Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Marital Problems among Arab Families: Between Cultural and Family Therapy Interventions

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

Marital Problems among Arab Families: Between Cultural and Family Therapy Interventions

Article excerpt


UNTIL TODAY NO EPIDEMIOLOGICAL STUDY to investigate the mental health of the Arab population in most Arab countries (Ibrahim & Ibrahim, 1993) has been carried out. The reasons for this are attributable to the government's priorities on the one hand and to the structure of the Arab culture and its norms, on the other.

This essay aims to show the relationship between psychological well being and social customs and cultural traditions in Arab societies. In particular it deals with the traditional treatment of marital problems and the social support that aim to achieve the continuity of traditions. Subsequently, it focuses on the cultural meaning of the "upset" wife, Z'alana, on the politics involved, and on its effect on the well being of the children in the family. With respect to the latter, the paper focuses on the effect of an unstable marital relationship on the mental health of all members of the family.

In the last part of the essay, a comparison between the cultural methods of solving marital problems and a family therapist's methods is discussed. Throughout the paper a case study is used as an illustration. The voice of the client, her narration, is interwoven with the theoretical discussion. Parts of the case are referred to, in accordance with their relevance to the stage being discussed in the paper.


Shireen is a Palestinian woman aged 32, who has been married for fourteen years to her cousin who is four years her senior. The relationship between them has worsened over the last seven years, during which time he began to gamble. He would return home late and would not pay the family expenses. When she complained about his behavior he beat her. In the beginning she tried to face the problem alone, but then she turned for help to her close friend. However when the situation worsened and she saw that she could have no effect on her husband's behavior, she turned to her parents and asked them to take the necessary steps in dealing with him. Some women in such cases also turn to their parents-in-law and older brothers-in-law, requesting their intervention. The parents of Samir, Shircen's husband, were divorced and did not live in the same village.

It is evident that Arab families do not go to a stranger to solve a marital, family or psychological problem. There are various reasons for this. First, specialists in such professions are rare in relation to the needs of the population (Abu Baker, 2001; Moses, 1992). Second, since the first psychiatric services to be offered to the Arab population resulted in the hospitalization of psychotic patients, the stereotype emerged that psychological services are rendered to "crazy" people. This caused those in need of these services to delay seeking them, until the psychological problem worsened to the degree that it became complex, and needed longer therapy (Dwairy, (1) 1998; Meleis & La Fever, 1984). Thirdly, there are those in the Arab society who offer therapy such as Moslem sheikhs, palm readers and fortunetellers. A sector of the population believes these people have the capacity to solve crises of a psychological nature and turn to them when the need arises (Al-Krenawi, 2000; El-Islam, 1982). The fourth, and most important, factor is the role the extended family plays in the support and treatment of psychological, marital and family problems of its members. However this issue is not as simple as it might seem. The extended family, in itself, is also a source of all these problems.


Marriage in the Arab family is a union of two individuals as well as the union of their two families (Barakat, 2000). This bolds true for all the religions (Islam, Christianity, and Druze) associated with Arab culture, as well as for all classes and sectors within it. …

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