Everyday. Staying married is a choice everyday. Everyday we make the decision to be with our spouse. Everyday we evaluate our relationship and want to stay in it. This is a choice that Allah has given us. It has no bearing on what people think or what affects our children or our parents. Marriage is a matter between a man and a woman. The consideration of peripheral factors like communal property, children, assets and liabilities and parents is honestly, nonsensical when marriage is hard and requires frequent resuscitation.
People comment on the divorce rate being higher. On women initiating divorces more. On men begging their wives to stay after subjecting them to years of an abusive relationship. People comment on how this is a sign of new age feminism. How this is the outcome of education. How this wasn’t something that we saw twenty years ago. How this is the sign of the wrong person wearing the pants in a relationship. How this was going to be the ultimate result of the financial independence that women crave and achieve in the twenty first century.
Some fears that are related to a slightly higher divorce rate in the 90’s and early 2000’s is that these will lead to more divorces. That these divorces will make kids confused about the sanctity and strength of a marriage and will predispose these kids to unhappy relationships and divorces in their own lives.
I can’t comment on divorces in other cultures because I feel that a couple and their decision to divorce is so strongly influenced by their cultural inclinations, and also whether they’re religiously influenced in any way, and the type of upbringing they’ve had in terms of their comfort or discomfort with considering a divorce if they think it’s necessary. It also depends on the people surrounding this couple that they rely on for counsel.
In the Muslim culture, divorce has largely become a culturally forsaken phenomenon. It is so culturally influenced that women are suffering through financial, economical, sexual and emotional abuse to keep a marriage. Everyday we are creating an image of marriage that’s happy and everyday there are women everywhere who are anything but happy in a marriage.
Which brings another musing into this. Should unhappy marriages even qualify as marriages? Personally, I have an archaic view on the definition of marriage. My view is that marriages should only ever be happy. They should be emotionally satisfying and sexually fulfilling. There can be financial issues and to be honest, these issues are usually of less magnitude when a couple has a great loving relationship.
In the event that marriages are not happy, we can employ strategies to get them back on track. But for as long as they’re not happy, my view is that we are not living in a marriage. We are basically just working back towards the relationship that we may be had before.
Sometimes a marriage doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s emotionally and physically dangerous to stay in a marriage. What does a woman do? What does a Muslim woman do then? Let me give you my thought process on a Muslim woman’s stigma against divorce. Let me explain to you how I was raised as a Muslim woman to think all married women above women who were either divorced or hadn’t been married ever.
I was raised to think that marriage is my ultimate destination. My parents didn’t raise me like that. Society did. Each time my parents told me that I was my own person, some well-meaning relative or friend would contradict it and tell me that a woman was created for a man’s pleasure. Each time my parents encouraged me to dream big, some woman in some capacity told me that she had dreamt bigger and it came to nothing because women can’t ever be autonomous. Can I tell you how confusing this type of upbringing can be?
Slowly I started to question my parents’ happy and extremely loving marriage. I suspected they put up a front. I had a feeling that they wanted us to see how liberal and left-winged they were but that necessarily wasn’t the case. Slowly I started to doubt the happiness in marriage and believed more in marriage being a type of accomplishment that would complete my life. My belief in my late teens was that marriage was something that came to desirable women and elevated them in social ranks. What marriage does to our soul and mind was totally lost on me by how I saw women around me glorifying marriage and even more than marriage, they glorified landing a man.
As you can see I was growing up with the antithesis of marriage. I didn’t quite get the concept of readiness for marriage. I wasn’t ready when I got married. I got married because my friends and cousins were getting married. My parents got me married because that’s what all girls do when they reach a marriageable age.
When you undertake a life changing experience without any idea of what the experience entails, more than enjoying it you are surprised by it. And sometimes scared by it.
Was I scared by my marriage? Yes. For an introvert who didn’t really get most social norms, sarcasm, relational jokes, cultural appropriation, and what not, marriage was a SHOCK. My husband and I had a “dating” period after our Nikah for about eighteen months but since most of it was long distance I didn’t know my husband all that well either. In the land of arranged marriages, my marriage is exactly what most marriages are like. Cluelessness and the constant element of surprise are essential ingredients of our marriages.
It didn’t help that I thought marriage was just another check off on my check list of a successful life. I didn’t feel the need to voice my opinions to my in-laws (“They’re not my family!”). I didn’t think it was necessary to tell my husband of my dislikes about specific things (“I’ll just change myself to suit him more. That’s easier”.). I didn’t assert myself more (“I don’t wanna be a bitch”). I lived through the first few months of my marriage in blissful ignorance of my surroundings and with an unawareness of others’ opinion of me.
Subtle emotional and mental assault is a weird thing because it works through the mechanism of stealth and slow demoralization. We deal with it through suppression and even repression. It’s easier that way. We don’t stand up to subtle abuse because we perceive the aftermath to be a lot larger scale than the abuse itself. I can tell you through my experience of abuse, it only gets worse. Until you stand up to it, it continues to get worse. It has a strange quality of multiplying when it senses timidness, confidence, strength, meekness. Can you see how abuse follows no principle? The only principle that you can uniformly apply to abuse is its fear of being called out. That’s what abuse fears and that’s what usually ends abuse.
When you’ve lived quietly and somewhat indifferently to abuse just because you have a good relationship with your husband, life is good and bad. It’s good because at least you got a good man out of it. It’s bad because when your eyes open to abuse then it’s a whole another level of a conscious state and can be jarring. It can actually be detrimental to your health and can have long term effects on trust and love relationships.
Something similar happened to me. I woke up to abuse while in the throes of a life-changing diagnosis for my child. Can I say it was the most ill-appointed time? It was not when I would have chosen to deal with my sudden awakening. It was rude and traumatizing. It was also another one of my coming of age moments.
The amount of torture that the human mind endures is inversely proportional to the amount of love it can think or practice or accept. I realized I was an empty cup and not just mentally empty, I was physically fast becoming ill with all the negativity. I was too fixated on fixing my morbid relationships and thereby finding peace.
My eyes opened eventually. But not because something huge happened. But because I started to take inventory of my marriage and realized that I wasn’t choosing to be married. I was actually in the habit and function of being married. And more than my marriage and my husband, the things that came with my marriage had become important, namely in-laws, cultural expectations, and my own anal retentiveness at being perceived as a “nice” person.
The first thing I did was to completely separate my husband from all external factors. No one, not even his parents, could change my perception of my marriage and this was the first thing I taught myself. Even if his family became the best people on earth, my husband was the individual I focused on and openly analyzed if he was my person. My husband and I have always loved each other and there is no doubt that we’ve truly cared and sacrificed for each other but I wanted a reason. And I found out that the reason why I loved my husband was just that he is my husband. So this was the first reason why I chose to be married. I haven’t stopped choosing to be married to this guy since that day. This is the biggest reason that I’ve found to be married to Adnan. The biggest reason is Adnan. His compassion, love for all living beings, commitment, sacrifice, strength of character is what makes me choose him everyday.
After separating us from society and family and other extramarital things, I decided to challenge some of my very valid but unrealistic-in-my-situation ideas. I may not think that my husband’s family matters because they’re actually not my family but their opinion mattered to me. Then why not question them as to why their opinion is unfavorable? I’m not a bad person then why do they think I’m a bad person? Thankfully this epiphany came when they and I weren’t seeing each other often so I had loads of time to think it over. I decided that they are my family by virtue of being my husband’s. True that they aren’t really my family but in a cultural way, they are a big part of my life. They are constantly in physical contact with me and stay at my place for weeks and months on end. To accept them as who they are is necessary because they’re adults and set in their ways. But to have them accept me as an individual is also necessary. Because I’m an adult too. And have a higher calling in life than just being their daughter-in-law or sister-in-law. My calling in life is as a physician, daughter, wife, mother and sister. The first step to claim my dignity back was to be a little more open and a little more closed. I became more open in my disagreement with their ways. I became more closed in my disagreement with their ways to my husband. I started dealing with people one on one and in the moment. Trust me when I say this! For a nice, meek, extremely socially awkward and anxious person who is a next level introvert, this is my life’s work. I can’t be prouder of myself for claiming myself through the process that I call “learning to be pleasantly opinionated about things that affect me”. Through this process, I have chosen to stay in my marriage. The biggest hurdle in the complete happiness of my marriage was my non acceptance of my husband’s family and therefore I’ve almost removed that hurdle. Of course this situation isn’t perfect yet.
I’m not saying that I’ve saved my marriage from the threat of a divorce. No one, not even the keepers of the best marriages within us, are above that threat. Every marriage is exposed to that complication. Every marriage is constantly trying to avoid a divorce. Every marriage is always just one step away from a divorce. I know we judge divorce like it happens to bad men and women. But the best men and women have divorced for much much trivial things than what you might’ve heard and judged people for. And all of us, whether we are in happy or sad marriages, are susceptible to a divorce.
Let people be in marriages as a choice. Don’t force them to stay in marriages. Trust me, every advice that you give to a couple with a troubled marriage, they’ve already had it, tried it and seen it fail. The only thing that sometimes comes out of counseling pre-divorce is how to deal with it. Even counseling can’t save a marriage sometimes.
Don’t tell people divorce isn’t an option. It makes them feel powerless and by default, makes them see divorce as the only way out. They feel suffocated and want to get out of their marriage just by society taking away their right to divorce. Telling someone that divorce is not an option is wrong, anti Islamic and frankly, ethically criminal. Telling them that divorce is an option, just like marriage is an option, makes them consider all their options. It automatically calms them and makes them see how divorce is available if nothing else works. It helps them make a choice, whether for their marriage or their divorce, but it helps them make a choice. And true empowerment in any situation comes from having the power to make a choice.