We live in a very selfish, materialistic environment and most of us have adopted the habits and beliefs of society around us. This includes leaving a marriage when our needs aren’t met. It’s all about “me”.
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)
This is not the Bahá’í standard.
By unconsciously absorbing the extremely lax morals and the flippant attitude towards divorce which seems to be increasingly prevalent in our society, we do not take divorce prevention seriously enough:
There is no doubt about it that the believers in America, 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)
Our Teachings on the subject of divorce are clear and in direct contrast to the loose and casual attitude of the ‘permissive society’ around us, and it is vital that the Bahá’í Community practise these Teachings:
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)
Often we leave our marriages when we no longer feel physical attraction or sexual compatibility and harmony but Shoghi Effendi tells us we have to rise above such considerations:
For the Bahá’í Teachings . . . while permitting divorce, consider it a reprehensible act, which should be resorted to only in exceptional circumstances, and when grave issues are involved, transcending such considerations as physical attraction or sexual compatibility and harmony. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 446)
The institution of marriage established by Bahá’u’lláh, while giving due importance to the physical aspect of marital union, considers it as subordinate to the moral and spiritual purposes and functions:
The institution of marriage, as established by Bahá’u’lláh, while giving due importance to the physical aspect of marital union, considers it as subordinate to the moral and spiritual purposes and functions with which it has been invested by an all-wise and loving Providence. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 446)
Most of us did not receive the love we needed from our parents (who didn’t receive it from their parents, and so on); so we look for others to give it to us. We’ve been taught that there is someone out there who will meet our needs, so when our spouse no longer fulfils our needs, we leave our marriages, so that we can find the right person. This is contrary to the standard of heavenly value and true chastity.
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 . . . 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)
It isn’t what God wants for us! He wants us to make a decision to stay. To make sure we understand the urgency and importance of staying, He warns us that whoever becomes the cause of divorce will fall into great difficulties, become the victim of formidable calamities and experience deep remorse:
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)
He wants our marriages to be based on harmony and love, oneness, relationship and union, not on sex.
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. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 391)
Instead of going straight to divorce when our sex lives are no longer fulfilling, every relationship needs to have a grace period; where couples take some time away from each other. In this dispensation, Baha’u’llah has given us a great tool called the “year of patience”, which, if used properly, can help restore marriages. It’s a wonderful opportunity for taking a “time out” to work on issues that are eroding the marriage and could lead to divorce. It’s a safety valve, which, when used in a timely fashion, could give both parties time away to work on their own issues.
During that time, they live apart:
The parties to a divorce must live apart in separate residences during the year of waiting. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 397)
No sex is possible and if they have sex, they must seek God’s forgiveness and pay a fine:
Sexual intercourse between husband and wife is forbidden during their year of patience, and whoso committeth this act must seek God’s forgiveness, and, as a punishment, render to the House of Justice a fine of nineteen mithqals of gold. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 110)
At today’s rate (Aug 2013), nineteen mithqals of gold is worth US $3062! That’s a LOT of money for a few minutes of pleasure!
This law is not yet incumbent on the people of the west, but nevertheless, the principle stands!
Also, if a couple has sex with each other during that time, the year of patience is over.
Any cohabitation of the parties stops the running of the year of waiting. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 397)
It can start again, of course! If the couple has really decided to give up on the marriage and are ready to divorce, this could delay the granting of the Bahá’í divorce if they have to start over.
The House of Justice has given couples some tools to use during the time apart. Here are some quotes to consider:
Your letter of … to the Universal House of Justice makes clear that you are seeking to re-establish your marriage through study of the Writings and through various modes of consultation and assistance. We are asked to convey its advice on this vital subject of reconciliation of partners in marriage in the context of understanding of yourself and your relationship to others. You are urged to persevere in your studies, in your prayers for resolution of your problems, and in your meditation which may provide guidance and confidence, inasmuch as the understanding of self and of relationships to others are contained in the Writings and in the example of the Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.
Neither you nor your husband should hesitate to continue consulting professional marriage counsellors, individually and together if possible, and also to take advantage of the supportive counselling which can come from wise and mature friends. Non-Bahá’í counselling can be useful but it is usually necessary to temper it with Bahá’í insight.
You ask how to deal with anger. The House of Justice suggests that you call to mind the admonitions found in our Writings on the need to overlook the shortcomings of others; to forgive and conceal their misdeeds, not to expose their bad qualities, but to search for and affirm their praiseworthy ones, and to endeavour to be always forbearing, patient, and merciful.
Such passages as the following extracts from letters written on behalf of the beloved Guardian will be helpful: There are qualities in everyone which we can appreciate and admire, and for which we can love them; and perhaps, if you determine to think only of these qualities which your husband possesses, this will help to improve the situation ….
You should turn your thoughts away from the things which upset you, and constantly pray to Bahá’u’lláh to help you. Then you will find how that pure love, enkindled by God, which burns in the soul when we read and study the Teachings, will warm and heal, more than anything else.
Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being “perfect as our heavenly father is perfect” and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)
From these quotes we learn that the following requirements are our responsibility during the year of patience:
- Prayer and studying and meditating on the Writings
- understand yourself and your relationship to others
- look to the example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
- consulting professional marriage counsellors, individually and together
- take advantage of the supportive counselling from wise and mature friends
- temper non-Bahá’í counselling with Bahá’í insight
- deal with anger
- overlook the shortcomings of others
- forgive and conceal their misdeeds
- search for and affirm their praiseworthy deeds instead of exposing their bad qualities
- be forbearing, patient, and merciful
- think only of the qualities we can appreciate and admire
- turn your thoughts away from the things which upset you
- focus all of your will-power and energy on perfecting your own life and character
If we sincerely strive towards each of these things, chances are good that our marriages will be strengthened thereby. If we add sex to the mix, it makes the other things much harder, which no doubt, is why Baha’u’llah has forbidden it.