Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Effective Counseling Can Help Stabilize Marriages

Magazine article Islamic Horizons

Effective Counseling Can Help Stabilize Marriages

Article excerpt

THE MUSLIM AMERICAN COMMUNITY is not immune to mainstream society's high divorce rate that, according to Rutgers University's national marriage project (http://nationalmarriageproject. org), is about 50 percent. However, its overall divorce rate is unknown due to the lack of recent research and the non-reporting of many cases. In the 1990s, Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus conducted the sole study of the community's divorce rate (Islamic Horizons, July/August 2000, pp. 52-53). Based on information obtained from various Islamic centers and imams, I contend that the rate is increasing. Many couples enter marriage with false assumptions and expectations as regards each other's personality, cultural practices, religious beliefs, financial matters, parenting issues and hobbies. Such misunderstandings often result in ever-growing differences that eventually affect their ability to communicate with each other. As counseling is not always successful, both spouses must know howto build a good relationship before tying the knot.

The Quran states: "And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves thatyou may dwell in tranquility with them and that He has placed between affection and mercy. Verily, in that are signs for those who reflect" (30:21).

Islam views marriage as a social contract a man and a woman before God. Ideally, each spouse is allowed to discuss the contract's terms and conditions so that they are fully aware of their relevant obligations after getting married. Each spouse's voluntary consent is an essential element. The Quran, which gives women a substantial role in choosing their life partners, also spells out their rights in case of a divorce: "And when you divorce women and they have fulfilled their [menstrual] term, do not prevent them from remarrying their [former] husbands if they agree among themselves on an acceptable basis" (2:232).

There is no foolproof method for choosing the "right" marriage partner. In my psychiatry practice, I have seen couples who had dated for three or four years and even lived together for a long time before getting married; some of them were ready to file for divorce about two years later. As people seek to present themselves in the best possible light before marriage, family involvement is important, provided that its members use good sense and wisdom abouteach potential spouse's personality, religiosity, strengths and weaknesses.

Happily married couples are aware of their various rights and responsibilities, develop realistic expectations, have good communication skills, makej oint decisions and resolve their conflicts based upon their personal commitment to each other. In addition to honoring each other's rights and sexual needs, they realize that honesty, trustworthiness, humility and willingness to cooperate and compromise are essential elements.

THE SESSIONS

The primary purpose of pre-marital counseling is to discuss the potential realities of married life, such as issues related to personality differences and communication style. The counselor should be a professional who has been trained in family dynamics; can detect personality patterns, communication problems and, in certain cases, clinical issues; and is able to help alleviate some of the problems and/or refer the couple to appropriate specialists, if necessary.

During the first session, the couple is given general information about the purpose and confidentiality of pre-marital counseling. They are then informed that, generally speaking, individuals will naturally have different personalities, opinions and feelings on many issues. Thus, they will have to find one or more ways to respect these differences and learn how to reach a mutually acceptable compromise. …

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