Dear Salma: To stay or to divorce?

Dear Salma,

 I am a young mother who has been married for two years. My family chose my partner for me, and I, at the time,  convinced myself that Insha’Allah my marriage will work out and I will, with the passage of time, fall in love with my husband. In my attempt to live out this pretense, I became pregnant and had a son Alhumdulillah. Because of my husband’s job, we often spent long stretches of time apart. After the birth of our son, we decided to move back home to the U.S. where we finally spent an extended period of time under one roof. It was then that I awakened to the reality I had been denying: that my husband and I are simply incompatible. From the beginning of our marriage, our conversations would often devolve into arguments, but only when we began to live in the U.S. did I realize how aggressive and disrespectful my husband was, and had always been, with me. Our arguments escalated to the point that I demanded a divorce.

 Shocked at my abrupt demand, my husband returned to the country where he worked, hoping that I would take back what I had said. But I am  unable to forget and forgive like before, especially since he is no longer as agreeable to my continuing my education and working. It has been several months now since I last saw him, and to this day I still ask for a divorce. He refuses. And all this while, he also refuses to financially support me, even though I am still his wife!

 I confided in my family about my decision to divorce my husband, and was met with my mother’s strong disapproval.  As a divorced mother herself, she claims that my son will suffer psychologically and that I will be unable to fulfill the role that his father alone can fulfill. She accuses me of being selfish and the rest of my family warns me that no other man will marry me, and I will become a burden to my family. Allah knows I cannot live with this man. I refuse to be with a husband who disrespects me, humiliates me, and refuses to consider my needs and conditions because he believes he is the man and only his word matters in the marriage.

Please help me. Should I  stay in the marriage for the sake of my son, or do I file for divorce and start fresh?

Sincerely, Distraught

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Dear Distraught,

The decision you are facing is a difficult one, and there is no easy or perfect solution. I recommend you really reflect on what is most important to you. Ask yourself: what do I believe will make me happiest and most content with myself, both as a Muslim woman and as a mother? Will getting a divorce allow me to be the kind of Muslim woman I aspire to be or will staying married give me that opportunity? Will I be at peace with Allah if I remain in this marriage or if I file for a divorce? Then imagine both scenarios and  what your life would be like in each. Assess the pros and cons of each decision.

Do the same for your son. What are the benefits and harms for him in the current situation? What would the benefits and harms be if you divorced? If you remain married, what can you do to minimize the harm to him?  And if you chose to divorce, what could you do to minimize the impact on him?

As you know, culturally there is a lot of stigma surrounding divorce. Unfortunately, much of this comes from Muslims misunderstanding the Islamic perspective on divorce. Keep in mind that divorce is an option which Allah provide for husbands and wives who are not able to live in a mutually kind and respectful manner. Many people in your situation derive a great deal of comfort and guidance from the verses in the Qur’an which focus on divorce. I encourage you to read and reflect on Chapter 65 (al-Talaaq) as well as verses 227-233 in Chapter 2 (al-Baqarah).

From a psychological perspective, children need parents who are healthy and engaged in their lives. A child can be damaged—irrelevant of whether parents are together or separated–if the child’s needs are not met. And children can thrive either way if the parents work hard to fulfill their child’s emotional needs. Because this is such a major decision with long term implications, I encourage you to seek professional counseling to help you work through your feelings and come to the best decision. Look for a therapist who has some experience working with Muslims or at least with people from Eastern cultures.

It might also prove helpful to consult with an imam or religious leader regarding the state of your marriage, especially if your husband is not fulfilling his obligations toward you, and treating you in an abusive manner. The marriage is certainly not a healthy one, nor does it sound like it fits the model of an Islamic marriage where each spouse’s needs are fulfilled. These are all concerns a knowledgeable religious leader can help you sort through. Make sure you turn to a religious leader who you trust and respect and who has dealt with other women in unhappy marriages.

Ultimately, you are the only one who will live out the consequences of the choice you make. While your family or friends may have a lot of opinions about what you should do and may judge you if you choose divorce, your choice must be one that you can live with and feel good about.  May Allah guide you to the decision that is best for you, and may He give you the support you need as you move forward.

 

Salma Elkadi Abugideiri
Licensed Professional Counselor
8233 Old Courthouse Rd, Suite 340
 

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