This week we received a very long and emotional letter from a reader. You can read her whole, heart-wrenching story at the bottom of the article – where you’ll also find our anonymous comment box for you to leave your own question for Maha.
I ended my marriage 3 years ago and have been paralyzed with guilt ever since, even though I was desperately unhappy. I can’t move forward and embrace my (surely) beautiful future until i have come to terms with this momentous and traumatic decision.When i look back on the reasons why i chose to leave my marriage i wonder if i overreacted. My father had no tolerance for self indulgent,petulant and entitled behaviour and i was raised with little or no affection and support from him. In my hours of introspection, i wonder if this upbringing feeds into my guilt of wanting to leave a awful marriage and if it hinders my allowing myself to know that I deserve and am worthy of a healthy, loving, respectful and sexually satisfying relationship. Am I ? Do i deserve these things or am i just being an ungrateful diva and should have stayed and been grateful?
Love, Not Worthy
My heart sank and I became nauseated on your behalf. It breaks my heart that you have somehow internalized everything both from within and then post this divorce. Again, as I often do when questions are unclear, I will address the themes of your message. My two caveat are that one, I will make reference to Islam as you are a woman of this Faith, and two, I am a child of divorce and so far too intimately aware of the miserable effects of daily witnessing what an unhealthy relationship looks like, which is far far far worse than dealing with divorce.
Ya Muhammad! (et al., blessings upon them.) You need to stop blaming yourself. You are not at fault because you married a bully who decided that emotional brow-beating and silencing you was the way to a healthy relationship. You are not at fault because this person’s emotional abuse of you led you to being physically repulsed by them.
You did not choose “divorce”, my love; rather, you chose self-preservation. You chose to stand up and say “I will no longer accept emotional abuse and sexual coercion from your hands (because God gave me a body over which he equally extended rights of sovereignty). I will no longer be terrified into silence (because God gave me a voice). I will no longer lie to myself and my children that this relationship is what love should look like (because God gave me the duty to raise children in His image, in love and in mercy). I choose better for myself and for my children.”
Does that sound about right? Because if it does, then start telling these things to yourself daily. Write them on a piece of paper, place them next to your prayer mat, recite them daily five times a day. Basically, replace the path of self-blame which you have forged so deeply in your mind, to one of self-love and acceptance that you DID in fact do the right thing.
For your health and sanity, you must stop looking over your shoulder and instead look at your feet to forge your way forward.
Owing your children
Parents have an obligation to show their children through words and actions what a healthy love looks like. Your marriage was teaching your children that an abusive relationship is the way they should expect to give and receive love, and that remaining in one such relationship is both an obligation and a duty. As a parent, you are a role model who must show their children only the best of things and sometimes in this shitty world, that means that your children need to see that standing up for themselves and walking away from a toxic abusive situation is the only option they have left (and maybe, sometimes, it is the first option they must choose).
Don’t ever kid yourself – children know. Children read a mum’s face when she is being brow-beaten and hear you crying when you are being forced to have sex. Children know when dad is a bully and these are not things which you should ever ever ever normalize as acceptable things for your children. Reminder: your obligation is to raise them healthy, with healthy understandings of respectful, kind, merciful love. NOT ONE SINGLE THING LESS, because otherwise, they grow up to brow-beat others, to sexually coerce others, to be silenced out of fear.
The only questions you need to ask yourself are: If my daughter were with a man like my ex, would I be happy for her? And also, if my son were treating his wife in the way my ex treated me, would I be proud of the man I raised?
The answers to these questions should be the foundation on which you stand to accept that you made the right decision. And, let me be completely candid – we, children, we get over your divorce.
Divorce, of itself, does not break the bonds between children and parents – not even when the fault is (and sometimes it can be) squarely on the shoulders of one parent. You continue to be involved with your children’s lives, and when they are grown and they realize that parents have an identity beyond “mom and dad”, you will be able to discuss this with them candidly and explain (though not in detail) why you decided to leave your husband, which in no way means that you decided to leave them.
That your reasons for divorce were not good enough
Recall when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) agreed that a woman who no longer “liked” her husband was a woman who had enough reason to seek a divorce. But this isn’t you, nor is it your situation because let me quote you back to yourself: “I was afraid to talk. He was for the most part irritable, short tempered and impatient and difficult to get along with. I became sexually repulsed by him and he would engage me in sex even tho i clearly (ie crying) did not want to.”
These things are not – not under any circumstance – acceptable. Within Islam, it is explicitly stated that between partners, God has placed first and foremost “mercy” and none of the things which you mention are an indication of merciful behaviour from your husband toward you. Divorce within Islam is clear, based on the acknowledgement that while permissible, it is an absolute trauma. So I hear you, and I understand why this is so painful. I hope you understand that the weight of your pain is felt and shared, your decision understood as one that was not made frivolously.
After reading your message a few times, my heart told me that you absolutely know you made the right decision, but need validation. Unequivocally, I am here to tell you: You made the right decision as a woman and as a role model for your children.
I have very strong hope that the above will be a stepping stone for you to start your road to healing because you have been mired in self-inflicted misery, doubt and blame for three years ON TOP of the misery you experienced while married. Now is the time that you say ‘enough is enough’. For the sake of your heart and your spirit and what you are projecting onto your children, you must stop looking backwards because every day you continue to think in this way is a day which you thieve from your beautiful self and heart.
I just gave you a lot of homework, and now I am going to distill it. By whichever means necessary, I want you to find the roads that will lead you to:
– Accepting that your decision was the right one.
– Forgiving yourself (even though I do not believe there is any blame on you, you clearly do and so must address this).
– Letting go of your guilt.
– Making your way back to a healthy self-love.
Therapy, books, chat rooms…whichever it is – GET ON IT.
In your corner, with so much love and so much belief in and hope for your (and your children’s) future,
Dear Maha…: I am looking so much for guidance and some validation. I don’t think I trust my own yet but I’m getting there.I ended my marriage 3 years ago and have been paralyzed with guilt ever since even though I was desperately unhappy. I can’t move forward and embrace my (surely) beautiful future until i have come to terms with this momentous and traumatic decision.When i look back on the reasons why i chose to leave my marriage i wonder if i overreacted. My father had no tolerance for self indulgent,petulant and entitled behaviour and i was raised with little or no affection and support from him. In my hours of introspection, i wonder if this upbringing feeds into my guilt of wanting to leave a awful marriage and if it hinders my allowing myself to know that I deserve and am worthy of a healthy, loving, respectful and sexually satisfying relationship. Am I ? Do i deserve these things or am i just being an ungrateful diva and should have stayed and been grateful ? My ex showed irritation whenever i wanted to state my piece in a discussion, would often “engage” me in a onesided,brow beating monologue for up to an hour where i would be at the receiving end of his opinions and statements. I was afraid to talk. He was for the most part irritable, short tempered and impatient and difficult to get along with. I became sexually repulsed by him and he would engage me in sex even tho i clearly (ie crying) did not want to. He would sulk when i said no. We have two lovely children who are now 9 and 13 and i am afraid i have ruined their young lives and memories of family. They have been uprooted from their home as i left the matrimonial home ( for which they still yearn) and feel very much that their mum and dad are not together when it seems to them that all their friends come from stable, two parent and happily functional and “normal” families.They ask me”why did you have to leave daddy and why can’t we be normal like everyone else?” I am ripped to shreds inside and can’t move forward. My ex had a lot of very good points…he never physically abused me, always provided generously for all of us, always bought me the loveliest things i own and supported me in all my endeavours and his kind and thoughtful heart surrounded him with lots of loyal and loving friends who all speak highly of him and rightly so. He is a wonderful man and i will always love him and want the best for him. Maybe i should have stayed and worked harder and I gave up too soon and destroyed three lives. The kids miss me terribly when I am not there. Also, the thought of sex with him revolts me to the extent where I could not even pretend. Is that enough of a grounds to break up a marriage? I feel selfish, guilty and wayward, wilful and and stubborn and contrary. How can i possibly embrace my future and myself ? Thank you Maha for what I am sure will be wise and gentle counsel. Thank you so much. I do offer my five prayers and ask for relief but it does not seem to be forthcoming yet.
love Not worthy