Divorce can bring out the worst and best of us. Here are 10 positive things I learned:
1. I am beautiful.
I was a tomboy, a late bloomer. For a long time, I wasn’t particularly interested in ‘beauty’. By the time I hit my mid-teens and started caring, I was already insecure about how I looked, especially since I still had embarrassing bouts of acne and baby fat on my cheeks. I got married at 18, and it took quite a bit of convincing from my then-husband for me to eventually believe that I was, in fact, pretty – and more than that, beautiful. Marriage gave me the freedom to explore aspects of beautification that I had avoided out of embarrassment, and to grow into both my body and positive self-image. I will always appreciate and be grateful for the fact that my ex was the one who coaxed me out of my shell and made me both comfortable and proud of my physical beauty.
2. Being flawed doesn’t make you evil.
By the time I recognised that my marriage was toxic, I had come to resent my then-husband. Often, I conflated his flaws and faults with him as a person, and had some very unpleasant things to say about him. It was a struggle to realise and remember that he wasn’t evil; he had his own inner demons and baggage that he was wrestling with, and while it didn’t excuse his behaviour, it didn’t mean that he was all bad. It just made him painfully human – like me.
3. Just because it isn’t true love, doesn’t mean it isn’t love.
I spent a great deal of time conflicted over the nature of my feelings for him. As his wife, wasn’t I supposed to be truly in love with him? How could I think that I loved him when I knew that I wasn’t going to be spending the rest of my life with him? While we grow up hearing about how we’ll meet our one true love, nobody really tells you that sometimes, you’ll find yourself loving someone who isn’t your one true love – and that’s okay. Allah (SWT) has put you in that situation for a reason, and it is very often a blessing. There are many more types and shades of love than we are taught, and it is a blessing to experience them.
4. Unrequited love is painful even for the one who doesn’t love you back.
Perhaps one of the worst feelings I ever experienced was knowing that he loved me more than I loved him. It was brutal, it was harsh, and it made me feel like the worst person on earth. It’s the unrequited lover who usually gains everyone’s sympathy – the story of Barirah and Mughith is quite apt – but to know that you aren’t the right person for the one who loves you with all his (or her) heart is an incredibly painful feeling, especially when you do care about them deeply.
5. Remember the good, not just the bad.
There’s an infamous hadith that mentions women who become so upset that they forget the good that has happened to them. Having been in a situation where it was tempting – and easy – to overlook the bright spots in favour of brooding on the dark times, I can say that gratefulness to Allah I goes a long way in healing painful wounds. Even in deeply unhappy situations, there can still be moments of small happinesses, little joys and pleasant memories; things to think back to and smile about (even if that smile is a little sad). Don’t let the bitterness completely overcome the traces of sweetness left.
6. You don’t stop caring just because you’re divorced.
My marriage ended slowly and agonisingly, and my divorce was painful; to be horribly honest, it was probably worse for him than it was for me. Yet although I was elated and relieved to be divorced, I wasn’t able to stop caring for him entirely. After years of being together, in a relationship that was unique despite its turbulence, it’s impossible to just throw out the feelings of tenderness and compassion and to feel apathetic. Even though we are Islamically non-mahram to each other and will have minimal contact for the rest of our lives, there will always be a part of me that worries about him and hopes that he will be really, truly happy. The heart doesn’t have an on/off switch, so don’t expect it to.
7. Don’t be tempted.
Some nights, when you wake up suddenly in the middle of the night and roll over in search of a warm, comforting body, you’ll realise with a lurch that they aren’t there anymore. Some days, you’ll find yourself daydreaming about what if…? What if you went back and things changed? What if you want to stay in touch with him/her and you’ll find that s/he’s not so bad, after all? Don’t go there.
In many cases (I would venture to say most), the person you divorced is going to be the same person they were when you were married. Unless you both actively choose and commit to try again, with marriage counselling and a firm decision to resolve the issues that caused your marriage to end in the first place, don’t be tempted to fantasise about Happily Ever After, v. 2.0 with the same person. Instead, trust in Allah (SWT) that He will give you both what you actually need.
8. Toxic relationships are real. Unfortunately, few of us learn about – or know how to identify – toxic relationships in the many lectures and books we’ll devour prior to marriage. However, it is something necessary to learn about in order to be aware of unhealthy behavioural patterns that may emerge in your marriage, whether it’s coming from you or from your spouse. It doesn’t matter what cultural background you’re from, toxic relationships are real and can become worse – even abusive – if not recognised and dealt with as soon as possible.
Some people conflate sabr (patience) with enduring an unhealthy marriage without striving for resolution or positive change, but the Qur’an describes the marital bond as being one of love, mercy and compassion. A marriage that lacks these qualities can be detrimental to one’s iman (faith), and should not be left to fester.
9. It won’t end well.
Sometimes, even if we really want to have the kind of amicable divorce where everyone conducts themselves with politeness and respect and maybe even friendly cooperation, it’s not so easy for the other party to share that vision – and sometimes, it’s just impossible.
Whether you’re the one who initiated the divorce or the one who received the news of it, the pain and inner torment of it all can be too much to shelve away neatly and go on as though none of it matters. Some of us are able to acknowledge our emotions and move on, and some of us aren’t. It can get nasty. It can get even more painful, but at the end of the day, we have to realise that as much as it would be much more convenient for things to go smoothly between you and your former spouse, it just might never reach the point of being an amicable divorce. Once again, this is a time to turn to Allah (SWT) and make du’a for the other person (even if we really, really don’t like them right now) that He I ease their pain and yours.
10. Divorce can make you a better person.
The struggles – and the good times – that you shared with your ex-spouse all took place for a reason. Allah (SWT) tests those whom He loves, and divorce is just one of those trials and tribulations in life that we can emerge from as stronger Muslims and better people.
Not only are we given the opportunity to turn to Allah (SWT) with a broken heart and find healing in the Words of Ash-Shaafi, the Healer, but we are also now equipped with life skills that will help us recognise our own faults and shortcomings. We are also, insha Allah, better able to understand and empathise with the ex-spouse, which is an excellent reminder of the importance of humbleness and forgiveness (and how hard they both are to truly embody.)
Divorce is undoubtedly a difficult, unpleasant life experience, and there’s no way to really put a positive spin on it, but there are ways to recognise the blessings that accompany every fitnah (trial) in life and to benefit from them, knowing them to be a part of the journey to Jannah, insha Allah.
Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while such [trial] has not yet come to you as came to those who passed on before you? (Al-Baqarah:214)
Anonymous went through a divorce after four years of a difficult marriage, and maintains that it was the best decision she has ever made, and a blessing from Allah (SWT). She hopes that she has emerged as a stronger believer.