Divorce is a personal decision to be undertaken with great care and consideration.
However, most will agree that in cases of harm or abuse of any sort – or in cases of abandonment, humiliation, control, and nonfulfillment of obligations – it is in a couple’s best interest in this life and the next to end the marriage.
When is it time to divorce?
As Life Strategist and Leadership Coach Henrietta Szovati explains, “Marriage is not designed to complete you. It is to grow you.” She adds, “Your happiness does not depend on your partner, it is entirely your responsibility to make your life happy. If it isn’t, don’t blame your spouse.”
Henrietta laments that many women grow up thinking that marriage is a fairy tale. Instead, she insists, “Marriage is a reality job.”
Henrietta works with individuals who struggle to make sense of their role in their marriage. She empowers them to understand their emotions, step into their full self, and create the marriage they truly want. However, this also sometimes means accepting that they need to leave the marriage.
If one is being oppressed or mistreated in a marriage it is definitely time to take drastic actions to fix the situation, or end the marriage entirely.
The reality and responsibility of marriage
As the founder of Manifesting Muslimah, Zahra Summayah coaches and supports many new Muslimahs in maintaining their faith in the face of adversity and abuse.
Zahra shares that, for Muslims, the instructions for marriage and the rights of each spouse are clearly detailed. She insists, “What Muslim men need to understand is they are commanded by God to be caretakers of women and children. Their one level above is in regards to responsibility for women, not authority over them. [They need to understand] that every tear a wife sheds due to her husband’s mistreatment is a curse upon him by the angels.”
It’s clear to most that in cases of abuse, neglect, control, lack of respect, and poor communication, these hardships can lead to divorce. However couples also need to understand another crucial point.
When considering divorce, there are more gray areas than black and white. Financial stressors, irreconcilable challenges, meddling extended families, and cultural differences can all weigh a couple down and may necessitate divorce.
When considering the possibility of divorce, begin by examining yourself. This means first learning to embrace that you have faults and you’re work in progress. Make internal changes first to ensure you’re fulfilling your end of the marriage contract.
Being a responsible partner also means articulating and communicating your needs to your spouse. This can include setting boundaries or even walking away from dangerous and unhealthy relationships.
Having a healthy attitude towards marriage involves, “Accepting that your marriage will stretch you to your unimaginable limits” Henrietta explains. She advises couples to, “Surrender to the fact that you will be hurt, betrayed and disappointed many times. Being realistic and ready for this will make you a supportive and authentic partner.”
What is an Islamic divorce?
An Islamic divorce is basically dissolution of the marriage contract. It can be accomplished through a few different processes including talaq (male initiated divorce) and khula (female initiated divorce). In some cases, if the understood responsibilities of the marriage contract are breached or deception is found, annulment of the marriage is possible as well.
“Know your rights given by God,” Zahra explains, “and know what you are meant to expect as far as provision, duty of care, kindness and mercy by your husband.”
Henrietta adds that in her counseling practice, some of the most common challenges her clients come to her for resolving include these “gray-area” complaints.
She hears statements like; “I’m unable to exercise my full power in this marriage.” “I’m taken for granted,” “We love each other but cannot seem to work together as a couple,” “My spouse’s family is too much/too difficult for me,” and “I’m really unfulfilled in this marriage.”
These “grey area” challenging situations may or may not be improved through divorce. So in many such cases, individual coaching and therapy is a smart first step.
Divorce and abuse
When it comes to domestic abuse and other toxic dynamics, why do some couples end up staying in toxic relationships instead of getting divorced?
Henrietta explains, “Toxicity is a deep trenched pattern neurobiologically and it is hard to move away from something we are familiar with. People often do not see the relationship as toxic, which is one of the major problems.”
Zahra Summayah shares that she sees many new Muslimahs who are faced with toxic marriages and struggle to keep their faith as a consequence. In her book, 5 Warning Signs You Are in a Toxic Marriage, she teaches what toxic marriages look like and their warning signs.
She encourages women to be careful both getting into a marriage, and also getting out.
Zahra encourages women to combat abuse by first learning their rights as women and wives. “Know that in no area of Islam is a man permitted to hit or harm a woman, much less his wife” she shares. “Know that a ‘disobedient wife’ is one who is committing adultery as defined in Surah Nisa – it does not refer to a woman who fails to jump at every unreasonable command of a husband. Know that a husband does not have a right to imprison you in your home citing the hadith that you have to seek his permission to leave.”
“A just and kind husband who fears God, will not turn a home into a prison,” Zahra explains. “A good man who fears God will loathe oppression as much as God does.”
Should I ask for a khula?
It’s important for women to make sure they are involved in arranging their marriage. Zahra encourages women to never let a potential spouse arrange the wedding without consultation or consent.
In cases of abandonment, neglect, abuse, oppression and harm, it may also be possible to get what is known as an annulment of the marriage.
One sister recalls the pain she endured through her then husband’s multiple affairs. “Divorce is never easy. Especially when kids are involved,” she explains. “But I was blindsided as he was the one to have multiple affairs and left to be with his other family.”
She was able to secure a divorce but not without waiting two years in limbo for her husband to make up his mind. “He literally left two years before he decided to file. The children are very conflicted and financially left in ruins.”
There are many reasons to get divorced, and no one should fault anyone for wanting to get out of an abusive, harmful, neglectful, or unfulfilling marriage.
Marriage in the Muslim community should be seen for what it actually is – a contract between a man and woman to love, care, and take care of each other and fulfill promised obligations.