Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- according to a Saudi family counselor ,the divorce rate in Saudi Arabia is on the rise, revealing that 38 percent of marriages end in divorce and that 33 percent of these divorces take place within the first three years of the marriage.
Dr. Laila al Hilali, who owns and runs a family counseling center by the same name, believes that the reason behind this increase is a result of the lack of understanding between couples, and the fact that they do not fully comprehend the proper foundations of a marriage.
Based on the cases she receives at her clinic, Dr. al Hilali said that the marital problems prevalent in Saudi Arabia stem from the fact that couples are quick to jump to conclusions without evaluating the situation properly. She believes that marriages in Saudi are bereft of the dialogue and patience required to make a marriage work.
Furthermore, she noted that spouses like to keep a record of one another’s mistakes and shortcomings. They forget that they represent a united front rather than two independent individuals so that each party ends up doing what it pleases without taking the other into consideration. Dr. al Hilali also believes that the lack of romance between couples is a key factor that leads to an unfulfilling marriage. This, she upholds, can be traced back to both spouses’ upbringings.
The center, she said, was established to cater to the middle- and upper-middle- class families in Saudi Arabia. It coaches young women approaching marriage by making them aware of what they can expect and what will be expected of them in return. They are also exposed to the problems that could become aggravated and lead to divorce if not immediately treated.
Moreover, al Hilali center offers counseling sessions for one or more family members, with the intention of resolving dysfunctional relationships. Dr. al Hilali revealed that group therapy is ineffectual in Saudi Arabia because Saudis are still skeptical about it.
Generally speaking, Saudi society is a private one. Most women guard their privacy very well, even during therapy. The majority of women prefer to discuss their issues in private, despite the fact that the problems they face are common ones shared by many, such as disobedience from children towards their parents.
“There are no more than five such centers in all of Saudi Arabia;” Dr. al Hilali said, “three of which are nonprofit. This is a meager number considering the size of the population. What this society really needs is at least one in every neighborhood if not more so that family problems like these can be addressed before they are allowed to fester.” She speaks admiringly of a new law introduced in the UAE that prohibits couples from filing for divorce until after counseling is sought. Should the counseling fail, they can then proceed with the process.
She stressed the importance of instructing young men and women approaching marriage, claiming that it is as important as the blood test required before marriage. “We must encourage flexibility, and teach them to not consider every good deed they do in a marriage as a favor because a good marriage reflects on both the spouses,” she said.
Dr al Hilali called upon the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice to establish more family counseling centers in the country so as to remedy the rising divorce rates. Moreover, she believes that stable and loving families prevent young men from being drawn into a life of fundamentalism, since they would not feel the need to fill a void with religious extremism.
“A recent study conducted on high school students about their priorities in life shows that Saudi children place friends and reality TV before family,” she revealed.
In response to the question of domestic abuse, Dr. al Hilali said that it has been an enduring predicament, but that it has come to occupy center stage due to the increased media attention and various prominent figures addressing the matter. It is her belief that domestic violence is a result of women’s submissiveness and their apathy towards abuse. This is furthermore intensified, she said, by their upbringing in which they are taught to blindly obey their husbands.
Dr. al Hilali called for the collaboration of various institutions to put an end to this phenomenon which, if left untreated, will destroy the country’s social infrastructure, of which family is a main constituent.