This morning someone asked the following question:
I know that Baha’u’llah came for the unity of mankind and suffered so much so that we can all live in harmony, peace, and tolerance. When reaching a decision to separate and maybe even divorce, how can I play my part as a Bahá’í to bring about that unity, as expected by His Holiness Baha’u’llah, if I can’t even keep the unity of my marriage?
This question really touched a nerve, because believe me, I’ve asked myself this very question ever since my decision to divorce.
Obviously this question – to divorce or not – has to be resolved by the individual as circumstances vary so much.
You might find this article helpful: How Do We Know When it’s Time to Divorce
I want to start by stating clearly that marriages which involve abuse have a different standard:
If a Bahá’í woman suffers abuse or is subjected to rape by her husband, she has the right to turn to the Spiritual Assembly for assistance and counsel, or to seek legal protection. Such abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage, and could well lead to a condition of irreconcilable antipathy. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)
There are situations in which the behavior of some family member(s) jeopardizes the physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual health and well-being of others to such an extent, and there is so little indication that the abusive behavior will abate, that there may be no other recourse than for the abused party or parties to withdraw from the destructive relationship, temporarily or indefinitely. Although individuals should strive to be forgiving and forbearing for whatever injuries were inflicted in the past, no one is obliged to submit to further abuse. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 121)
Here are some thoughts (for marriages that do not involve abuse):
In the Tablet of Ahmad we are told:
Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 210)
As we remember His days, we often think of His life as a prisoner which He freely allowed:
The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99)
There are certain virtues which we need to develop in this world; one of which is “long suffering”. Learning how to find love in a loveless marriage is one way we can develop this virtue. We can look at staying in such a marriage as consenting to stay in our own prison.
Just as Baha’u’llah didn’t just accept His fate and wallow in self-pity, but instead won the respect of all His jailors and everyone who came in contact with Him, so too are we called on to do this in our marriages.
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, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 458)
I think many of us bail out when things become difficult or intolerable, thinking that we have to solve the problems ourselves, forgetting to take them to God.
Many of us have made our spouses our primary relationship, instead of developing a relationship to God. As a result, we are remote from both our spouses and from God as illustrated in the following diagram:
You might find this article helpful: Relationships Without God at the Core
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.
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)
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)
Shoghi Effendi tells us we have to rise above such considerations as physical attraction or sexual compatibility and harmony:
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. 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.
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)
This isn’t what God wants for us! He wants us to make a decision to stay, just as He consented to allow Himself to be a prisoner. To make sure we understand the urgency and importance of staying, He tells us:
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)
How do we transform a loveless marriage?
We need to learn new skills including:
Become profoundly aware of the sanctity of marriage:
Bahá’ís should be profoundly aware of the sanctity of marriage . . . (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456-457)
Draw on the power of prayer and consultation:
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)
Draw on spiritual powers:
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, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 458)
Become inspired by the Divine standard, relying on God’s unfailing assistance and confirmations:
The Guardian will most fervently pray that, inspired and guided by such a divine standard, and strengthened by Bahá’u’lláh’s unfailing assistance and confirmations, you may be able to satisfactorily adjust your relations with the persons concerned, and thus reach the one right solution to this assuredly challenging problem of your life. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 446)
Subordinate the physical to the moral; the carnal to the spiritual:
Only when these different values are given each their due importance, and only on the basis of the subordination of the physical to the moral, and the carnal to the spiritual, can such excesses and laxity in marital relations as our decadent age is so sadly witnessing be avoided, and family life be restored to its original purity, and fulfil the true function for which it has been instituted by God. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 446)
Give love through effort, sacrifice, wisdom and self-abnegation:
Bahá’ís 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)
Create harmony in our homes:
Bahá’u’lláh has laid great emphasis on the sanctity of marriage, and the believers should exert their utmost to create harmony in their homes and a situation which at least is not bad for their children. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 448)
Love the other person so he can love us back:
The following quote talks about our relationship to God, and since God is in all of us, I think it applies to our relationships to each other as well.
Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 5)
Reconcile our differences and forgive:
Now that you realize that your husband is ill, you should be able to reconcile yourself to the difficulties you have faced with him emotionally, and not take an unforgiving attitude, however much you may suffer. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 227)
Think of the future of our children:
He was very sorry to hear that you and your husband are still so unhappy together. 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)
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)
Understand that our desire for happiness often leads to 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)
Sometimes the course may seem very hard, but one can witness, again and again, that the soul who steadfastly obeys the Law of Bahá’u’lláh, however hard it may seem, grows spiritually, while the one who compromises with the law for the sake of his own apparent happiness is seen to have been following a chimera: he does not attain the happiness he sought, he retards his spiritual advance and often brings new problems upon himself. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 359)
Stop using service to the Cause as a reason to not work on the marriage:
Shoghi Effendi wishes me to add this note in connection with your marriage; he does not feel that any believer, under any circumstances whatsoever, can ever use the Cause or service to it as a reason for abandoning their marriage. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 392)
Be patient in waiting for the fragrance of affection to be renewed
Should resentment or antipathy arise between husband and wife, he is not to divorce her but to bide in patience throughout the course of one whole year, that perchance the fragrance of affection may be renewed between them. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 43)
Take time to cool down and reflect, which may involve a year of waiting:
It is understood that two Bahá’ís who reach the point of strain where they feel a divorce is necessary need time to cool down and reflect, which is, of course, the purpose of the year of waiting. (Universal House of Justice, USA National Spiritual Assembly Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Ch. 13 – Divorce; Revised September 2011)
Make a consecrated and determined effort:
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. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 458)
Make a prolonged effort:
As you know, in the Bahá’í Faith, divorce is discouraged and should be resorted to only when a prolonged effort to effect reconciliation has been unsuccessful. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 458)
Make a superhuman effort:
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)
Try again to rise to this test:
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. In the case of pioneers, it is even more important, because they are before the public eye. However, in such matters it is neither befitting nor right that the Guardian should bring pressure on individuals. He can only appeal to you and… to try again; but if you cannot rise to this test, that is naturally a personal matter. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 393)
Don’t give up:
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)
Here’s a summary of the skills we need to learn. You can use it as a checklist:
- Draw on spiritual powers
- Understand and become inspired by the Divine Standard
- Become profoundly aware of the sanctity of marriage
- Rely on God’s unfailing assistance and confirmations
- Subordinate the physical to the moral; the carnal to the spiritual
- Understand it takes effort, sacrifice, wisdom and self-abnegation
- Create harmony in our homes
- Love the other person so they can love you back
- Draw on the power of prayer
- Spiritual transformation
- Seek guidance in the Bahá’í Writings
- Explore creative solutions to problems
- Request assistance from Bahá’í institutions and/or professional counselors as necessary.
- Stay when we want to give up
- Reconcile our differences
- Make a superhuman effort
- Try again to rise to this test
- Think of the future of our children
- Our desire for happiness often leads to frustration and disillusion
- Stop using service to the Cause as a reason to not work on the marriage
- Patience in waiting for the fragrance of affection to be renewed
- Take time to cool down and reflect, which may involve a year of waiting
- Make a concentrated and determined effort over a long time
Learn how to Receive Love:
Learning to love is only part of the equation. We also need to learn how to receive love.
Gary Chapman, in his ground breaking book “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts” teaches that we all have different ways to give and receive love:
- quality time
- words of affirmation
- acts of service
- physical touch
When we have different love languages, there are so many opportunities for misunderstandings.
If you are someone who needs to spend quality time together; and your spouse tells you every day he loves you, and then busies himself at work or in front of the TV or cell phone, so that you feel ignored, his love will never reach you and he will never understand why.
If you are someone who needs sex and your spouse is someone who needs acts of service, there will be a big disconnect when your partner turns away. He will feel punished because he didn’t take out the garbage, and won’t understand why sex doesn’t make it all better.
Click here to take a quiz to discover the way you prefer to give and receive love.
What stood out for you as you read this? Post your comments here: