Imagine your daughter received these messages from her husband:
Married and Divorced Before 30
It wasn’t the usual suspects – there was no cheating, no drugs, and no violence.
Then what was it? Why was the marriage so bad that we couldn’t stay together and try to make it work beyond the 2 years?
This is the question I’ve been asking myself ever since we both signed the divorce papers six months ago.
And here’s what I found…
If you want a one-word summary, here it is: Patriarchy.
If you want the full story, read on.
I divorced a culture that refused to accept me as I am – a bold, well-educated, thinking woman. I divorced a family that refused to respect men and women equally. I divorced a system that breeds anger, abuse, instability, and disharmony within families.
I divorced a culture that wouldn’t let me create the kind of relationship and marriage I know is possible. And I divorced the patriarchal pattern that has oppressed the women in our families for centuries.
As part of the first generation of educated women in my family, I had to take a stand and say, “This has to stop.” I owed it to all the women who came before me, whether they know it or not, and for the sake of my unborn children. And I even owed it to the men in my family who struggled against all odds to help create the life I lead today. They all did their best given their own circumstances. But there is so much more work to be done in our homes, families, and communities.
I knew that if I wasn’t part of the solution, I was part of the problem. I found myself at a crossroads: I had to choose between the marriage I had wanted more than anything else and my sanity. Choosing to divorce my best friend of 10 years was the most difficult decision of my life, but this was the sacrifice required to birth a new consciousness and hope for systematic change.
Death of the Old, Birth of the New
I had long outgrown the world we both grew up in, where marriage is a relationship between a powerful, authoritative husband and a supportive wife.
Days after our engagement, my father-in-law asked if I knew how to cook. I glanced at my husband who knew the truth, giggled a little and then replied, “No… I don’t.”
My father-in-law’s face became stern. “Women should know how to cook.” I was terrified.
When I came home and told my parents, they didn’t think it was a big deal, and responded, “Why are you so upset about what he said? You already know how to cook.”
I knew they didn’t get it. They didn’t understand how demeaning it was that I was expected to know how to cook simply because I am a woman. They didn’t care that my father-in-law was putting me in “my place” even before I married his son. Not surprisingly, my husband-to-be didn’t say anything to his father at the time either. It’s all part of the patriarchal system.
In this world, it is believed that men cannot control their anger and women are created more patient to endure it. It is also believed that women should contribute to the household income but never expect men to help with household chores. Our fathers were rulers and our mothers were guardians of the patriarchal pattern. The pattern continues unconsciously generation after generation until one individual outgrows the rigid gender roles and refuses to follow suit.
Despite living in the same city as my birth family and my in-laws, I’ve never felt more alone in my entire life than I did during the two years of marriage. The conflict areas were no different than other newly married couples: finances, in-laws, careers, and shared responsibilities. I knocked on every door – family, friends, and the community – but no one wanted to talk about the mental, emotional, and verbal abuse that goes on in their homes. I was told “It’s just words and he doesn’t really mean it” and that I need to “learn to be silent” and “forgive and forget.”
It was more than words; it was a pattern. It’s the abusive mentality founded on the belief that men are superior to women. This is the essence of patriarchy and it continues to live on through abusive marriages, marked by the imbalance of power between the husband and wife. The husband seeks power and control through every interaction with his wife. She is never allowed to question his decisions and is punished for even expressing disagreement.
I was never considered an equal partner in my marriage; always less important, less intelligent, less influential, less deserving, less worthy, and less in every way. Our families considered me to be “too much” – too needy, too emotional, too demanding, too expressive, too articulate, too argumentative, too dramatic, and my mother-in-law even called me “mental.” These were all patriarchal attempts to perpetually silence me, break me down psychologically, instill self-doubt, and keep me in my place in the old world.
Even though my husband’s income would sufficiently support both us, he forced me to ask my parents for grocery money for 6 months until I found a job and started to earn my own money. He didn’t want to pay for groceries and justified it by saying that he is paying for our rent. This is financial abuse: he had more power in our marriage than I did and therefore I had to adhere to his demands. I would have never even thought to do this if the roles were reversed and he was the one who wasn’t employed.
When we got married, my husband never cooked, cleaned, or did any domestic chores. Asking him to take out the trash on his way out resulted in hours of arguing that ended with me taking out the trash. At the end of our marriage, he said I should at least appreciate that he does his own laundry (unlike his older brother who still lives at home and has his mother do it for him).
My mother-in-law also supported my husband’s superior position by telling me to get our groceries on my own time instead of when we’re together on a Sunday afternoon. When I told her that I couldn’t carry all the groceries home, she said I should go twice instead of asking my husband to come with me. My husband was not raised to be a team player. He was raised to be an entitled man who believes it is his right to control and dominate his wife simply because she is a woman.
Our families reinforced this pattern when we went over for meals. He was treated like a king and I was treated like a second-class citizen. He would always be served first at every meal and our conversations were centered around his work, goals, and hobbies. I was there simply as his cheering squad. No one was ever interested in what I thought or felt or what my hobbies were. And because my husband was so blinded by the system, he never saw the imbalance in any of these situations. He reaped all the benefits and then blamed me for being too sensitive. I always knew that our families didn’t value me as much as they valued him. But slowly, I realized that even he valued himself more than he valued me. This was the reason he didn’t honor my thoughts or my feelings, particularly when they conflicted with his own.
At the time, it felt like the whole world was against me. In hindsight, it was the old world contracting like a womb to push me forward into the new world. My soul was called upon to break the patriarchal pattern in our families and that’s why there was no one there to hold my hand through this process. I had to learn to trust myself more than anyone else.
Even after months of therapy, reading countless books, and connecting with other abused women, I am still adjusting to my new identity. I lost my best friend of 10 years and my entire world has been shaken up due to the divorce. Letting him go was the only thing I could have done since men with the abusive mentality can only outgrow it when the desire to do so comes from within and even then, it takes 2+ years of daily effort put towards changing foundational beliefs and attitudes towards women. I let him go with the hope that he will eventually recognize and overcome the patriarchal pattern and take birth in the new world.
Rebirthing oneself into the new world is painful – perhaps even more painful than birth where we at least have our mothers pushing forward with us and most often our fathers eagerly awaiting our arrival. Rebirth is a solo journey into an unknown darkness, lit only by the light of your own soul. There’s no doubt that I came out crying, aching, screaming, and gasping for air. But I’m starting to feel more at home in the new world than I ever did in the old world.
In the new world, marriage is a loving partnership between two individuals who see themselves as equal partners. Here, two people get married to intimately know and increasingly serve one another and the world together. In these marriages, both partners continuously polish their own hearts so that they can give and receive more love as part of their commitment to their own spiritual growth.
Most importantly, in these marriages, both partners know that conflict is a necessary part of every close relationship. In this world, the purpose of conflict is not to declare war on each other and claim victory for oneself and nor is it to determine who is right and wrong. Instead, the purpose of conflict in this world is to know one another even more than before and work together to create a common understanding. These couples know that conflict brings the greatest opportunities to strengthen their bond, and that is why they are fully committed to respectfully discussing difficult emotions and differing perspectives. This is the essence of their commitment to each other and to the success of their marriage.
Parents teach their children about marriage since the day they are born.
The most important way is by how they act in their own marriage. From a very early age, these interactions are deeply imprinted on children’s minds and form their understanding of what is normal and acceptable in marriage.
Children not only observe parents’ behaviors, but they also internalize their beliefs. For a young boy, his father models how men should treat women. When a boy sees his father routinely make unilateral family decisions without consulting his mother and always have the final word on all important matters, he learns that men are superior to women. Once this foundational belief is established, he also believes that men are more intelligent and capable than women and therefore, a man’s needs are more important.
When the young boy sees his father verbally abuse and disrespect his mother, he assumes that marriage is a partnership between a powerful, authoritative husband and an obedient wife. He observes that conflict typically only arises when his mother disagrees with his father or stands up for herself and then concludes that the marriage and the home would be more peaceful if she would quit doing that. The father’s sense of entitlement is inherited by the son and further strengthened by his mother’s coddling.
In a broken marriage, the mother often attempts to oust her husband by elevating the son’s role and looking to the son for approval and validation. This only makes the situation worse. The son grows up believing that he is more intelligent and capable than his father, and therefore must be better than everyone else. He fiercely protects this belief and his elevated status and quickly shuts down anyone who attempts to challenge it.
At times, his mother consults her son instead of her husband before making major decisions. The son assumes that unlike his father, his mother cannot make decisions on her own, and looks to a male to do it for her. His sense of superiority evolves and he learns to believe that he is always right. In situations in which he and another person are both right, he quickly assumes that he is naturally more right than the other person. He learns to trust himself the most, then other men, and women last.
His sense of self-worth is contingent on always being right and maintaining his superiority and this impacts him in three critical ways:
1) he never considers that he could be wrong about something
2) he seeks out situations and opportunities in which he can always prove he is right, and
3) he avoids all opportunities where there is a potential risk of being wrong (which he equates with failure). Therefore, he cuts himself off from real learning and growth.
With these life strategies, the child often achieves a great deal of individual success.
However, when it comes to teamwork, whether it’s at work or in a relationship, he encounters unprecedented struggle and ultimate failure. In these settings, he proves to be inflexible and merciless.
In marriage, he is not a team player, but rather, an abusive husband. He maintains the power over his wife by constantly reminding her that he and his career, image, goals, and hobbies come before her. This is how he justifies making unilateral decisions without discussing the impact on her or the marriage. This is also how he justifies swearing at her, calling her names, blaming her for everything, undermining her strengths, and giving her the silent treatment.
He is in the marriage to take and receive rather than to give and share. He does not seek out her opinion and assumes she will continue to fulfill his needs which he believes are more important than hers. When his wife offers a different perspective or attempts to share in the decision-making, he feels criticized and puts up his defenses, as if marital conflict is war and his wife is the enemy, who ought to be punished for challenging him.
The abusive mentality in men will continue to thrive until men call other men out on it. When I shared the hurtful, battering words I received regularly, the men in our families told me that it’s natural for men to say such cruel statements out of anger and that I should just learn to tolerate it. I begged for kind, gentle words, but the verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse worsened over the course of two years. I didn’t realize how deeply damaging it was until after the divorce when I came upon Lundy Bancroft’s books on domestic abuse and educated myself on these patterns.
The Life Ahead
This is an incredibly difficult topic for me to write about because this pattern is so deeply embedded in our families and yet it is never discussed. It is also difficult because I still miss my best friend and wish that we didn’t have to go through such a tumultuous marriage. This post may offend some of the closest people to me. However, it is my sincere hope and prayer that they will look past the personal narrative and recognize the real purpose of the post. My story is not unique, but I am sharing it to generate awareness about the abusive mentality running through our marriages, families, and communities.
Raising the most critical questions was like walking on hot coals: What was the point of being well-educated if it didn’t enable us to resolve our issues with greater understanding than our parents demonstrated in their own marriages? Why were our parents okay with us becoming like them?
If I remained silent, I would be giving in to what patriarchy demands, but my soul wouldn’t allow that. And because there is no conflict between intellect and faith in the Ismaili tariqa, I was guided by Mawlana Hazar Imam’s words to continue searching and find answers.
In his speech titled, ‘What does it mean to be an educated person?’, Hazar Imam says that education must stimulate us to consider a variety of perspectives on some fundamental questions posted by the human condition: “What is truth?” “What is reality?” and “What are my duties to my fellow man, to my country and to God?”
The truth sets us free, even if it first makes us miserable. The abusive mentality is an insidious disease that forces us to be silent and limits our community’s progress. We must encourage open, non-judgmental discussions in a safe environment so that women can begin to heal and men can learn how to identify abusive words and actions. We need to work together to raise our community standards.