The Journey Of Life Together: The State Of Matrimonial Harmony In Saudi Arabia

13 December 2016

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

In July of this year, the Saudi Ministry of Justice released statistics that indicated that almost a third of the total number of marriages among nationals ended in divorce. Of the 133,000 Saudis who tied the knot, more than 40,000 decided to sever it, figures that do not reflect an optimistic picture of the state of matrimonial harmony in the Kingdom.

Such figures are naturally discouraging. By region, the highest number of farewells was in the western region of the country which includes Jeddah and Makkah with almost a third of all those divorced. Riyadh followed suit, trailed by the cities in the Eastern Province.

With the country exercising a fairly conservative and close knit society where marriages are often undertaken after a great deal of scrutiny and background checks, the figures reflected by the Justice Ministry came as a surprise to many Saudis. Some could not understand how the holy bond of matrimony was so quickly dismissed by one or the other party. There were some who offered their own theories behind the breakdown, some of which had qualified reasoning behind them.

Hussein, an engineer, said that he felt the major contribution to divorce was that expectations of one or the other partner were often unrealistic and left a lot to be desired. Perhaps it was in the grooming of the individual or simply not being aware what a marriage was all about, but as Hussein pointed out: ''Once the party is over and the music has died down, the couple is often left on their own wondering 'what now' and with no proper education, it often leads to the path of irreversible differences.''

Fatima, a grandmother, says that when she was married her mother told her to respect her husband like he was divine. ''Right or wrong, I had to respect my husband for he was the one who was providing for us. I had to make my home a peaceful one that he came home to and when the kids were born, I made sure they knew their place in the home. We had good moments and bad, but we stuck through it all. This is not what is happening today. Couples want to take the easy way out instead of trying to work out their differences. So sad, especially if there are little children involved.''

Mona, a university professor and an urbanite, believes that while the figures released by the ministry are accurate, they do not offer enough of a breakdown into how many of these divorces occurred with people living in rural or tribal areas. She has a hunch though that most of the breakdowns must have occurred in rural areas which are very strict in their approach to marriage. ''The fact that in very strict tribal societies some of these couples never meet until the day of the wedding should give you a reason for the high rate of divorce. Imagine the incompatibility issue that arises when they meet for the first time and that in fact is after the marriage contract is signed. Maybe it's physical dislike or a mental mismatch. That's what I think most of these numbers are about.''

AbdulAziz, a financial consultant, is not so sure. ''Look, we have seen many liberal approaches to marriages take place where a couple has met several times before the actual wedding date, where they have conversed extensively on social media and have perhaps seen each other a few times with chaperones present, and yet not long after the festivities, we hear that the couple has disbanded. It is not only among the conservative element that this disease is spreading, it is happening throughout all of our society. I suspect that it is the times and the financial pressures put on the primary wage earner which turn the merry union into a bitter one. Once that takes root, the only recourse is often a family breakdown.''

Ismail, who runs an IT company, said: ''It is ironic that in years gone by some Saudis would brag about how superior their society and traditions were, pointing to the social ills of the West including their high divorce rates. Well, I don't think they are gloating anymore as it has reached home. This is not an imported virus and we cannot blame the West for it. We have to blame ourselves. It is an indication of the ills of our unbending and nonconforming attitudes to a changing world.''

While each of these explanations has some merit, is there only one reason that has contributed to the high rate of divorce? Look around and see how the world is changing and how interactions between people are going in new directions. The changes can be very daunting and can reshape relationships.

To keep a marriage going today, perhaps expectations should drop to realistic levels and more of a partnership between a husband and wife should be allowed to develop. Along with a little help from family and friends, the newlywed couple can work out the rough and rocky roads that may confront them in the journey of a life together.

The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena


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