Leaving an abusive marriage

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve had a few conversations with folks who, upon hearing that I’m leaving an abusive marriage, asked “did he physically hit you?” and “what did he do?”

I know these people are well meaning and didn’t mean to come across in any particular way, but I am left feeling like I need to justify what happened to me. Perhaps I should just be grateful that at least they aren’t asking me “what did you do to cause it?” which I’ve heard numerous times from some in my family.  But really, what could one possibly do/say to cause someone to threaten to kill you or attempt to kill you? Must I have concrete examples to use such a loaded word like abuse?

Maybe I’m being overly sensitive. Or maybe it’s that for the past two years people have tried to minimize what’s been happening, encouraging me to stay married. Or maybe I’m tired of living in secrecy and isolation and four years of mentally, verbally, emotionally, and physically intimidating behavior.

How many times did my life need to be threatened or how many times did I need to be physically endangered by a vehicle or fist before it’s considered abuse?  Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to leave. I needed to accumulate enough incidents before others would count it as an abusive relationship.  I needed to have a rock solid reason to get divorced a second time – the first time from a man who cheated on me, and the second time because of abuse.

As someone who has always looked at my role in things to figure out what I’ve done wrong, perhaps I needed that outside validation and acknowledgment before I could admit, even to myself, that I had somehow gotten into an abusive relationship, and that I continued to stay in it for the sake of others.

Because, you see, I don’t fit the stereotypes our community has of these types of situations.  I’m a good desi girl. I have an advanced degree and come from a suburban, professional, Muslim family.  I could be your friend, your niece, or the person you pray next to at the masjid.  And, abuse aside, my husband is also a decent guy from a loving and tight-knit, educated, suburban family.

These feelings and memories are being stirred up as I prepare to move tomorrow.  The last time I left my home it was urgent and hasty after a night where my life was threatened.  What was supposed to be a temporary separation lasted for 15 months.  I had only moved back in with him in mid-March when he kicked me out of the house in the middle of the night in early June.  And now September is here and I am officially, properly, and permanently moving out of “our” home.

Leaving this time feels very different.  I’ve built an amazing community in this city. I’m already missing all the friends I made and can so easily visit, the ability to always find some show or event to attend at a moments notice, the easy access to farmers markets, acupuncture clinics, yoga studios, etc.  I’m leaving a place where I had imagined a future.

Given all these challenges and emotions, I think I’m doing pretty well.  I have been feeling so much love from my siblings, friends, and a support system I’ve helped to create for myself, including my relationship with God.

Someone recently asked me how I’m still able to maintain prayer and faith through all of this. Although I could look at my circumstances as unfair, unjust or a punishment, I don’t.  I can honestly say that I am a better, more thoughtful, more considerate person because of everything I’ve been through.   I wouldn’t have grown in these ways without these trials, and know I’m going to be a better parent because of the insight I’ve gained.

Instead of blaming my parents, my ex-husband, or the world for my pain, I am choosing to focus on myself and something that’s actually within my control. I am taking ownership of what I experienced, to be able to name it for myself and for others in similar situations.

Maryam Abdullah is the pen name of a writer living on the West Coast.

14 Comments on “Leaving an abusive marriage”

  1. SU says:

    You never owe anyone an explanation except to Yourself and God. The rest of us are just here to support and love you. And I hope you know how deep that love runs.

  2. aH says:

    Asalamu Alaikum–So proud of you sister, you are doing the right thing. People say ignorant things until it, God forbid, happens to them. Abuse is not just physical. Verbal abuse and continued disrespect can cut deeper than a fist. No woman should stay in a home where she does not feel safe, where she is constantly threatened and degraded. I decided for myself in my own experiences that I was not willing to take this kind of abuse from a man, and I am happy to hear you have too. Peace be with you sister.

    • Maryam Abdullah says:

      Walikoum Asalaam. Jazakallah khair. Putting my story out on the line was really scary and anxiety producing because I was aware that some people may say some hurtful things. But to read such kind and reassuring words put my heart at ease. Thank you for supporting a stranger. And much love and respect to you for leaving as well.

  3. MA says:

    I applaud you for being a strong woman who is taking a stand for herself against the cultural ideologies of staying in an abusive relationship no matter what. And the fact that you don’t fit any of the cultural stereotypes of women in abusive relationships make this issue so much more realistic for those of us who grew up in the US. I also think you are very inspiring for maintaining your faith through these trials. May Allah make your situation easier for you, and help you in beginning this new life. And Jazak Allah khair for sharing your story for all of us to learn from and may this help us to increase awareness about this issue in our community so we may help and support sisters in abusive relationships.

    • Maryam Abdullah says:

      Ameen to your duas. Jazakallah khair to you as well for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. Your words mean a lot to me.

  4. Sean says:

    As a young Muslim man, I cannot express the admiration I have for your strength and your courage. Your strong will and faith has carried you throughout a lot and will serve you well. Unfortunately, the culture of many of our home countries questions the victims in these cases rather than the abuser–I can’t say that it will change, but it will die out, I hope and our generation will be much different. Until then I’m afraid that many will suffer because the abuse they are experiencing is exacerbated by the judgment of others. Hopefully, your example will encourage others to muster the strength–as indeed takes much, much more strength than most of us can imagine to pick up and leave even very difficult circumstances.

    • Maryam Abdullah says:

      I wish I could convey to you what your words have meant to my fragile heart. Thank you. Jazakallah khair.

  5. Asifa says:

    May Allah make it easy for you. I wish you the best and I am very happy you have decided to take care of yourself and get out of a toxic situation. Thank you for sharing this story and bringing attention to these types of situations.

  6. Having suffered the mental anguish of abuse, that culminated finally into physical violence that led me to leave the abusive relationship myself, I empathize and I am applauding you from the deepest parts of my heart.

    I am so happy that your solace and comfort in your time of need, has come from your desire for love. And the most Sublime Love in our existence, is the Love and Mercy from our Allah. It is not easy to find this love, as we are most critical and most hurtful to ourselves during our times of need, and thereby deny this Love for ourselves.

    I struggled myself, however I can now confidently say that through my life experiences during my medical school years, my residency and now working as a consultant I realize that the love and compassion we need as human beings – is embodied by our Creator, our Eternal and Absolute, Allah subhanna ta’alla. And all we need to do is Ask For It. And we Will Receive. Bounty does not mean wealth or prosperity. Bounty can also mean peace and comfort. And it is only His to Give.

    To quote some writing I have come across, “The answer is the Mercy and the Compassion and the Love of our Beloved Amighty. We humans know nothing, and can not even fix our own hearts when we need to. But Allah – only Allah can stop the Heart’s Blood [that bleeds out during times of intense pain and fear and sadness].

    May light and love always brighten your path, May you bask in the glory of peace, comfort and contentment in loving yourself because you deserve it and so much more. Ameen.

    • Maryam Abdullah says:

      I am sorry that you also had to experience that level of pain and anguish. May you be granted Mercy and Compassion from the most High. Ameen to your duas for me as well =).