By Madiha Tahseen, Ph.D.
More than 50% of Muslims report at least one significant marital issue (Chapman & Cattaneo, 2013). The reality is divorce amongst Muslim Americans has greatly increased in the last 25 years (ISPU, 2012). So if you are struggling with some conflict in your marriage, how do you know if it’s healthy conflict or requires more attention and may point to divorce? What steps can you take if you’re not sure how to move forward in your relationship?
Recognize that divorce is a personal decision between two people.You may get a lot of advice from loved ones around you about your relationship. Some of this will be helpful but some of this is noise–unnecessary feedback that may be driven by stigma, cultural pressure, and a desire to “save face”. Try as much as possible to block out the unhelpful feedback–you and your spouse are the only two who can wholly grasp the full picture concerning your relationship. Be honest with yourself and your spouse. Seek out marriage mentors. Ensure that the advice you are getting is healthy for your relationship by soliciting advice from married couples you actually want to emulate. Do they tear down their spouses? Have they gone through conflict? Do they share your values and beliefs about marriage and life in general?
Take an inventory of your marriage.Evaluate the state of your marriage–marriage assessments are great tools that help you become aware of warning signs and really dig into your relationship. Even if your partner is not willing to take these steps, you can still try the tools yourself so you can get your own internal assessment of the state of your marriage.
Engage in muhasaba–or self-reflection to hold yourself accountable. As you evaluate your marriage, ask yourself “What is my role in this relationship? “What am I contributing to the conflict in this relationship?” “How is my past impacting my interactions and experiences in this marriage?”
Brainstorm next steps for your relationship.Consider “Healing Separation” – This is structured time apart or a “trial separation” in which the married couple lives separately but both spouses are dedicated to working on themselves and the relationship. Trying this kind of separation can take some pressure off the relationship, give space for each partner to grow, transform the relationship, or end it on amicable terms.
Try out discernment counseling —a short-term counseling option that can help you come up with some different routes for your relationship: maintain the relationship as it is, separate/divorce, or commit to 6 months of couples therapy in order to really work on the relationship.
“And of His signs is that He created for you, from yourselves, spouses so that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you love and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for people who reflect.” [Qur’an 30:21]
As Allah (swt) references in this ayah, make sure to show Rahmah throughout this process. Discuss your problems gently with each other. Instead of bringing up issues in a way that attacks your spouse, bring them up without blame, negativity, and judgment. Use statements with “I” instead of “you” so that you can focus on what you feel and need, without attacking your spouse.
Divorce is not a linear process— you don’t just move from a troubled marriage to getting a divorce. Some couples waffle back and forth before getting a divorce. Other couples may, through support and counseling, move into reconciliation and healing. Either way, if you are struggling in your marriage, trying the strategies we’ve described may help you come to a decision that is healthy for everyone. For much more information, please refer to The FYI’s Divorce Support Toolkit. May Allah (swt) grant strength and perseverance to all of our struggling couples and families.
For more resources from The FYI on this topic, check out our article, Divorce: From Stigma to Support, and The FYI’s Divorce Support Toolkit. Be sure to also check out The FYI’s Infographic, Marital Conflict and Road to Success.