoyable. The physical and emotional benefits of having a good friend differs from your relationship with your spouse, siblings, parents, or children due to the different level of support, understanding, and communication between close friends.
Sadly, a great source of sadness and depression for many people today is the loss or drastic change in a friendship—not because of some major act of betrayal or deception, but rather because of a welcomed life change like a marriage or a new baby, or even a spiritual change that ends up forcing a wedge of distance between two people that perhaps were once inseparable.
Ex. 1: The Single Friend vs. the “Taken” Friend
This scenario is one that occurs far too frequently, especially among women, and can really put a friendship to the test. For some reason many girls simply disappear from the social scene once a man comes into their life. Perhaps it’s because there is much more pressure on young Muslim girls than on Muslim guys to get married by a certain age so some girls feel compelled to give all of their attention to a potential suitor, even if it’s at the expense of family and friends. Whatever the case may be, to prevent this problem from happening to your own friendship, consider the following points:
Tips for the Single Friend:
- It’s not about you. Your friend may be going through one of the most exciting experiences that life has to offer, meeting “the one.” While it may be difficult to tolerate at times, you have to remember your job as the friend is to be as supportive and understanding as you possibly can be and remember this is his/her time to enjoy the moment. Don’t complain or get frustrated if they don’t always pick up your calls or seem to be preoccupied all the time. You should be happy for them even if it’s not something that you can directly experience as well.
- Learn to let go—for a little bit. Remember you’ve had your friend for years before this new person came along, it’s only fair to share the amazing person you’ve come to love so much. Don’t feel threatened by the other person because they play a different role than you do and with time things will “normalize” between you and your friend.
- Be realistic. Friendships inevitably evolve, especially when someone gets married or moves forward in reaching certain life goals. The friends we have in high school and college will hopefully be there for us but not always the same way we’re accustomed to. We have to be realistic about these natural life changes and be willing to allow for the change to take place instead of resisting it through resentment and misplaced feelings of betrayal.
Tips for the “Taken” Friend:
- Too much of a good thing can be bad. Take time to get to know someone you’re considering for marriage and create healthy boundaries. In other words, don’t feel the need to sacrifice your time, energy and money just because you want to impress the other person or because you’re afraid that they may perceive you to be unavailable or unaccommodating. If they are truly interested in you, they will be in it for the long haul and will respect your time and responsibilities. Oftentimes by trying too hard to please one person you inadvertently push them away; this is especially true for men who generally prefer the challenge of the pursuit as opposed to being pursued. If things fizzle out eventually, then you’re left feeling especially lonely when you consider that in the process of talking to someone you’ve pushed away your friends and family as well.
- The lover is always preoccupied with his/her beloved. Be sensitive to the fact that while your new budding relationship may excite you and it’s all you can think about or talk about, your single friends may not want to hear about it during every single conversation you have with them. By repeatedly reminding them of what you have, they may just walk away only saddened by what they don’t have. Be mindful to not be the one that is always bringing the conversation back to your situation and be considerate of who you are with.
- To share or not to share? While many friendships are built on full-disclosure policies, you have to use your judgment and know who to tell and when to tell them about a new person in your life. Sometimes it’s best to keep things private until it really turns into something serious. It can help to legitimize your feelings about someone by waiting until some time has passed. When you speak too early about someone your emotions or excitement may be getting the best of you and in the end you may end up being discredited by those around you if things don’t work out.
Ex. 2: The New Parent vs. the Non-Parent
Babies are undeniably a wonderful blessing from Allah (swt), but they bring about a lot of changes, some are expected and some unexpected. If you or your friend has recently welcomed a new bundle of joy to your life then consider the following tips to protect your relationship:
Tips for the Parent
- Don’t forget who you are. You are undoubtedly engrossed with all the joyful things that come with being a parent. It’s an exciting time of intense change and it may be difficult to really think about anything outside of your baby’s needs. With that said, remember that you were and still are a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional person before your baby. For those reasons, your friends and loved ones have come to appreciate and admire you, so remember to love your baby tirelessly but love yourself as well.
- Know that your non-parent friends may care but they can’t always relate. It’s best to share the everyday details of your baby’s developments with friends who have kids and can relate to the experience. Your friends may love you and your baby to bits but it can be quite exhausting to hear you gushing about your baby over the phone or in the middle of a gathering when they just want to talk about the “usual” things you used to talk about.
- Be sensitive. If you have a friend who is trying to conceive then it may not be the best idea to go on and on about how wonderful parenthood is. Be sensitive to your social circle and sympathize with the couples who may not yet be parents but want to be. Imagine how difficult it would be if you were a non-parent in a group of parents who only and primarily talked about issues related to their kids. At a certain point you would feel like you didn’t belong, right? Don’t make your friends feel alienated and learn to change the topic to other more inclusive things.
Tips for the Non-Parent
- Be patient. Understand that there are a lot of hormonal changes happening to a new mom, especially if she is breastfeeding and a lot of environmental changes happening to a new dad. If your friend seems suddenly unstable or just not the fun, outgoing and energetic person that you remember him/her being, then it’s not that he/she is a different person but rather that they’re either responding to all the physical changes or the environmental changes that come with a baby. If you genuinely care about your friend then you won’t distance yourself because you don’t feel as fulfilled by his/her company anymore but rather you will try to ease some of their burdens. Offer to come over and tidy up the house, do laundry, watch the baby, or run some errands. Both mom and dad can benefit from an extra hand!
- Learn to love the baby independent of your friend. It’s natural to see your friend’s baby as an extension of him/her and react accordingly. If you are upset or resentful of your friend because you feel he/she has changed after the baby then you may unknowingly transfer some of those negative feelings to the baby. Recognize that it’s not the baby’s fault that you may be having some issues with your friend, rather it’s the situation, and the fact that neither you or your friend have yet learned how to properly adjust to it. By taking some responsibility you can open yourself to loving the baby and sharing good memories that will last for a lifetime.
- Be realistic and stop taking everything personally. If you expect that a baby won’t change the dynamics of your friendship then you really aren’t being very realistic. This is yet another phase of life that necessitates major changes from practically all directions. You and your friend may have been inseparable before, you may have gone snowboarding every single winter season or talked every night before going to bed but the reality is he/she has a new set of priorities that simply cannot be compromised for anyone, not even you.
Ex. 3: The Spiritually Driven vs. The Non-Religious
Many people experience a spiritual awakening at some point in their lives. Whether it comes as a result of a tragedy or because of some serious soul-searching, it happens for people at different times in their lives. It can be really difficult to maintain a friendship if and when one person goes through a major spiritual change, if you’re not prepared. Consider the following tips to protect your friendship:
Tips for the Spiritually Driven
- It’s a personal thing. No matter how incredible your experience is with your newfound faith, you cannot expect everyone in your life to understand or relate to what you’re feeling. Spirituality is truly a very personal experience and you may end up alienating people from your life if they think you’re trying to force your beliefs down their throat. Learn to reign in some of that zeal around friends and family who are not as “spiritual” as you are. There is a time and place for everything and if they open up the conversation about why you suddenly decided to wear the hijab or grow out your beard, or why you don’t drink or smoke anymore, then engage them. Otherwise, try to remember that Islam is a religion built on invitation, and not just any type, but with beauty and poise.
- Remember who you are. Again, like with any new change you have to remember that you have multiple interests and perhaps talents. While you are immersed in the beautiful experience of growing spiritually, you should try to avoid neglecting the other facets of your personality. Many people rush into religious practice very quickly and then suddenly burn out. There is no need to try to become a super-Muslim overnight. Take things slowly and keep your friends and family close to you by being the person they’ve always known you to be. When your character and outward behavior improves for the better, they will know it is because of your spiritual transformation and may feel inclined to learn more on their own.
- Get off your high horse. If you begin to feel the cancer of self-righteousness spread throughout your spiritual heart, then hit the pause button immediately! Remember you are not responsible for whatever guidance and knowledge you have received; that is entirely a gift from God. So to look down on your friends and family for not being as receptive as you were is the height of arrogance. Their guidance is in the hands of Allah (swt) and if you wish for them to increase their practice or embrace the faith then stop judging them and turn to Him and increase your supplication for it.
Tips for the Non-Religious
- Be understanding. While you may be skeptical or cynical when it comes to religion, it’s unfair to mistreat or dismiss the experience of a friend who is becoming more practicing in their faith. As a friend you should respect whatever new changes your friend undergoes so long as it doesn’t negatively impact you.
- Be open-minded. If your friend wants to share a story or something that moved them then would it really hurt you to be receptive to listening to it? Perhaps you like to talk about a subject that doesn’t necessarily interest your friend but he/she respects you enough to at least listen to you talk about it. You owe it to your friend to give them the freedom to share something so important to them.
- Be honest. If you feel your friend’s changes are too much for you to keep up with then be honest about how you feel instead of distancing yourself from them. They may not be aware that they are making you feel uncomfortable so it would be a good learning experience for them to hear it from you as opposed to someone else.
As mentioned earlier, friendships may come and go, but the ones that last are those that can evolve seamlessly with whatever changes that come. If you and your friend are experiencing a rough patch then just remember the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and Abu Bakr (may God be pleased with him) and ask yourself what would they advise? Their friendship was so completely selfless that they truly only wanted the best for each other. Do you truly want the best for your friend, even if you can’t share in that experience? If you can sincerely answer yes to that question, then rest assured that your friendship will indeed make it through, God-willing!
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