Back to contents

Compassionate Divorce

Sep/02/2023 / by Lindsey Galloway
Divorce

“I’m tired of seeing people struggle through divorce and feel broken after. This story needs to change. Especially in our South Asian societies, it’s crucial to redefine our perspective. Shifting away from the taboo surrounding divorce is essential, as it enables us to acknowledge that separation doesn’t have to equate to deep shame or devastation.” 

The ending of a relationship can be the beginning of radical self-acceptance. Here’s how one divorce doula is helping other South Asian women navigate the complex challenges of separation. 

Divorce is rarely easy for anyone. Processing the end of a relationship, both emotionally and financially, can take an emotional toll, but navigating this choice within South Asian communities can be even more challenging, where divorce can still carry immense stigma. 

Farhana Hussain knows these struggles all too well. As a British Bangladeshi woman, she faced tremendous backlash from her family and community when she made the decision to leave her interfaith marriage. But having grappled with divorce herself, she decided she wanted to help other women, especially South Asian women, navigate the emotions, family dynamics, and parenting concerns that often accompany the end of a marriage. 

That’s why in 2020, she started her practice as a life coach and divorce doula, helping people compassionately understand themselves through this process and emerge more whole on the other side. Though not all of her clients are South Asians, she finds that her own experience helps those who are better navigate the complex family dynamics that can be at play. “When you’re South Asian, there are so many more complexities of religion and culture,” she explains. In her own journey, she was referred to therapists and counselors, but they were predominately white, and she felt it just wasn’t working for her. “At first, I thought it was just because I wasn’t connecting with those people. But what I realized was that many of these therapists hadn’t been through a breakdown of a serious relationship or a divorce.” 

Just like grief counseling requires specialist training, divorce requires the understanding of that specific type of grief. “It’s the death of a life, a relationship that you thought would last forever,” says Hussain. “In my own experience and from working with my clients, it really needs to be done by somebody who gets it, who’s experienced it.” 

The Culture of Understanding 

Even though she found her own therapists perfectly fine at their jobs, they didn’t have the expertise around her culture and religion. “It’s not as simple as ‘you got to live your life, walk away, do things your way,’” she says. “I would love to, but I love my family. It’s part of my identity, my heritage. I don’t want to be ostracized from my community and society.”

When she works with South Asian clients, it’s a lot about unlearning some old scripts and bringing in some more up-to-date scripts and stories that allow them to feel safe and grow at the same time. By being culturally sensitive, she understands the importance of preserving some of the culture and religion, while also understanding there might be pushback from family members. 

To handle that most effectively, she advises her clients to be very selective about what family they share with, especially during the stressful initial stages. Sometimes family, even when they love you, will try and give advice that isn’t necessarily in your best interest. “That doesn’t mean they’re bad. That doesn’t mean you don’t love them. They may have their own generational trauma that they are unlikely to be aware of,” says Hussain. 

For instance, people might say to do what is in the best interest of the children, which she cautions isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the children, let alone the best thing for you. She says it’s okay to keep your trusted crew small during this time. It’s most important to find a safe and trusted community, especially people who understand your culture and religion. “I’m tired of seeing people struggle through divorce and feel broken after. This story needs to change,” says Hussain. “Especially in our South Asian societies, it’s crucial to redefine our perspective. Shifting away from the taboo surrounding divorce is essential, as it enables us to acknowledge that separation doesn’t have to equate to deep shame or devastation.” 

She notes that it isn’t about “winning” or “losing,” but finding a path to mutual growth and well-being. “While the legal aspects are important, they represent just the final step in the divorce journey,” says Hussain. Instead the focus needs to be on nurturing one’s emotional and mental well-being. “This approach allows individuals to navigate the challenges of divorce with resilience, enabling them to clearly envision their future and that of their family, while riding the waves of change with strength and self-assuredness”

Taking the First Step

In fact, before talking to your family, spouse, or partners about separation, it can be helpful to spend the time to better understand yourself away from the cultural scripts. “It can be really powerful to have a space that is away from the cultural conditioning, religious conditioning, and fear that South Asian women can face,” she said. 

Processing that with a coach or even in a journal can be the best first step. “At the very beginning, you don’t have to take any action,” she says. “No one is going to see your words in a journal, but you start to create a habit where you can speak out authentically and be vulnerable with yourself.” 

Though they may seem simple, tools like journaling and meditation actually allow the space to understand your own values. “Whether you are South Asian or not, so many of our stories and maps are imprinted and inherited from our families,” says Hussain. “We don’t question the family or societal conditioning.” 

By being able to clarify what’s actually important to us as individuals and unconditionally offering ourselves self-love, the emotional process of divorce becomes more manageable to navigate. 

The First Conversations

The practice of radical self-acceptance also makes it easy to take responsibility for your part in the end of a relationship. All too often, Hussain has seen how acrimonious divorce can get when one or both sides don’t take responsibility for their role in the end of the relationships. “It gets people nowhere, and it gets very expensive,” she says. “Nobody really gets what they want out of it.” 

She reminds her clients that there’s no easy way to do this. She says throughout the process of divorce, you may face shame, judgment, and guilt from your partner and your family and friends. And you may lose some relationships in the process. But that’s why so much of her work aims to help people understand anxiety and understand how the nervous system works, so they can stay grounded and regulated during tough conversations. 

As you tell your partner what’s going on, it’s important to remember why you’re doing this, take responsibility for your role, and be okay with the turbulent emotions that come with the process—knowing there’s a precious life to live on the other side. 

Parenting Under Pressure 

Many of Hussain’s clients understandably worry about the effect that a divorce will have on their children, and face anxiety over the challenges that future co-parenting, or single parenting may present. But she reminds clients that being in touch with your emotions and your true self can actually set a wonderful example for children. 

“When you’re willing to experience your emotions, even if it feels scary, you’re giving the children permission to do the same,” explains Hussain. “You may cry in front of your children, and that gives permission to accept that this is really sad. But what they also see is mum or dad being able to regulate in a time of crisis—being able to then say ‘I feel safe, and now we’re going to move on to the next thing.’” Then the child can trust that they can do the same. 

She reminds her clients that children rarely remember what they hear, but will remember what they see. By being present and available throughout the process, and being yourself and holding on to your values, you can set an example that can leave children with a powerful example of how to lead a more authentic life. 

Life After Divorce

Even years after a divorce, life can come with ups and downs, especially navigating family relationships and oftentimes changed social circles. “Life after divorce is really exciting, but it’s still challenging because we are still rewriting stories and practicing those,” says Hussain. 

For her clients, that means sometimes spending less time in social gatherings that might have been once done just to people-please. “Their social circles might be smaller, but they’re so much more rich because they’re more accepting,” she says. Many of her clients start to feel more calm, and their children often have a more safe and predictable environment where they can thrive. 

While each of her clients face their own unique path and journey on the next steps in their lives, they each have the tools to navigate old and new relationships more authentically. “They all begin to understand how to find that inner peace, how to be their own version of a good daughter, or a good mother,” says Hussain. “They realize they can still be that good daughter, that good mother. They can still be that person.”

Book a Divorce Doula Session

While not every client is a good fit for Farhana Hussain, she does take 15-minute introduction calls to find out if there’s a good fit. Virtual sessions can be booked at mydivorcedoula.org.uk

Desi Divorced Women’s Support Group

Needing some extra support during or after a divorce? The South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network holds a twice monthly virtual gathering for South Asian women who are separated, divorced, or contemplating divorce. These peer support groups led by trained facilitators provide a safe, confidential, non-judgmental space for participants to express their thoughts, feelings, challenges, and difficulties in coping with divorce. Find details at samhin.org/desi-divorced-womens-support-group

Source: https://www.mydivorcedoula.org.uk/

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.

Seema will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing.