Marital Quality among Couples Living under the Threat of Forced Relocation: The Case of Families in the Golan Heights

By Shamai, Michal; Lev, Rachel | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Marital Quality among Couples Living under the Threat of Forced Relocation: The Case of Families in the Golan Heights


Shamai, Michal, Lev, Rachel, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


This study aims to explore how the long period of uncertainty about possible relocation affects the marital quality of the population in the Golan Heights and what forms of coping with this ongoing stress are used. The results, based on both quantitative and qualitative data, indicate a circular process in which the level of stress generated by the uncertainty varies with marital quality and with other personal and family resources, such as potency and an appreciation of the spouse's ability to cope with the stress. Four ways of coping with the uncertainty were observed in in-depth interviews: fighting, ignoring, postponing, and planning. The results are discussed in terms of their meaning for possible systemic interventions.

Twenty-five years ago N. and M., as a young couple, decided to build their home in a small village in the Golan Heights, an area that was occupied by Israel during the Six Days War in 1967. They followed other young idealistic couples who wanted to change the area from being the target of Syrian threats and attacks on Israel into a civilized area with a high quality of life. At that time, the beginning of the 70s, there was no hint of a possibility for peace between Syria and Israel. Furthermore, there was a broad consensus among almost all parties in Israel that the Golan Heights would remain occupied by Israel under any future agreement. The painful history of many villages, kibbutzim, and cities located in the Upper Galilee under the Golan Heights, which were bombed by the Syrians for many years, affected the collective emotional state of most people in Israel. Therefore, all attempts to settle the area received the support and encouragement of both the government and public opinion.

N. and M. and other young Israeli Jewish couples built houses, raised children, and developed economic resources (agriculture and industry) as well as a system of community services. They turned the Golan Heights into an area that was known for its high quality of life.

All this has changed since the Madrid Conference in 1991, when negotiations between Israel and Syria under the principle of land for peace began to take place. N. and M., as well as other couples who are mostly in their 40s and 50s, now find themselves and their families living under the threat of forced relocation-a threat that has existed for over seven years and probably will not end soon. This situation also creates uncertainty about whether, when, and how the relocation will be implemented. Questions about future financial, social, and psychological aspects have been raised. All these events created unexpected demands that require adequate resources and resilience of each couple, as the family leaders, in order to cope. However, such demands may create stress, which in turn can be harmful to the quality of the marriage, thereby affecting the resilience of the couple. The goal of this study was to find out whether the threat of relocation has, in fact, an impact on marital quality among the population of the Golan Heights, what the nature of this impact is, and what resources are used by the couples to cope with the situation effectively. On the basis of the data, we will discuss the possible interventions that might be useful for couples in this kind of uncertain situation.

Stress and Marital Quality

The impact of stress on families has been studied since the 1930s by various disciplines. However, the first work that provided a conceptual framework for viewing the process that families undergo as result of stressful events was proposed by Hill. Hill (1958) developed the concept of ABC-X, in which A is the stressor event, which interacts with B, the family resources and strengths, which interact with C, the meaning that the family gives to the stressor event. These interactions combine to produce X, the level of stress. The main idea behind this concept is that X is affected by the mediating variables and not directly by the stressor events themselves. …

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