The Pleasant Companionship
“And among His signs is this: that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them. And He has put between you affection and mercy. Verily in that are indeed signs for a people who reflect.” [ar-Rum 30:21]
The relationship between a husband and wife is one of the closest bonds which exists between two human beings. Through the ties of marriage, each becomes aware of the other’s secrets, their faults and their virtues like no one else.
As the aforementioned ayah from the Qur’an shows, the institution of marriage does not set the agenda for a domination of one sex over the other, as many nowadays perceive. Rather, marriage is one of the great bounties of Allah through which both men and women achieve tranquility, love, security and companionship. This is why Allah describes the husband and wife as being garments for one another:
“They are garments for you and you are the same for them” [al-Baqarah 2:187]
This may, at first, seem like a strange and unusual analogy to make. But with closer thought and reflection, we can realize what a beautiful and apt similitude Allah has given here. For just as a garment covers and protects a person, so too does the husband or wife protect his or her companion: by providing security; by helping to keep the eyes restrained and the private parts protected (from illicit sex); by covering each other’s mistakes; and also by shielding them, not only from worldly harm, but, more importantly, from the Hellfire as well. The use of this analogy also gives an indication of the intimacy and closeness that exists between man and wife, just like the closeness there is between the garment and a person’s skin: nothing separates them, nothing comes between them.
Rights in the Marriage
Very often we find that discussions about marriage tend to become centered around the issues of rights and duties in a marriage (eg. does the wife have to cook and clean for the husband, can the husband strike his wife, etc). Although these questions are undoubtably important, this is not the place to start. Marriage is not simply about demanding rights and discharging duties. Marriage is principally about mutual co-operation and about encouraging one another towards obedience to the Lord, Most High. The act of marriage itself is considered to be “half the religion”, or “half of iman” . This is why the Prophet (saw) advised the men: “A woman is married for four reasons: for her property, her status, her beauty and her Religion; so try to get the pious one that you may be successful”. 
As far as rights and responsibilites are concerned, then anyone who studies the commands in the Qur’an and the Sunnah in this regard will find that Allah has divided these up in a very wise and just manner. Thus, although the rights and duties of the wife are different to that of the husband, they are nevertheless fair and in proportion. This fact is indicated to in the following ayah:
“And they (women) have rights (over their husbands) similar (to those over their husbands) over them to what is reasonable, but men have a degree (of responsibility) over them.” [al Baqarah 2:228]
Explaining this verse, Ibn Abbas said, “I verily adorn myself for my wife the same as she adorns herself for me. Also I would not ask her to fulfill all the rights which she owes me, so that it would become binding upon me to fulfill all the rights which I owe her.”  This is how Ibn Abbas – one of the foremost of the people of Paradise – understood the relationship between the husband and wife. He understood how many rights his wife had over him and that is why he feared that if he were to ask for all the rights which his wife owed him, then she too, in turn, would ask for all her rights and he would not be able to fulfil them.
But oh how different the scenario is today amongst the Muslim communities, where the wife is expected to be dutiful and bear all sorts of hardship and oppression, whereas the behaviour of the husband seems to be of no consequence whatsoever! Who from amongst the Muslim men today do we find the attitude of Ibn Abbas in?
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the rights that the husband has in a marriage are tremendous and he is the one at the head of the family, but he must be very careful not to exploit his rights and his authority in order to oppress the wife and be unjust to her. In the same way, the wife too must not constantly be demanding her Divinely bestowed rights whilst being woefully neglectful of her duties to her husband. She should always bear in mind that it is more important for her to discharge her duties to her husband than it is to receive the complete rights which her husband owes to her. This is because by discharging her duties as a wife, she is not only fulfilling the rights of her husband but also fulfilling her obligations towards Allah. Ths Prophet (saw) said: “By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, no woman has fulfilled her obligations to her Lord until she has fulfilled her obligations to her husband – even if he were to ask her for himself when she is mounted in the saddle, she would not refuse his request.” 
So just because a man is failing in his duties as a husband, this does not give the wife the right to withold some of his rights, since ultimately when a woman serves her husband, she should be doing so to seek the pleasure of Allah rather than the pleasure of her husband alone.
Thus, to use the old cliched expression, marriage is all about a little “give and take.” Its not about “giving as good as you get”, for that kind of attitude wil only create an environment of hostility and ill-feeling. On the contrary, Allah says to the men:
“And live with them (ie your wives) honourably.” [an-Nisa 4:19]
The famous commentator of the Qur’an, al-Haafidh Ibn Kathir, explained that living with them honourably included“using soft speech to them (i.e. not speaking to them harshly) and ameliorating your deeds and appearances as much as you can.” He then said, “As you would like that FROM her, so do the same FOR her.”
Above all, it must be remembered that this pleasant companionship – which the Prophet saw exemplified perfectly in his relationship with his wives, as did of course his Companions – can only truly come about if both partners regard the marriage first and foremost as an Islamic duty. And as with all Islamic duties, there are limits: he who transgresses them has, in the end, harmed only himself. As Allah says:
“Whosoever transgresses the set limits (hudood) of Allah then indeed he has wronged himself.” [at-Talaaq 65: 1]
As for those who keep to the limits and deal justly with each other, then Allah grants them a good and happy life together; a life of obedience towards Allah swt which – if Allah wills – He will reward with eternal happiness in the life of the Hereafter:
“Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true Believer (in tawheed), verily to him we shall give a good life (in this world) and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (i.e. Paradise in the Hereafter).” [an-Nahl 16:97]
(1) As the Prophet saw said: “When the servant marries, then he has completed half of the deen. Then let him fear Allah with regard to the remaining half” (Saheeh ul-Jaami no.443)
(2) Narrated by Abu Hurairah and collected in Sahih Muslim (eng trans. vol. 2 pg. 749 no. 3457)
(3) Tafsir Ibn Kathir. Its chain of narration is declared to be hasan by Shaikh Muqbil ibn Haadee in his checking of Ibn Kathir.
(4) This is what is meant is Surat ul-Baqarah that “men have a degree of responsibility over them” (2:228).
(5) Saheeh. Collected in Sunan Ibn Maajah, Musnad Ahmad and others.