The statistics on divorce in North America are very high – most statistics suggest that around 50 percent of marriages in the United States end in divorce. The number is similarly high in many other developed nations. Sadly, the undisciplined attitude of present-day society towards divorce is reflected in some parts of the Bahá’í World Community:
The Universal House of Justice has noted with increasing concern that the undisciplined attitude of present-day society towards divorce is reflected in some parts of the Bahá’í World Community. Our Teachings on this subject are clear and in direct contrast to the loose and casual attitude of the ‘permissive society’ and it is vital that the Bahá’í Community practise these Teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 390)
As we know, Bahá’u’lláh abhors divorce, so Bahá’ís must do all in their power to avoid it:
Bahá’u’lláh, as you have mentioned, abhors divorce, and therefore the Bahá’ís should do their utmost to preserve their marriage which is a divinely ordained institution. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Recently I had a discussion with someone who wanted to divorce because he believed his wife didn’t love him anymore. Let’s take a look at what I told him.
Conditions for Divorce
First of all, whether she loves you or not isn’t grounds for divorce. Aversion and antipathy are.
Irreconcilable antipathy arising between the parties to a marriage is not merely a lack of love for one’s spouse but an antipathy which cannot be resolved . . . It is not affected by the other party’s not wishing to apply for a divorce. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)
As a Baha’i, the only reason a divorce can be granted is if one or both parties feel aversion.
Concerning the definition of the term “aversion” in relation to Bahá’í divorce law, the Universal House of Justice points out that there are no specific “grounds” for Bahá’í divorce such as there are in some codes of civil law . . . A Bahá’í should consider the possibility of divorce only if the situation is intolerable and he or she has a strong aversion to being married to the other partner. This is a standard held up to the individual. It is not a law, but an exhortation. It is a goal to which we should strive….. It can be seen, therefore, that “aversion” is not a specific legal term that needs to be defined. Indeed a number of other terms are used in describing the situation that can lead to divorce in Bahá’í law, such as “antipathy”, “resentment”, “estrangement”, “impossibility of establishing harmony” and “irreconcilability”. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456-457)
Bahá’í law permits divorce but, as both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have made very clear, divorce is abhorred.
Divorce should be avoided most strictly by the believers, and only under rare and urgent circumstances be resorted to. Modern society is criminally lax as to the sacred nature of marriage, and the believers must combat this trend assiduously. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 450)
There is no doubt about it that the believers in [the west], probably unconsciously influenced by the extremely lax morals prevalent and the flippant attitude towards divorce which seems to be increasingly prevailing, do not take divorce seriously enough and do not seem to grasp the fact that although Bahá’u’lláh has permitted it, He has only permitted it as a last resort and strongly condemns it. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 392)
One of the great obstacles to progress is the tendency of Bahá’ís to be sucked into the general attitudes and disputes that surround them, to be influenced, for example, as you yourself pointed out, by the prevailing attitude to marriage so that the divorce rate becomes a problem within the Bahá’í community itself which should be an example to the rest of society in such matters. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 516-517)
Formerly in Persia divorce was very easily obtained. Among the people of the past Dispensation a trifling matter would cause divorce. However, as the light of the Kingdom shone forth souls were quickened by the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh, then they totally eschewed divorce. In Persia now divorce does not take place among the friends, unless a compelling reason existeth with maketh harmony impossible. Under such rare circumstances some cases of divorce take place. Now the friends in [the West] must live and conduct themselves in this way. They must strictly refrain from divorce unless something ariseth which compelleth them to separate because of their aversion for each other. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 391)
Your job is to do all you can to refrain from divorce, and strive to make your marriage an eternal bond of unity and harmony. This requires effort, sacrifice, wisdom and self-abnegation.
Bahá’í law permits divorce but, as both Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have made very clear, divorce is abhorred. Thus, from the point of view of the individual believer he should do all he can to refrain from divorce. Bahá’ís should be profoundly aware of the sanctity of marriage and should strive to make their marriages an eternal bond of unity and harmony. This requires effort and sacrifice and wisdom and self-abnegation. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456-457)
Effect on the Children
Separation and divorce is confusing and detrimental to the children which is reason enough to work on the marriage:
The presence of children, as a factor in divorce, cannot be ignored, for surely it places an even greater weight of moral responsibility on the man and wife in considering such a step. Divorce under such circumstances no longer just concerns them and their desires and feelings but also concerns the children’s entire future and their own attitude towards marriage. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 392)
It is always a source of sorrow in life when married people cannot get on well together, but the Guardian feels that you and your husband, in contemplating divorce, should think of the future of your children and how this major step on your part will influence their lives and happiness. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 448)
He feels that you should by all means make every effort to hold your marriage together, especially for the sake of the children, who, like all children of divorced parents, cannot but suffer from conflicting loyalties, for they are deprived of the blessing of a father and a mother in one home, to look after their interests and love them jointly. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 227)
God’s will not yours
The Baha’i marriage vow is:
We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God. (Baha’u’llah, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 58)
The will of God is that you both find a way to stay married, for your spiritual growth and for the sake of the children. We do it for God’s sake and not for our own:
He has been very sorry to hear that your marriage seems to have failed utterly. I need not tell you as a Bahá’í that every effort should be made by any Bahá’í to salvage their marriage for the sake of God, rather than for their own sake. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 393)
3 Reasons Why People Consider Divorce
1. Wanting a divorce so you can find someone better
Getting divorced in order to release you to find someone else is not a spiritually sound reason for divorce:
It should not happen that upon the occurrence of a slight friction of displeasure between husband and wife, the husband would think of union with some other woman or, God forbid, the wife also think of another husband. This is contrary to the standard of heavenly value and true chastity. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 391)
Sometimes in a marriage one partner is really needy, putting all their focus on the other person, instead of on God. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá makes it quite clear that by clinging to an attachment to your spouse to the exclusion of God, you prevent them from entering the Kingdom of God. This is really serious stuff! And intuitively, they might be aware of it even if they’ve never read this quote.
As to thy question, “If the husband preventeth his wife from entering into the Light, or the wife preventeth the husband from entering into the Kingdom of God.” In reality neither one of them preventeth the other from entering into the Kingdom of God, except when the husband hath a great attachment to the wife, or the wife to the husband. When either one of the two adoreth the other to the exclusion of God, then each will prevent the other from entering into the Kingdom of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 609)
When one spouse wants a divorce and the other doesn’t, is where you can make your ambivalence work for you, knowing that you are on spiritually strong ground:
We know that Bahá’u’lláh has very strongly frowned upon divorce; and it is really incumbent upon the Bahá’ís to make almost a superhuman effort not to allow a Bahá’í marriage to be dissolved. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 227)
Your job here is to trust your own intuition and make a superhuman effort not to allow your Bahá’í marriage to be dissolved.
Your spouse’s intuition as evidence that it couldn’t work may be true from a material standpoint, but is spiritually faulty. As Baha’is we have forces at our disposal, which are not available to non-Baha’is – the power of prayer and drawing on the spiritual powers available by the bounty of God.
There have been many instances in which a couple, through a consecrated and determined effort, aided by the power of prayer and the advice of experts, succeeded in overcoming seemingly insuperable obstacles to their reconciliation and in reconstructing a strong foundation for their marriage. There are also innumerable examples of individuals who have been able to effect drastic and enduring changes in their behaviour, through drawing on the spiritual powers available by the bounty of God. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 6 August 1989)
Having said all that, one person’s desire to continue a marriage is not enough to make it happen in the face of the other’s desire to divorce after the year of waiting is complete.
Question: Concerning divorce, which must be preceded by a year of patience: if only one of the parties is inclined toward conciliation, what is to be done?
Answer: According to the commandment revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, both parties must be content; unless both are willing, reunion cannot take place. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 118).
Question: If, upon completion of the year of patience, the husband refuseth to allow divorce, what course should be adopted by the wife?
Answer: When the period is ended divorce is effected. However, it is necessary that there be witnesses to the beginning and end of this period, so that they can be called upon to give testimony should the need arise. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 128).
Please don’t be resigned that there is no point standing in your spouse’s way when she is certain divorce is the only way for both of you to move on and find some happiness. God’s way is more important!
You are not spiritually responsible for her decisions, but you are responsible for your own, so any effort you can make towards reconciliation will benefit you spiritually.
Things to Try Before a Year of Patience
Many of us have bought into the fairy tales told to us as children – that once you were married you would live “happily ever after”. Unfortunately we bought into a lie!
Marriages are not meant to be easy! They’re meant to force us to look at our issues so that we can draw closer to God and acquire the virtues we’ll need in the next world. This takes work, and sacrifice; and effort; and detachment; and patience; and long suffering. It requires looking at our part in the problems and changing it. It means overlooking the faults of others. Loving them for the sake of God when you don’t feel very loving; or aren’t getting anything back.
I’d like you to read Using the Marriage Tablet as a Prescription for Healing Troubled Marriages then identify at least 10 areas where you could work on to build a better marriage.
Very few people know the art of consultation, which, if done right, will have a beneficial effect on a marriage. The Bahá’í Writings for the first time in religious history, have given us a lot of guidance on learning the art of consultation. When couples learn to use it properly, it can be a panacea for conflict.
Bahá’u’lláh also stressed the importance of consultation. We should not think this worthwhile method of seeking solutions is confined to the administrative institutions of the Cause. Family consultation employing full and frank discussion, and animated by awareness of the need for moderation and balance, can be the panacea for domestic conflict. Wives should not attempt to dominate their husbands, nor husbands their wives. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)
Read the compilation on consultation and make a list of 10 things you could do to improve the quality of your consultation, based on what you’ve read.
Marriage counseling is important as long as it is tempered with spiritual counseling based on the Writings as well. A counsellor will help with psychological baggage while ignoring spiritual needs.
There is spiritual value in making efforts to overcome difficulties in close personal relationships, which is an opportunity counsellors will be missing. If you skip this step, you will be losing an opportunity for spiritual growth.
Knowing the spiritual value of the effort to overcome difficulties in close personal relationships, Bahá’ís should not readily give up on a marriage or family relationship. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 121)
The following Bahá’ís do marriage counselling:
Dr. Elena Mustakova-Possardt is an Individual, Couples & Family Psychotherapist specializing in sexual abuse, sexual identity issues, loss, disillusionment, loss of meaning and purpose, addiction, anxiety, personality disorders, and marital and relational problems.
Katrin Modabber is a Psychologist, Family and Conflict Counselor of Positive Psychotherapy and Couples and Family Therapist. For more than 15 years she has been studying marriages and the factors which make them happy and successful. She is fascinated by this most unique human relationship and its potential to transform people, families and society. Her work is resource and solution oriented and during her work she puts an emphasis on the strengths, virtues and capacities each human being is characterized by.
Keyvan Geula is a licensed marriage, family, and child therapist specializing in mindfulness approach in therapy, transformation and education. She received her Master of Science in Marriage, Family and Child Therapy from University of La Verne, in La Verne, California. She offers her services as a clinician, lecturer, trainer and supervisor to a global set of clients in person and online. In her clinical work she incorporates the wisdom of the Baha’i Writings, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach, Mindfulness techniques, and John Gottman’s approach in couple’s therapy.
Raymond and Furugh Switzer offer therapy and coaching for struggling couples and those wanting to enrich their relationship; and for singles searching for a committed, intimate connection. Their philosophy is that ruptures in relationships to others, especially the struggles with our life partner, often seem to be the most painful experiences in our lives. Although these trials may seem to us the most entrenched, and impossible to work through, there is a purpose to these conflicts: they provide us with a beacon for our maturation and healing from the past. While marriage seems almost designed to bring us to the brink of despair, it also presents potent opportunities for growth and self-realization. Raymond and Furugh are both trained in Imago Therapy and find that working together with couples adds to the power of the therapeutic experience. Couples often find that the insights given from both a male and female perspective and experience add important dimensions to their understanding. In addition, having a live model of a couple exhibiting differentiation and unity in working together signal hope and can add to confidence in couplehood, a crucial element in healing marriages in distress. Their books include Conscious Courtship and Mindful Matrimony
Sabah Arjomand works with couples who are new to marriage; and provides hope, healing and transformation to couples dealing with unsurmountable issues; or in marital crisis.
Susanne Alexander, Baha’i Marriage Transformation Coach, specializing in Relationships, Marriage, and Character Development. She is ready to collaborate with and accompany you with honesty, insightfulness, and compassion! She is skillful at matching you up with learning resources that help move you forward. Baha’i Relationships site
I’d like you to study the compilations on marriage and divorce with your spouse. You can read them online at:
Divorce (ignore the list of topics on the right and the ad on the left – it starts squeezed between the two)
If your spouse is unwilling, perhaps you could read them yourself and discuss what you’ve found.
Making a Decision to Start a Year of Patience
Many people in the midst of a marital crisis want to go straight to divorce, thinking things will never get better. While taking the easy way out may indeed clear the air, and may seem appealing in the moment, in the end, however, because it’s not spiritually sound, will only lead to some new situation of frustration and disillusion.
We often feel that our happiness lies in a certain direction; and yet, if we have to pay too heavy a price for it in the end we may discover that we have not really purchased either freedom or happiness, but must some new situation of frustration and disillusion. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 392-393)
And the person who is the cause of the divorce will become the victim of formidable calamities and experience deep remorse.
In short, the foundation of the Kingdom of God is based upon harmony and love, oneness, relationship and union, not upon differences, especially between husband and wife. If one of these two become the cause of divorce, that one will unquestionably fall into great difficulties, will become the victim of formidable calamities and experience deep remorse. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 391-392)
I’m sure this isn’t what you want for either of you!
Marriages are like everything else – they go through seasons. Perhaps your marriage is in winter – and if you leave now, you’ll never know the beauty of spring:
Before the coming of the spring, the earth looks as if dead and lifeless, but when it appears, all the world seems to spring into life and brightness —into a new existence of beauty and joy. All nature is clad in fresh green, the grass springs up, the leaves bud, and the trees are covered with blossoms. But the spring passes, and then comes the summer, in which the promise of the spring is fulfilled; the spring blossoms ripen into fruit, and the fields are covered with yellow grain; the result of the new life of the spring is manifested. Then comes the autumn, in which the life of the spring and summer begins slowly to fade, and finally winter comes round, and the life of the earth seems to be completely extinct—dead. (Bahá’í Prayers 9, p. 57)
This is the quote I wish I’d had when I was considering divorce. I think I’d have stayed in my marriage if I understood this. Hope it gives you some hope and a new way of looking at reconciliation!
Since your spouse is the one who wants the divorce now, and you understand intuitively that it is wrong, you can stand firm in these quotes as coming from a loving God, who has your best interests in hand, and wants you to find solutions even more than you want this!
Role of the Spiritual Assembly
When you approach a Spiritual Assembly to set a date for the year of waiting, there are 3 things they have to do:
- determine whether grounds for a Bahá’í divorce exist
- try to reconcile the couple
- set the date for the beginning of the year of waiting
The setting of the date of the beginning of the year of patience is not automatic. The Assembly must first determine whether grounds for a Bahá’í divorce exist and should make every effort to reconcile the parties. If the aversion existing between the parties is found to be irreconcilable then the Assembly may set the date for the beginning of the year of waiting. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 395)
Backdating a Year of Patience
Often people approach an Assembly for a year of patience when it’s really too late to save the marriage. Spouses are entrenched in their decision to divorce and eager to get it over with quickly.
Asking an Assembly to back-date a year of patience is expedient but not spiritually helpful, since it subverts the purpose of a year of waiting, which is for both couples to work on the issues which lead to the separation, so that hopefully a solution can be found.
The purpose of the year of waiting is to attempt the saving of a marital relationship. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 399)
There are certain things that can (and should) be done during the year of waiting, which include:
- drawing upon the power of prayer
- spiritual transformation
- learning to consult
- seeking guidance in the Bahá’í Writings
- exploring creative solutions to problems
- requesting assistance from Bahá’í institutions and/or professional counselors as necessary
Given the value of marriage as a divine institution, Bahá’ís should make great efforts to create, preserve and strengthen healthy marriages, drawing upon the power of prayer and spiritual transformation, learning to consult, seeking guidance in the Bahá’í Writings, exploring creative solutions to problems, and requesting assistance from Bahá’í institutions and/or professional counselors as necessary. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 121)
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