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In this series of articles we’re looking at how the Bahá’í Marriage Vow “We will all verily abide by the Will of God” can help solve the 10 most common marriage problems.  In this article we will explore the topic of gossip and backbiting in marriage.

How often do you hear people talking about their spouse in a negative way?  God doesn’t want us to focus on people’s negative qualities but on their positive.  Again the standard is very high.  If a person has 10 bad qualities and only one good, we’re to focus on the good:

If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, , Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 83)

If we speak about others, we’re to expose only their praiseworthy qualities:

 One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá uses a story to show us how to do it:

It is related that His Holiness Christ—May my life be a sacrifice to Him!—one day, accompanied by His apostles, passed by the corpse of a dead animal. One of them said: ‘How putrid has this animal become!’ The other exclaimed: ‘How it is deformed!’ A third cried out: ‘What a stench! How cadaverous looking!’ but His Holiness Christ said: “Look at its teeth! how white they are!’ Consider, that He did not look at all at the defects of that animal; nay, rather, He searched well until He found the beautiful white teeth. He observed only the whiteness of the teeth and overlooked entirely the deformity of the body, the dissolution of its organs and the bad odour. This is the attribute of the children of the Kingdom. This is the conduct and the manner of the real Bahá’ís. I hope that all the believers will attain to this lofty station.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

Focusing on faults leads to disputes:

 Learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and that failing in this is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís as it is among men and women in general.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

This gossip and backbiting is referred to as the “most great sin” and “worst human quality”:

 The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)

We’re only responsible for our own lives and perfecting our own characters, so this is what we need to focus our attention on:

 Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect: and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy… On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic that on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding, while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)

When we’re overcome with a need to speak about the faults, we need to turn our attention inward and look towards our own faults.  Others can be a mirror showing us things we can’t otherwise see about ourselves.  I like to think that if I’m pointing a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at me.  It’s a reminder to pay attention to my own faults:

If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 66)

When there are problems in a marriage, we’re to take them to God and not speak of them to others:

 However, relying upon God, we conducted ourselves with the utmost patience and submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if one did not know anything about these matters, he would have thought that we were in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)

If you’re having trouble inside your marriage, it’s important to speak of it with a trusted counsellor.  This is not considered gossip since the motive is to find a solution and not to destroy someone’s character:

While gossip and backbiting are explicitly prohibited by Bahá’u’lláh, taking a problem to a Bahá’í institution, to a relevant civil or social service agency, therapist, or counselor to seek assistance with the problem is not viewed as gossip or backbiting.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 55).

There is a clear distinction between, on the one hand, the prohibition of backbiting, which would include adverse comments about individuals or institutions made to other individuals privately or publicly, and, on the other hand, the encouragement to unburden oneself of one’s concerns to a Spiritual Assembly, Local or National (or now, also, to confide in a Counsellor or Auxiliary Board member). (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

It’s often possible to talk about the issue without mentioning the person’s name:

 You ask in your letter for guidance on the implications of the prohibitions on backbiting and more specifically whether, in moments of anger or depression, the believer is permitted to turn to his friends to unburden his soul and discuss his problem in human relations. Normally, it is possible to describe the situation surrounding a problem and seek help and advice in resolving it, without necessarily mentioning names. The individual believer should seek to do this, whether he is consulting a friend, Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í, or whether the friend is consulting him.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)

For more information please see:

Role Confusion 

Money 

Sex 

In-laws and Children

Communication 

Spending Time Together

Love and Effort 

Unresolved Baggage from Childhood

For more on this topic, please see:

Introduction to Marriage Vows

We Will All Verily Abide by the Will of God

Sex Before Marriage 

Sex Inside Marriage 

Using the Year of Patience 

 How has this helped you understand God’s will in terms of gossiping about your spouse?  Post your comments here: