One day I got an email from a coaching client, which said:
I’m tired of trying to work out the problems in our marriage. My wife can look after the divorce papers that I will sign and she can write to the LSA and ask them to backdate the year of patience.
No can do!
Wanting to flee is a normal response, but as a Baha’i there are certain steps which must be followed.
The two of you can start the year of patience, but to initiate divorce proceedings now is totally against the purpose of the year of patience. The purpose of that time is to attempt to reconcile your difference.
During the year the couple have the responsibility of attempting to reconcile their differences. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 390)
It is always the hope that, during the year of patience, affection between the couple will recur and that divorce will not be necessary. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 394)
Attempts at reconciliation should continue during the year of waiting. Divorce, though permitted in the Bahá’í Faith, is abhorred and it is the hope that during the year of waiting the couple may become reconciled and divorce avoided. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 396)
I respect the fact that you’re both exhausted by the process, and yet, I know that both of your efforts towards unity have made the Concourse on High very happy.
You’ve only just started to look at the issues with more personal honesty and vulnerability, and there is still (and more) hope that with your honesty, things can be turned around.
The House of Justice gives us some tools to use during that time. It includes:
- studying the Writings
- prayer and meditation
- dealing with anger
- overlooking the shortcomings and focusing on the good qualities
- perfecting our own life and character
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. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)
Here in this quote, they talk about the necessity of using this time for understanding yourself and your relationship to others. You’re starting to do this, and I applaud your efforts. Nothing in your life will be more important than this.
Your wife is doing this too, by working with me, and on her career, and by hanging in with this process and being willing to learn more about the issues that plague you. You are both to be commended.
Now you can look towards the end of the quote, where it says that meditation on the Writings will provide guidance and confidence in learning more about yourself and your relationships to others. If you hang in with me, I will continue to point you in the direction of Writings that will help.
This quote talks about using this time to persevere in your studies. You are doing this by learning a new job, as is your wife by completing her studies.
This quote talks about praying for the resolution of your problems, which you have done, and will need to continue to do so, preferably together, for as long as it takes, remembering that God wants this marriage to continue, and He knows that by hanging in with the process He’s outlined, you will both grow spiritually.
We live in a world where we expect instant results but God doesn’t work that way. He often tests us to the very breaking point, to the last dregs of our endurance, before answering, so it may take you the whole year before you see results. Hang in with the process for the whole year! It’s a divinely ordained process, designed to work, so please, give it a chance.
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. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)
This quote talks about consulting professional marriage counsellors. I am not that! Is there one you’ve tried before that you could go back to?
It also talks about tempering it with Bahá’í insight, which is what I bring to the table, and am willing to continue to do so.
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. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)
This quote gives us an example of what the House was talking about earlier – in terms of meditation on the Writings to help you understand yourself and your relationships to others, and identifies the spiritual principles you need to apply every time you get angry:
- overlook the shortcomings of others
- conceal their misdeeds
- not to expose their bad qualities
- to search for and affirm their praiseworthy ones
- to endeavour to be always forbearing, patient, and merciful
This doesn’t happen by reading the quote, or by praying for it. It only happens every single time you are angry and choose to apply one of these principles. This could take a whole year to learn right there! And it can’t be learned if you don’t hang in with each other. We’re given the tests, to strengthen the virtues. Walking away from the marriage now, will stunt your growth in this area and a whole lot more.
We live in a culture which suggests we fall in love and live happily together ever after, but as you’ve found out, this isn’t the reality. In a Bahá’í marriage, we choose the partner to do our soul work with, so that we can live together through all the worlds of God, which means we grow together; and grow stronger together through tests.
You both still love each other, and you’re tired with the process. I get that!
You also have a real opportunity here to work through these issues, and be one of the couples who stay together. You have a real opportunity here to beat the divorce statistics. I hope you take it!
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 …. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)
This applies equally to the qualities your wife possesses too . . .
When you learn to focus on the positive, to root out the positive, to see the positive even amidst the negative, this WILL improve the situation. The Guardian has said so, so please give it a try. Like any new skill, this will have to be used many times, over and over until it becomes a habit, and when it becomes a habit, you will be happier in all areas of your life too.
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. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)
Here you’re being asked to turn your thoughts away from the things which upset you. This will be a real challenge for you, because you’ve been obsessing over the problems for so long you can’t see the changes your wife and daughter have made. Now that you know the reasons that led to some of the problems, you’ve got a real opportunity to focus on solutions, but you can only do it through conscious choice to use the tools for dealing with anger above, combined with this quote about turning away from the things that upset you.
You want the pure love that used to exist between you and your wife, and this Writing tells you that reading and studying the Teachings will warm and heal more than anything else. This is why I urge you both so strongly to continue to do this together.
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)
As this quote suggests, your job in the coming year is to perfect your own life and character, and to focus all your attention, will-power and energy on doing this.
My suggestion is that you make this a promise to your wife, and give her permission to call you on it, every time you stray off course.
There is hope for your marriage, so please hang in there!
As the House of Justice said in this year’s Ridvan Message:
Have hope. It will not always be so.
How have you overcome the desire for instant gratification during a year of patience? How has this helped you “hang on” a little longer? Post your comments below!