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How Can I Have a Lasting Marital Relationship?

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We humans are different from other animals, but what makes us so different? We are intelligent beings who can speak, reason, communicate effectively with each other, and express our emotions in a variety of ways. We also become attached physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. We have a deeper and stronger connection with our Creator. Other animals more or less lack these things. Another important difference between us and other animals is that we have created a harmonious, orderly, and sophisticated society that gives considerable depth to our lives. One of the things that is exclusive to humans is the institution of marriage. In this article on Islam4u, we will explore the opportunities that enable us to cement long-standing marital relationships that rarely deteriorate.

The Philosophy Behind Marriage in Islam

The way Islam perceives marriage is markedly different from other religions and doctrines such as Christianity and Judaism—the two religions that came before Islam. Nowadays, however, the idea of beginning relationships through marriage is unfortunately losing color. People of opposite and same genders have relationships with each other that are outside the confines of marriage. These relationships are quite fragile and do not last very long. What an Islamic marriage does is that it signs a covenant between a man and woman that they must be loyal to each other and should solely confine their intimacy to one another. In Islam, a man is not allowed to look lustfully at women other than his wife, let alone engage in sexual activities with them. The same applies to a Muslim woman. She is not allowed to cast lustful glances at non-mahram men and must guard her chastity from everyone except her husband. Two verses of the Quran emphasize this point:

قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَزْكَىٰ لَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ ‎﴿٣٠﴾‏ وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا

Tell the faithful men to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts. That is more decent for them. Allah is indeed well aware of what they do. (30) And tell the faithful women to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts, and not to display their charms, beyond what is [acceptably] visible.

The only purpose of an Islamic marriage is not the satisfaction of sexual desire. Human beings have more than an animalistic dimension. They are also social, intellectual, logical, emotional, and most importantly spiritual beings. Allah says in the Quran that the purpose of marriage is for couples to find comfort, affection, and mercy in each other.[1] If genuine love is achieved, loyalty will undoubtedly supersede infidelity. Therefore, understanding the philosophy behind marriage in Islam is highly significant.


The Elephant in the Room

Sexuality plays a pivotal role in maintaining a marital relationship. This seems to be the elephant in the room, especially among Muslims. Yes. Other aspects of a human being’s mind, soul, and body must be considered in a marriage too and sexuality is just one aspect. However, the power of sexuality and its influence on a healthy and stable relationship is so great that it may potentially eclipse all else, even if it should not based on Islamic values. If you look at divorce cases, the problems couples have with one another seem to be unrelated to sexual issues. However, if one dives deep and gets at the root of the problem, sexuality is the chief culprit. Just as it is vital to know the philosophy behind marriage, it is also essential to know the science and biology behind human marital relationships.

The Purposes of Sexual Relationships

There is no denying that sex and sexual activities within legal and religious frameworks are not only enjoyable and rewarding but also necessary for human survival. Other than its pleasure, what is the main purpose that sex serves? The answer is quite clear: procreation. At the end of the day, the fruits of a successful marriage are successful children who continue one’s legacy and the human race. Does that mean married couples should have intercourse only when they want children? No. Does Islam even allow contraception? Yes. Islam allows people to satisfy their sexual desires through their spouses whenever they feel the need to. This is a way of ensuring that they do not fall into sinful activities with other people to whom they are not married. Whether they want children or not is up to them. As a result, Islam allows temporary contraceptive methods and disallows permanent ones.

Nevertheless, Islam does not advocate for overindulgence in any kind of pleasure including intercourse. Islam recommends moderation concerning everything other than dhikr or remembrance of Allah, which has no limit. Too much intercourse has many harmful effects on both men and women, physically and psychologically. One of the worst consequences of such excessive behavior is spouses losing interest in one another and the eruption of conflicting and negative emotions between them. For starters, couples will feel detached from one another. Men, especially, tend to find interest in other women due to their craving for novelty as they become habituated to their wives owing to excessive intercourse with them. In scientific terms, this is known as the Coolidge effect. Although it has not been extensively studied in humans, it is a well-studied behavior in other mammals. It may well translate into humans as well based on anecdotal evidence.

The Coolidge effect can be observed when a male animal such as a rat is presented with a female in a closed environment such as a cage. The male mates with the female so much that it no longer desires copulation with her. However, if a new mate is placed inside the cage, the male shows intense interest in the new partner and starts mating with her to the point of sexual satiety. The male once again shows disinterest in the second female after a while until a third one is placed in the cage. The process is repeated until the male simply has no energy left to do anything. This is all about feeling bored with the same mate (habituation) due to repeated and excessive mating and increasing interest in novel partners.

How to Overcome the Coolidge Effect

The Coolidge effect that was mentioned above can be observed in humans as well. There is a reason that both marital and non-marital relationships are breaking down more now than in the past. It is due to the view that people hold about relationships. They think the more the intercourse, the better and happier the marriage. However, this is not true most of the time. The Coolidge effect will wreak havoc on the lives of those with such a mentality. Consequently, it could lead to dissatisfaction, disinterest, quarrels, and even infidelity. The reason behind us having such a biological program is to have as many offspring as possible to avoid extinction. Of course, having multiple spouses is very much looked down upon even in some Muslim societies where it is only normal to be monogamous. Nevertheless, polygamy has always been an option for those who can handle it in Islam. The reality is that having halal polygamous relationships are becoming almost impossible at least in some Muslim countries for some reason or another. Even if they were very possible, there still would be no guarantee that one could lead a perfectly happy and fulfilled married life so long as one would engage in excessive intercourse.

Therefore, the solution to this problem lies in appreciating each other as human beings, not sex objects. In addition, one must not binge on sex because overindulging in almost all if not all pleasures is discouraged in Islam. The question is whether there is another solution that involves intercourse. The answer is that most of the problems people face are not while having intercourse but rather what happens at the very end. That is when all the problems arise.

Thus, we can conclude that it is not necessary to reach the highest point of pleasure EVERY time the deed is done for either partner. Yes. Every now and then can be acceptable. However, there is a sexual practice known as karezza, a form of union where the focus is on couples’ bonding and expressing love while going slow and not aiming for the finishing line. Such a practice avoids the surfeit of hormones and chemicals that the brain and other organs release into the body after many orgasms. Those significant alterations in brain chemicals and hormones are what gives rise to all kinds of problems between couples including the Coolidge effect.

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The Ultimate Solution

One must keep in mind that one’s spirit is given much more importance in Islam than the body. Nevertheless, the body is the spirit’s vehicle. To prevent this vehicle from being unbridled, one must follow the commands of Allah, the Prophet, and the Imams to the letter. The most important driving force our Creator and His prophets and Imams have recommended that prevents a marriage from falling apart is taqwa, meaning always being conscious and wary of Allah. He is present everywhere and we must do our best not to upset Him. It can prevent infidelity and promote loyalty between spouses in all circumstances. Taqwa does not only mean that we become scared of Allah because He is so powerful and punishes us if we commit wrong. Rather, it means that we must hold Allah in such high regard and reverence that we find it disrespectful to Him if we commit any sin or wrong action that is to our detriment. It is a fear out of awe and reverence rather than sheer dread.

Islam advises us not to overindulge in intercourse to preserve and maintain the effectiveness of taqwa. Of course, even if one does overindulge, it will not be counted as a sin. It will cause one greater trouble and hardship nonetheless. That is when practicing taqwa will be much more difficult as one’s desire to seek novel partners increases. With that said, if a person has a high level of taqwa, they will still be able to resist the enticements of Satan, but it will be very difficult, tiring, and draining. To avoid such a situation, why not instead of excessive goal-oriented sexual behavior one opts for a more gentle, soothing, and affectionate one (e.g. karezza)? It must also be noted that even though sex is a central part of one’s life, it is not all that there is to it. There are many other fun and entertaining activities one can do with their spouse.

Superior to Angels or Inferior to Animals

It is a well-known concept in Islam that Allah created humans with two faculties: instinct and intellect. However, angels only possess intellect while animals only possess instinct. Thus, there is a famous analogy that if a human being prefers his intellect to his instinct and allows it to govern his soul, he will have surpassed the angels. Conversely, if a human being prefers his instinct to his intellect, he will be inferior to animals. It is Satan’s job to instigate people to gravitate toward their instincts rather than their intellects. One of the things Satan does is telling humans to overindulge in intercourse so that they crave it greedily such that they cross the boundaries that Allah has determined for halal pleasures and commit fornication and adultery. A person who prefers his intellect to his animalistic side practices sexual moderation to be on the safe side and to avoid having to deal with situations where practicing taqwa is difficult such as when facing the Coolidge effect.

Some might say, “Well, my sexual drive is very high. I need it.” The answer is, “Then what is self-control good for?” A man or a woman does not need to have intercourse time and again just because they think they feel the need for it. It is good that they sometimes harness their sexual energy and channel it into other productive activities (see Semen Retention in Islam). Even when the time for intimacy comes, practicing karezza and other non-orgasmic sexual practices could prove beneficial at times. It could even be practiced more often than conventional intercourse because not only does it not have the post-orgasmic side effects that distance couples from one another, but also establishes love and empathy between them.


Maintaining a lasting marital relationship is becoming more and more difficult in this day and age. We are witnessing dramatic increases in divorce rates day by day. Where does the problem lie? The most important and determining factor that may cause a marriage to end in divorce is sexuality. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Couples not being able to satisfy their sexual desire is one thing and satisfying it too much is another. Both can be equally bad. If married couples wish to have lasting relationships, there are at least two viable options in terms of sexual behavior. They should (1) limit the number of times they have conventional goal-oriented intercourse by practicing sexual moderation, (2) and/or engage in sexual activities, penetrative or non-penetrative, in which neither partner climaxes, yet forge a strong loving and spiritual bond. All in all, Islam advises people to practice moderation in everything to lead healthy and happy lives.


[1] Quran 30:21.

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