By a reader of this blog who wishes to remain anonymous
A marriage is a relationship of mutuality, respect, commitment, and all of the other qualities described in the Writings. Any couple will have their ups and downs and tests, and are meant to help each other grow. Certainly there must be a spirit of compassion and forgiveness—the willingness to not hold grudges, not respond in kind to insults, and not escalate things in order to “win.” In the context of mutual commitment and respect, they should both exercise forbearance. At the same time, there will be no progress unless there is clarity and communication about what is going on—what each person observes and feels. Thus, there is a need for frankness in helping each other grow up. With this spirit, the couple’s marriage can become a “fortress for well-being” for themselves and their community.
In contrast, an abusive relationship is not a marriage; it is a situation where one person is trying to destroy the other. Therefore, there is nothing to preserve. It is not and can never become a “fortress for well-being.” It is a cauldron for passing on trauma to the next generation. The first priority is for the victim to see the situation clearly, the second is to remove himself or herself from the situation, the third is to seek help. If both people have a willingness to work together to try to heal the abuser through therapy, spiritual guidance, and prayer, that is the very best next step. None of this implies that the “victim” is perfect. However, the individual and couple cannot effectively work on these normal problems until the dynamics change, because one of the traits of the abuser is to blame the victim and render them impotent.
If the abuser truly cares about preserving the marriage and is willing to undertake a personal journey of understanding with a trusted therapist, they can begin to examine the sources of the destructive feelings—the feelings of pain, fear, and powerlessness that most likely contribute to the rage. This comes under the definition of “consulting a trusted physician.” Clinical psychology has a lot to offer in terms of understanding the problem—and that is the first step. True healing must be a spiritual process, but that does not preclude the understanding of human behaviour that has been developed in the twentieth century. If the abuser does not wish to cooperate in understanding what is going on, refuses to engage in any kind of counseling or therapy, then there is no hope. In that case, it must be clearly understood that the abuser is not interested in a healthy relationship and has effectively ended the marriage. The victim should not be blamed for giving up on the marriage. There is none.
If there is no willingness to work toward understanding and healing, then the victim would best be advised to get on with her/his life and find a partner which whom they can build a Bahá’í marriage that can be a blessing to the world. There is no virtue in staying with a destructive person and dysfunctional situation. There is no benefit to the person or the world. When there are children, separation is more difficult, but here is where a supportive community is essential to working things out in a way that protects the children. Children should not grow up to think that abusive behaviour is normal and feel unprotected from its impacts. They may not be able to get away from a relationship with the abusive parent, but if they see the other parent name what is going on and say “Stop,” then they have the power of the truth. Alice Miller talks about how having one supportive adult in their life that speaks the truth about their situation can enable a child to endure all sorts of oppression and come out healthy.
I recommend that you obtain this book: The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond by Patricia Evans. I would love to discuss it and I wish I had read this forty years ago.
In my first marriage, to a very intelligent professional, I was essentially passive, easy-going, and timid in the face of intimidation. He was so bright and capable that I assumed he was always right. I didn’t know how to recognize and name bad behaviour! If I had stood up to these things from the beginning, the relationship might have been better in the long term. The other problem was that I was afraid of being alone. I clung to the security of the marriage because we had a good life—wilderness canoe trips, lots of friends, enough money, etc. In retrospect, I realize that he was not only cold and uncommunicative but had never been faithful to me, but something in me didn’t want to acknowledge the truth, let alone confront him.
After we had been together about five years, I saw the reality of it and went to a friend and asked if I could stay with her because I wanted to leave him. She talked me out of it!!! So, I didn’t have the courage to persist. I was only in my early thirties and had a life ahead of me. I could have had the opportunity to find a compatible partner and build a solid future. (My first husband had no interest in a spiritual life.)
After several years, we had a long awaited and much loved child. But when she was young, he told me that he had had a relationship with another woman and that he wished he could continue the relationship as well as the marriage. So I told him to forget it—and went on to be a single parent for the next twelve years. Luckily, he was a supportive father—although a cold personality
When the marriage ended, I was faced with a fork in the road. One side was the path of vengeance, the other of cooperation and respect. This was the biggest test of my life—to find the ability to mutually parent with him for the next twenty years and never speak disrespectfully about him to our daughter. My therapist was a spiritual person and her advice during that first critical time was to “detach” and “let God deal with them.” I felt myself consciously pulling back from the path of vengeance, thank God. That is the point where “forgiveness” was appropriate and necessary—the path was defined and one had to make it work as best possible.
Even so, my daughter tells me that I acted “too nice” with him. She thought I was a wimp in the face of his somewhat arrogant and cold behaviour toward me during our child-rearing period. In summary, there was virtue in carrying out our task as separated parents in an atmosphere of forgiveness rather than vengeance, but there was NO VIRTUE in having stayed with him against my better judgment in the early days. The foundation for a true marriage simply was not there. What I needed then was CLARITY and COURAGE. These also are virtues.
After writing all this, I am thinking that part of the preparation for Baha’i marriage should include descriptions of dysfunctional and destructive behaviour. One should become aware of such signs in choosing a partner, and after marriage, be able to realistically identify such attitudes and behaviours if they emerge—disrespect, dishonesty, lack of cooperation, lack of consultation, aggressive anger, intimidation, unfaithfulness, etc. If partners can name what they are seeing, the other person may learn something early on, rather than establishing a pattern.
I believe the Writings below encourage us to do just that–to trust our perceptions and speak the truth. Justice pervades life at all levels and we are always entitled to seek it. The quotes about the role of the institutions, it seems to me, are referring to more formal situations. But, there is much to be done on the individual and family level before taking these things to the institutions.
O SON OF SPIRIT!
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. (Baha’u’llah, the Arabic Hidden Words)
Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 459)