In an earlier MuslimMatters article titled My Husband Is Not As Practicing As Me, the Shaykha shared her spiritual advice about what Muslim women can do about husbands who are not as religious as they are. She provided some suggestions for Muslim women who are concerned about both their faith and their husbands can handle this situation.
While the suggestions offered can indeed help women whose husband’s lack of religiosity does not significantly impact their overall physical or emotional well-being, it is worth adding that when it impacts women who have witnessed or experienced difficult or abusive marital relationships, we need to offer some important exceptions. So, here, with My Husband Is Not As Practicing As Me: Part II, we hope to address these very real concerns.
These women have heard the usual trope of “be patient and please your husband” from family and community members, and feel drained and lose hope in their situation. Women whose husbands are alcoholics, addicted to porn, have extramarital affairs, or their income is haraam may feel as if they are told to smile indulgently and play pretend to ensure harmony. These women are all too familiar with the community’s response telling them to pray and be patient, while feeling betrayed by the lack of fairness. They wonder, why is the bar so low for men? Why is the onus on women to do something about their husband’s religiosity?
As a Muslim therapist who specializes in women’s issues -particularly abuse and emotional neglect-, I wanted to share an alternative perspective.
Women over the generations have been taught to feed their husband’s insecurities in the name of respect and obedience. They have been taught to sacrifice their own needs, stay, and keep giving, which has been found to perpetuate abusive patterns over the generations. Children are confused spiritually and their mothers are left severely depressed. In order to resolve the problem, instead of focusing on supporting and empowering the husband, these women need to consider the long-term needs of the entire family.
In an ideal world, we want to have a family and a marriage that is grounded upon shared beliefs and values that unite us under the banner of Islam. However, living in the West has taught us that our religion is a private matter and that we are on our own when it comes to our tarbiya (development). When the husband, the qawwam of the family, is not upon the faith, or uses religion as a self-serving mechanism, it can have devastating effects on the entire family.
Instead of protecting and providing, some husbands will dump their responsibilities and feelings onto their wives and children. On top of that, there may be physical, financial, sexual, and psychological abuse that adds the weight of harm and strains each family member. Husbands who are addicted to porn, gambling, or affairs, not only damage the marital relationship, but erode and violate the sanctity of the home.
As fathers, these men set poor examples for their children, and asking women to continue teaching children to respect their fathers can feel like an attack on their reality. These children may grow up to mistrust both parents, or all authority figures, and feel confused about their parents’ misalignment while learning to take advantage of the differences. Children can learn that there is no justice, that their needs and feelings don’t matter, that emotional closeness is impossible, and that one must continue to suffer helplessly or escape, and these beliefs can distort their view of all of their future relationships.
If you or someone you know is in this situation, I would have you ask yourself the following questions:
What is the extent of the difference in values between spouses?
Not every situation is black and white. Maybe the wife is not as practicing as she thinks she is and both share the same level of religiosity. Maybe the differences are minor, but there are major shared values (i.e. agreeing on the way children are raised, how money is spent, etc). But when the differences are so pronounced that there are major disagreements, and this negatively impacts the family on a daily basis, alternative solutions need to be applied.
What is the extent of harm based on the individual needs of the family?
How is the problem affecting both husband and wife in terms of their mental health? Are there children involved? What are their specific needs? Are the needs of the most vulnerable members of the family being met? Could the situation be alleviated if the wife went to work, if the family moved closer to extended family, or sought external help or support? What are the long-term effects of leaving versus staying?
Is the husband willing to work on himself?
If your husband is willing to attend therapy or a self-development program, then this can help to clarify and address the root of the problem. However, if he is unwilling to engage in a necessary level of self-examination and intervention, how does that affect the family? Is he open to the wife or kids attending therapy? Can the wife take any temporary measures to protect herself or seek assistance from family members or friends while he is recovering?
What can a woman really do?
While each situation is unique and the solution may depend on the individual needs of the family, here are some general suggestions for women:
- You cannot change or fix your spouse.
Women are often taught that they are responsible if the marriage fails, and it is they who carry the stigma of divorce, which is why there is more pressure on them to make it work. However, women can only do their part according to their individual capabilities and limitations. We cannot plant the seeds of willingness for someone who is unwilling. Instead we can learn to accept the reality of the situation and choose to respond appropriately.
- Forbid evil.
Women are often taught to stay in relationships no matter what, and allow the harmful actions of others “for the sake of the marriage”. However, we can encourage women to protect themselves and their vulnerable children from the harmful actions of others. When we fail to forbid evil in the home, then it is no surprise why children repeat the same patterns within their own lives. Seek knowledge from professionals and Islamic scholars about how and when to forbid evil.
- Be grounded in your own values.
We owe obedience to Allahbefore anyone else, and we can continue to be steadfast and firm with our Islamic values. When others prevent us from practicing our faith, we need to set boundaries and assertively communicate what is and what is not acceptable to us.
- Take care of yourself.
Remind yourself that you are human and that you also have needs (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual, etc). When we continue to focus on another person, we neglect ourselves. Continue to choose healthy ways to feed your mind, body, and soul.
- Speak to a therapist.
Speak to a culturally-competent therapist who can provide insight into the problem and empower you to make the best decision for yourself and your family. Maybe divorce is right for you, but maybe there is still hope in healing or the opportunity to find new meaning in the relationship.
It is important to mention, that as religion in our society becomes more privatized, we will need to broaden our understanding of marriages that are outside the norm and find authentic solutions. Though we continue to strive towards having partners with shared Islamic values who continue to do the psychological and spiritual work with us, that may not always be guaranteed in the long term. Yes, a marriage based on shared Islamic OR secular values, such as compassion, integrity, justice, or honesty CAN work. However, when a partner has significantly conflicting or self-serving values, it can create a negative environment for all that are involved. It is important to seek help and the support of family, friends and professionals when navigating this difficult situation, and Allahknows best!
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Source: Muslim Matters