Could it all have turned out differently? Possibly. The reality of life though is that we inevitably have to be burnt so that our perspectives are altered for the better. The tragedy being that once the lesson is learnt, it might be too late to repair the damage. As my ex-husband told me in one of our ‘iddah conversations “Sometimes it’s easier to start something new than to fix something that is so broken.”
I come from a background of a highly dysfunctional family life. My parents were antagonistic towards each other since I was a little girl, and I have vivid memories of them yelling at each other, with my little heart thumping in my chest while I prayed to Allah to make them stop. I have never seen any empathy exchanged between my parents. I have never seen them honour each other. I have never seen them laugh and tease each other out of affection. I have never seen my father love my mother, and I have never seen my mother respect my father. With that being the blueprint impressed upon my subconscious of how marital relationships function, I naively thought I could embark upon marriage and everything would turn out all right. Fast forward more than a decade later, when my marriage had already fallen apart, I saw a Muslim marriage seminar on YouTube and wished I had seen it prior to marriage. They mentioned the necessity of pre-marital counseling, which was something I never had (Mistake #1). It is supposed to facilitate determining the compatibility of the couple, and looks at serious issues that are often dismissed when a couple believes they are in love.
I was introduced to my ex virtually, and had a Skype correspondence with him for several months, thinking myself to have fallen in love, as did he. Coming from a household of cynicism and heaviness, my ex was light and sweet. He was refreshing and easy-going to talk to. We went through all our formal questions related to marriage, and once we found compatibility in our answers, we thought the last step was to merely see if we were attracted to each other in real life before doing nikah. When we met in real life, we only spent 5 days together and “knew” we wanted to get married.
Mistake #2: Not spending sufficient time together in person. Getting to know someone virtually, in my opinion, is insufficient. We never got to see each other interact with family, friends and ordinary people. We were excited and “high” to talk to each other on a “Skype date”, so perhaps my dominant melancholic temperament was hidden. Going through a list of theory does not necessarily mean that two individuals will be compatible in day-to-day life. We did not see the worst of each other.
Mistake #3: Having studied Muslim Personal Law in my Islamic Studies diploma, I knew the importance of a woman having a marriage contract stipulating certain conditions if in the event the marriage fails. When I requested a contract from my then fiancé, he relayed it to his Imam, who told him that the contract would have no weight in US law. I found out after my divorce that that is actually not true. A contract with witnesses between the two parties would be binding in US law. My then fiancé ended up not signing any contract. With the wedding imminent and me thinking I was in love, we proceeded. In retrospect this was a huge mistake. Now that I am a divorcee, still coming to a settlement agreement with my ex, I see how foolish I was to leave my family and settle abroad, unskilled, and trust that everything would work out in the end. Having a contract in place would have made the post-divorce discussions so much easier. It is a very uncomfortable discussion to have with one’s fiancé, for fear of souring the budding romance, but it’s pretty much the only real protection a woman has if the marriage comes to an end.
Within a few months of marriage, it became clear that my ex husband and I were not very compatible. He was a real sweetheart, but a mismatch. Mistake #4 was not going for couple’s counseling early on. If we did, we might have been told that it was better we split, rather than continue for another ten years of marriage.
Mistake #5 was not finding meaningful work or a thoroughly engaging project in which I could immerse myself. I made my marriage and lack of happiness the primary focus of my life. I truly believe that if I invested in finding meaningful and fulfilling work, it would have served my marriage and me well. It might have led to me appreciating my ex- husband more as well. More than ever, I am determined to find my niche.
Of course, there are mistakes he made, but I can only take ownership of my own, in the hope that I don’t repeat them when I hopefully marry again (insha Allah). Yes, I am afraid of repeating my mistakes, but I do hope to one day meet a compatible man to whom I may say, “This is me, I have good in me, and I have some broken parts. Please let’s try to understand each other’s brokenness, and make some beauty with it.” I have hope that with awareness and better skills, we’ll have better relationships.