EARLY DIVORCE IN SAUDI ARABIA
INTRODUCTION TO THE CURRENT STUDY
The divorce phenomenon is worldwide, affecting every society currently in existence. For many couples, neither the husband nor the wife wakes up one day and suddenly decides to divorce. On the contrary, divorce is preceded by accumulated unresolved problems, which ultimately lead to the decision to divorce (Al-Omary, 2003). Divorce cases have recently increased in a concerning way in Saudi Arabia. Concern is derived from the fact that society’s coherence and safety, and its provision with new members, are fundamentally dependent on the health of the family. Indeed, the family is the cornerstone of social structure in most societies (Al-Amry, 2003). Divorce has disrupted this fundamental social unit and can be expected to have far reaching implications for Saudi Arabia such as instability in the society due to martial problems and conflicts (Ardeaan, 2008). Divorce is considered the last link in a chain of family problems and family disintegration. Being a necessity as sometimes the only solution to escape marital tensions, troubles, and responsibilities, divorce nevertheless has its own adverse consequences and harm for all family members, who may need a substantial amount of time to adapt and return to normalcy in their lives (Tunsi, 2002).
Despite the fact that divorce is such a difficult social malady, it is preventable. A better understanding of those aspects of a married couple’s relationship that contribute most to divorce should be of significant value in designing effective premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia. Kruenegel-Farr et al. (2013) stated that “premarital education is a valuable tool to help couples form and sustain a healthy relationship and enduring marriage that benefits themselves and their children” (p. 99). Senediak defined premarital prevention as “knowledge and skills-based training that provide couples with information on ways to sustain and improve their relationships once they are married” (as cited in Blair & Cordova, 2009, p. 118). Such programs provide an educational environment for couples to learn the skills that research has indicated are connected with healthy marital relationships (Duncan, Childs & Larson, 2010). The major topics covered in these programs include communication, conflict resolution, commitment, and expectation management (Halford, Markman, Kline, & Stanley, 2003). Study findings suggest several benefits of premarital education programs. These include enhanced communication and conflict management skills, reduced chances for divorce, more commitment to one’s mate, and increased marital satisfaction (Stanley, 2001; Stanley, Amato, Johnson, & Markman, 2006).
Statement of the Problem
Divorce Rates Skyrocketing and Early Divorce in Saudi Arabia
The last ten years have seen an alarming increase in divorce rates in Saudi Arabia. In 2007, 18 percent of all marriages in Saudi Arabia ended in divorce. By 2012, that number had steadily climbed to 24 percent (Statistics of the Ministry of Justice, 2012). The following year (2013) saw another dramatic spike to 35 percent. Though the rates for 2014 and 2015 (18 percent and 20 percent, respectively) suggest the 2013 rate is perhaps an anomaly, these statistics nevertheless suggest a substantial and sustained uptick in the rate of divorce (National Information Center, 2015). The statistics of the Ministry of Justice (2016) further revealed an increased divorce rate in Saudi Arabia to 39.9 % in 2016. Moreover, it has been noted that most divorces occur among couples in their twenties, and that the majority of divorces occur in the early years of marriage. One source reported that 60 percent of divorces occur within the first year (Abdljalil & Al Sebae, 2006). This trend suggests that a primary reason for divorce may be that young people are unprepared for and overwhelmed by the challenges of the marriage relationship (Al-Ewidhi, 2009). If this trend continues, it seems reasonable to anticipate that divorce may become increasingly normalized in Saudi society in the very near future, leading to an array of potentially serious societal problem such as children growing with one parent and disregard for religious tenets. Moreover, Al Gharaibeh and Bromfield (2012) found other reasons contributing to divorce, such as parental and family interference in the affairs of spouses, lack of awareness among couples about the rights and responsibilities in marriage, spousal abuse, inequality in a couples’ age, and differing education levels and economic status. The rate of divorce in Saudi Arabia is rising over time, which confirms the importance of resolving this phenomenon before it becomes a social emergency.
Rising Divorce Rates: Social, Cultural, and Economic Factors
Al-Harby (2013) and Al-Ali (2015) found correlations between the social and cultural transformations Saudi society has witnessed during the last four decades and the development of the early divorce phenomenon and its recent rate of increase. Al-Harby (2013) indicated these transformations have impacted the Saudi family, not only in regard to its size and function, but also to its values, relationships, social roles, and its internal pattern of life. He added that this impact is due to the fact that not only is the individual family the basic structural unit of society, but also that it is, in turn, influenced by society.
One way in which the Saudi family has been influenced by society is through economic transformations. Increases in oil prices in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1970s led to significant growth in the country’s economy (Gassas, 2016). This rapid economic growth, along with globalization, has had a substantial impact on Saudi families as a whole, including strains in marital relationships (Al-Khateeb, 1998; Pharaon, 2004). The growth of the country’s economy led to a rise in educational attainment levels. Initially, only boys had access to education. Today, both boys and girls are equally entitled to quality education. The prevalence of education among Saudi women has changed their perspective about themselves and their role in society, as well as raising awareness about their rights. Moreover, higher education for both men and women often involves study abroad. In fact, exposure to foreign cultures has led several generations of young people to have different expectations about marriage than their parents and grandparents had. These expectations were defined by Al-Salem (2005), who stated past expectations of Saudi women were that women should not share equal rights with men, were restricted to certain fields such as education or nursing in all-women environments, or else had to serve their husbands. Presently, educated Saudi women experience greater openness and better understanding of marital relationships, and their education empowers them to be aware of the laws related to their rights, marital life, job, and personal status (Alderazi, 2013).
Saudi Women: Education and Work
Another factor related to the spread of education among women that may be responsible for the rising cases of divorce in Saudi Arabia is the rise of the level of women’s economic participation compared to decades ago, when they did not have jobs and were dependent on their male guardians (i.e., fathers, brothers, or husbands), who had the authority to control their life. (Al-Arabiya News, 2011). Saudi women’s employment has become a reality and a social necessity in the light of economic circumstances and social developments. Insight and AlMunajjed (2010) indicated that some of the main reasons for women entering the workforce include achieving financial independence, increasing family income, and guaranteeing their future. As a result, the majority of Saudi women have become financially and socially independent due to their employment (Al-Saghier, 2010). However, some women struggle to balance the responsibility of home and children with their job requirements, which consequently leads them to feel both psychologically and physically fatigued. Taking all previous factors in account, some women choose to end an unsatisfactory marriage because they are capable of living on their own (El-Haddad, 2003).
Al-Saghier (2010) stated that inequalities in finances and education between spouses are also common in many families, which has been found to be a major cause of disputes in marriages because women feel more independent and men have begun to feel insignificant. Moreover, Al-Sayed (2015) claimed that one of the major problems contributing to marital disputes among Saudi couples is the problem related to the wife’s job and salary. According to Al-Arabiya News (2011), some Saudi husbands use their wives’ salaries for their own benefit or to complete the construction of homes without paying attention to their wives’ needs and desires. This phenomenon could make women lose trust in marital relationships and consequently lead them to seek divorce.
Along with the other social and culture changes, marriage habits and traditions in Saudi society have also changed. In Saudi Arabia, marriage has traditionally been endogamous; that is, one chooses a marital partner from one’s tribe or family, commonly one’s cousin. This arrangement has prevailed in Saudi Arabia for a long time. However, in line with the other changes that have taken place in Saudi society, exogamous marriages, those taking place outside the tribe or family have become increasingly common (Al-Khateeb, 2009). Al-Ali (2015) claimed that early marriage has also been prevalent in traditional Saudi society. However, the average age at which couples marry has increased recently from 21 to 23 years for women and from 26 to 28 years for men (Citation???). With such changes, the methods of selecting a life partner have been impacted. Some young men and women, especially those in cities and urban areas, now have absolute freedom in choosing their life partner. When selecting their partners, men are often now looking for a woman who is working so they can share financial burdens; however, this phenomenon may lead to unhappy wives and therefore increase the divorce rate. Fatany (2013) explained the reasons for raising this issue, stating that Saudi women cannot work without the consent of their husbands. Their husbands have the authority to decide where they are allowed to work, and some Saudi men refuse to let their wives work, or sometimes force them to quit their job. Fatany (2013) added that even if some husbands allow their wives to work, they might control their wife’s salary.
Communication scholars indicated that the differences in using social media platforms by users depends on the cultural context (Kim, Sohn, & Choi 2011). Al-Jasir (2015) stated that individuals in Saudi Arabia have less opportunity to go offline compared to other cultures, such as in American and western culture. Having this limited opportunity in Saudi Arabia is due to sex segregation that is obligatory under Saudi law. This makes it difficult for women to communicate with unrelated men; however, social media networks have made it easier for women to communicate beyond the restriction of sex segregation while they are physically segregated (Al-Saggaf, 2004; saleh, 2014)
Saudi Arabia is considered the most conservative culture in the world, and is the birthplace of Islam, with the two holy cities (Mecca and Medina), in which millions of Muslims come to gather and pray together in remembrance of Allah. Saudi Arabia is also located in the heart of the Arab world. The country’s values and norms derive from both the Islamic religion and Arabic culture. All of these factors shape Saudi opinions, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors (Madini, 2012; Yamani, 2010). Social media also has a significant role and even a “liberating role” for women in Saudi Arabia, especially in the way they see their identities, beliefs, and culture (Pharaon, 2004, p.365; saleh, 2014).
Pharaon (2004) revealed that most Saudi women use social media to discuss different topics, including Islam, family, and social issues, which allows them to be open minded in their thinking through expression and discussion (Al Saggaf, 2004). Furthermore, Al Saggaf (2011) found that social media exposes Saudi women to ideas and viewpoints that are in opposition to Islam and contradict Saudi culture. This exposure might have an impact by making them intellectually confused, which in turn could change their beliefs and values.
Moreover, the primary characteristic of Saudi identity is the importance of family ties, which should be considered when talking about Saudi culture. Women wasting time on social media could contribute to harming the structure of the family through neglecting family commitments, as well as being extroverted given that most women in Saudi Arabia who are wives are accustomed to spending most of their time in their homes (Al Saggaf, 2011; Al-Saggaf, 2004; Zakaria et al., 2003)
Apparently, recent years have witnessed fundamental transformations in the Saudi familial pattern in general and divorce rates in particular. Not only have a score of variations taken place regarding marriage and its trends, but new patterns of familial relationships have also appeared along with changes in women’s and men’s roles that have intensified the divorce rates (Al-Harby, 2013). Al-Anzy (2009) examined the misunderstanding of marital roles between couples. He stated there was a lack of clarity regarding marital roles and that spouses move to marital life with unrealistic expectations of what they want from the other party, thanks to the openness of mass media, whose programs broadcast ideal visions of marital life. This inevitably leads to estrangement and clashes between the spouses in the absence of understanding of the other party and their real roles in marital life. Struggles may arise when one of the spouses desires to change the role played by their partner, or when one of the parties provoke the other by practicing his or her role. For instance, Al-Saghier (2010) demonstrated these problems by stating the wife may accept her role, but when the husband solely assumes authority and decision making, this may stimulate her desire to participate in the same. If the husband denies her that right, struggles emerge. Al-Saghier (2010) added that either party or both may reject traditional division of work between them, and that clarity of roles and having a compromise regarding their potential expectations may increase intimacy and reduce tension between the two spouses.
The Effect of Divorce on Saudi Women
Divorce in Saudi Arabia is a sensitive situation due to the importance of family ties, customs, and stigmatization toward divorced women (Saleh & Luppicini, 2017). Al Khatib (2009) stated divorced women in Saudi Arabia are more often influenced by divorce’s negative effect than any other members in their families. They also suffer from issues related to adaptability. One study found that “42% of divorced women are unable to adjust to the new situation, 32% are suffering from difficulties relating to the adaptability of society, and 52% are suffering from economic problems” (Al-Khatib, 2009, p 173).
AlMunajjed (2011) stated that divorced Saudi women experience serious challenges, not just economically and socially, but also legally. Saleh (2014) also added psychological challenges to those already named. Firstly, social issues include social stigma toward divorced women, which leads to restrictions within their family, as the male family members have power and authority over them, as well as feeling rejected by family and friends. Secondly, in terms of economic issues, AlMunajjed (2011) found these women may be affected by lower income, which prevents them from enjoying financial security for their children and themselves due to the lack of a suitable job, or the former husband not providing alimony after divorce even though the woman retains custody of the children and the former husbands required to support their children. There are difficulties with legal issues, which include “the imposition of male guardianshisp, and the lack of knowledge about their legal rights” (p. 63). Lastly, Regarding the psychological issues; divorced women may experience “regret and remorse, emotional vacuum, lack of confidence and depression” (p. 58).
Stigmatization is a serious issue that Saudi women experience following divorce, because they are struggling to gain acceptance within their society (AL-Mukhtar, 2011). Some people in Saudi society take a harsh view towards divorced women and hold them responsible for divorce. Another consequence of this stigma on divorced women is they do not reveal their marital status to the public, because they fear a harsh reaction from society (Saleh, 2014). Furthermore, this stigma might affect the decision process of divorced women, causing them to remarry without taking enough time to determine whether a new husband or new marriage is going to be appropriate and successful, because they are just thinking of how to escape society’s criticisms (Saleh, 2014; Saleh & Luppicini, 2017). Al-Harby (2013) found a number of divorce-related psychological effects including feelings of regret and remorse, increased anxiety, failure in practicing a normal life, disappointment, distrust of others, the absence of the desire to remarry, and depression.
The preceding research seems to emphasize there is an increasing need for awareness efforts that will limit the prevalence of divorce and disrupted families. In addition to the problems associated with its failure, marriage is also a goal in itself. Stable and healthy marriages have substantial benefits for couples and their children (Lee & Ono, 2012). Marriage is considered the soundest method for building a family, giving birth to children, and continuation of human society, bearing in mind that it is of maximum significance to achieve harmony and conformity in the relationships of all family members (Al-Sayed, 2015). Such relationships determine the quality of people’s lives, their degree of happiness, and their satisfaction with themselves and their lives (Al-Ewidhi, 2009; Daood & Hamdi, 2004).
Saudi Arabia is considered to be one of the most conservative cultures in the world,
with a unique blend of Islamic and Arab traditions. Saudi Arabians are mostly Muslims, and Islam plays a central role in Saudi people’s behavior, norms, attitudes, and social practices (Al-Saggaf, 2004). The desired goal is to establish a well-built family within a sound Islamic framework, with an eye on shaping proper familial relationships based on cooperation, cordiality, and love. This should be done in a way that guarantees the protection of the individual from psychological disorders and that protects society from deviant behavior (Daood & Hamdi, 2004).
Al-Ewidhi (2009) stated that a good woman, equipped with skills and experience, is the cornerstone of the sound rearing of children and of family building. Women, he says, are the pillar of social reform. However, the success of marital life is the responsibility of both parties. It can be achieved by modifying the behavior of either party. The initiative of either party will be met with the response of the other party, thus reaching the desired goal of building a successful family (Al-Ewidhi, 2009).
Research conducted in the United States demonstrates that premarital education for couples addresses many risks associated with unhappiness and divorce. Shahhosseini, Hamzehgardeshi and Kardan (2014) found that premarital education is a proper way to protect families, and they stated that the prevention aspects in such programs are more important than the treatment aspects. Several studies in the discipline of family science suggest engaging couples in premarital preparation is effective in improving marital satisfaction and decreasing marital dissolution and divorce (Carlson et al., 2012; Stanley, Amato, Johnson & Markman, 2006; Tambling & Glebova, 2013).
There are many studies that confirm the importance of premarital education for helping couples with the transition from single to married life by preparing them for marriage and helping them to explore all aspects of their relationship (Yilmaz, 2010), as well as its benefits in encouraging couples to use counseling in the future if they need to (Williamson, Trail, Bradbury, & Karney, 2014).
Cowan and Cowan (2002) concluded that premarital interventions help couples build and sustain relationships that are healthy and contribute immensely to the establishment and growth of a united and stable family. Premarital interventions help to establish an enduring marriage that is beneficial to both partners and their children (Stanley, 2001). Premarital interventions have been successful in achieving meaningful advances in conflict management, communication processes, and other areas that determine the success or failure of marital relationships (Tambling & Glebova, 2013).
A large body of research on the causes of divorce in Saudi Arabia explicitly points to the necessity for premarital education programs in the country. In addition, several studies indicate the importance of premarital programs for decreasing marital dissolution and divorce (e.g., Abdljalil, 2006; Al-Damegh, 2012; Al-Harby, 2013; Al-Saghier, 2010). Indeed, existing programs in Saudi Arabia tend to last only a few days and are not comprehensive enough to successfully prepare couples for marriage. An example of this in Saudi Arabia is a marriage preparation program for engaged couples. This program was established in 2013 by The Ministry of Social Affairs and has many branches throughout Saudi Arabia. The program staff members include faculty who either teach in Saudi universities or have retired from them. These instructors are required to hold doctoral or master’s degrees in psychology or sociology to teach psychological (e.g., psychological characteristics of man and woman, enhancing intimate relationship, increasing emotional satisfaction between spouses) and social (e.g., social skills for stable marriage, skills for dealing with in-laws, conflict resolution skills) aspects, religion to teach the religious aspect (e.g. marriage and its goal, successful marriage, rights and duties between spouses in the context of Islam), and physician science to teach the health aspects (e.g., differences in sexual organs for both male and female, the causes of vaginal infections and ways to prevent them, ovulation, and fertilization information).
The program, lasting for three days, aims to prepare women and men for marriage in terms of health, psychological and religious aspects. Men and women attend separate sessions of the program, at different locations, with different staff members as per the Islamic culture whereby emphasis is made on separation of genders when it comes to social gatherings, teachings, programs and convocations. In each session, the participants receive four hours of instructional contact, including lecture, activities, workshops, and group discussions. Other premarital programs in Saudi Arabia are conducted either by voluntary institutions or through personal effort.
Another problem reflecting the need for better premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia is the shortage of scholarly research on marital and family therapeutic interventions in a Saudi context. Currently, there is only one diploma certificate degree in family counseling at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University, along with a few accredited workshops to train marital and family therapy interventionists (Gassas, 2016). Additionally, Al-Habeeb and Qureshi (2010) indicated there is a lack of proper clinical skills training in Saudi Arabia, and the majority of social workers do not hold postgraduate degrees. Families needing therapeutic interventions have few places to turn in Saudi Arabia; therefore, all these factors confirm the importance of premarital education programs for Saudi couples in order to decrease marital dissolution that might need family therapy intervention in the future, which are very limited in this society.
Finally, numerous researchers have asserted the importance of establishing comprehensive premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia and of encouraging youth approaching marriage to attend marriage training courses organized by official bodies and provided by competent specialists (e.g., Abdljalil, 2007; Al-Harby, 2013; Al-Damegh, 2012; Al-Saghier, 2010).
Purpose of the Current Study
This study is ultimately concerned with the phenomenon of divorce in Saudi society, with the aim of addressing the issue by conducting a research study to better understand married Saudi women’s experiences and perceptions that may be used to develop a premarital education program. Based on the research demonstrating the importance of premarital education as well as the rising rates of divorce in Saudi Arabia, the purpose of the current study is to contribute to the design of more effective premarital education programs by gaining a better understanding of the experiences of Saudi women who have been married for less than five years. This approach will bring the benefit of culturally relevant experience to premarital education efforts. Specifically, this study attempts to answer the following questions. What strengths and weaknesses do Saudi women perceive in their marriages? What kinds of information do married Saudi women think is needed upon entering marriage? How do Saudi women’s expectations about marriage compare to their experiences of marriage? And, what are Saudi women’s opinions and beliefs about premarital education programs?
Statement of Theoretical Framework
Symbolic Interactionism (SI) is a theoretical framework that is particularly appropriate for this research. SI theory is used to explain human behavior by postulating that people assign meaning to the objects in their environment and align their actions to their concept of a given situation. SI also places emphasis on how people develop their self-conceptions, because self-concept is supposed to be shaped by, and in turn shape, symbolic meanings as well as actions through social interaction (Blumer, 1969; Sergin & Flora, 2005). The essential characteristic of SI theory is analyzing how people come to share symbols (i.e., verbal and non-verbal language). These gestures can hold the same or different meanings for people involved in a given situation (Hennon & Peterson, 2011). SI theory is commonly employed by researchers studying marital relationships. These researchers focus on subjective meaning, as well as the role of social relationships in determining behavior (Willoughby, Luczak & Hall, 2015). It is assumed that spouses’ interaction with one another shapes, and is shaped by, several factors. These factors include the meaning couples attach to the tangible and intangible aspects of their relationship, their own sense of self, and social and cultural norms.
Summary of the Methodology
This study applied to Saudi women who are living in Saudi Arabia. In order to participate in this research, Saudi women must not have had a previous marriage, and they must have been married for five years or less. The primary data collection technique for the research was interviewing. This study employed mixed purposeful sampling to connect with potential participants by means of a snowball strategy. This strategy is an informal approach to reaching the target population that can be used for making inferences about a population (Faugier & Sergeant, 1997).
The data collection strategy for this study combined a semi-formal interview approach with an interview guide. The combined interview approach involved informal conversational interviewing and standardized open-ended interviewing. Analysis consisted of established procedures for organizing and clarifying participants’ responses. The focus of analysis was on identifying consistent patterns pertaining to the research questions.
Significance of the Study
Learning about the challenges and the strengths that Saudi women perceive or demonstrate in their marital lives should give practitioners a clearer picture of the information that should be included in premarital education programs for this population. Furthermore, knowledge of the common issues these women experience in their marital lives can help researchers shed light on those issues. A publication detailing the study’s results is a useful resource for establishing courses concerned with marital relationships in the secondary-stage educational curricula for young adults.
Additionally, a summary of the current paper’s findings might be beneficial for parents by drawing their attention to the significance of family upbringing for helping both sons and daughters prepare to assume their marital responsibilities in the future. Hopefully, this study will help encourage parents to attend training courses about preparing their sons and daughters for their marital lives. Moreover, this study is significant because it encourages families and other social institutions to pay attention to socialization. This focus will help the younger generation prepare themselves for independence and for assuming marital responsibilities, and for future social life in general. The ultimate goal of this study is to implement a premarital education program in Saudi Arabia. This study can serve as a tool to inform policies and laws regarding premarital education programs for couples who are approaching marriage.
A limitation of this research is the exclusion of men from the study. While the ultimate goal of this study is to construct a suitable premarital education program for Saudi women, the opinions of husbands are equally important in formulating a program that incorporates all aspects of marital relationships.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
The premarital education programs discussed in this study are designed to focus and inform on three things: mate selection, cultivating healthy relationships prior to marriage, and establishing healthy relationship habits within marriage: thereby laying a solid foundation for more successful marriages. This study will draw upon previous research. Because research on the scale and scope of that in America does not exist in Saudi Arabia, previous American research will be used. This presents a potential difficulty, especially with mate selection. The mate selection process in Saudi Arabia and the United States differs according to each society’s culture. Accordingly, one must take into consideration whether a program that is designed for Americans will be appropriate in Saudi Arabia, and, if not, what cultural adaptations should be made. One society may approve of certain introduction for marriage while another one rejects it.
In America, the processes of dating, engagement, and marriage are conducted on an individual basis between the two concerned persons (Kathryn & Stuart 2014). According to Myers, Madathil and Tingle (2005) “marriage in America is viewed as an opportunity for the fulfillment of personal goals, and emphasis is placed on feelings of mutual compatibility and attraction between the partners” (p. 916). The authors add that America’s norms related to mate selection are founded in love-based relationships, in which individuals freely choose their own partner. In Saudi Arabia, mate selection involves the entire family, even in relatively liberal urban areas (Al-Omary, 2003). Love-based marriages are discouraged by Saudi Arabian culture, because cultural and legal separation of the sexes in Saudi society makes dating impossible (Office of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2013)). Also, marriage is considered the only relationship that enables humans to legitimately practice the sexual relationship. Therefore, marriage is arranged in Saudi Arabia by parents or other family members (Al-Saghier, 2010).
The major difference, then, between Saudi Arabia and America regarding the selection of a marriage partner is that, in the United States, males and females can meet each other freely without any sex segregation. It is through these interactions that the relationship develops. In fact, women and men in America can start their relationship before marriage (premarital cohabitation) and formalize it later through marriage (Perelli-Harris & Lyons-Amos, 2015). Hence, cohabitation might be regarded as a stage in American marriage; it is either a temporary stage to marriage, or an alternative stage for being single for some couples (Kennedy & Bumpass, 2008). In contrast, in Islamic societies such as Saudi Arabia, men and women are not allowed by Islamic law to meet each other alone without a chaperon, because of the fear that unmediated interactions between men and women could lead to an extramarital sexual relationship, which is prohibited.
Another difference between Saudi and American culture related to marriage regards the engagement period. In Saudi Arabia, the engagement phase is the period between finalizing the marriage contract and the wedding night, which enables the young man and the young woman to more closely know each other in an acceptable legal and traditional framework (see more details below). Therefore, if two engaged people decide to break up, that would be considered divorce in Saudi Arabia (Ardeaan, 2008), while in United States the engagement period involves no legal contract. In order to understand this study, the following context provides more explanation of marriage in Saudi culture.
Marriage in Saudi Arabian Culture
Saudi society is one of the most traditional-religious societies in the Arab world. Despite Saudi efforts to follow the modern world, traditional religion and culture still play a strong role in forming Saudi people’s norms, attitudes, behaviors, values, and practices (Al-Saggaf, 2011). However, it should be mentioned that while it is difficult to distinguish between Islamic principles and traditional norms in Saudi Arabia, not all Saudi traditions come from Islamic law. The majority of them come from social influences (Al Alhareth, Al Alhareth & Al Dighrir, 2015). Hayat (2014) asserted that “tradition is more powerful in the Saudi culture than religion” (p. 21).
In order to better understand the context of this study, it is important to explain some aspects of Saudi culture related to marriage. The following discussion does not cover all aspects of Saudi culture; however, it provides clear details that relate to Saudi customs regarding marriage. Because people in Saudi Arabia are mostly Muslims, it is essential to first understand some Islamic aspects of marriage, and then consider some aspects of Saudi culture.
Marriage in Islam
Marriage within Islam is usually based on love and harmony. It is not only concerned with the satisfaction of instincts and enjoyment, but it is a matter of giving and sacrifice. Marriage involves participation in development and building, and mutual sensations and joint ideas, formulated by close cohesion and mutual deep love (Al-Sayed, 2015). Marriage in Islam is called nikah. In Arabic, nikah is a blessed contract between a man and woman so they can procreate and live in tranquility and peace, following the commandments of Allah and the direction of his messenger. The Quran has described the relationship between men and women as a bond that brings love, trust, harmony, and compassion, saying:
“And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. Undoubtedly in these are signs for those who reflect”. (Noble Quran 30:21)
Under Islam, marriage is the only relationship allowing the legitimate practice of sex. Sexual satisfaction is one of the needs that individuals desire to fulfill through marriage (Al-Qarni, 2015). A man and woman have the freedom to choose their own partners. In fact, Islam gives a woman the right to choose her husband with whom she will spend the rest of her life. It is not acceptable for anyone, no matter who he is, to force a woman into a marriage with a man she dislikes (Naseef, 1999). However, in certain occasions due to the close connection of families, spouse selection may occur and arranged marriages ensue after both partners agree to be joined in matrimony, though this is no longer emphasized in the Islamic culture due to the freedom of people to choose their spouses.
Marriage in Islam is a written contract that should be conducted by a judge and two male witnesses in order to be valid and registered in the courts. Furthermore, another condition to make marriage valid is the presence of the bride’s representative, who signs the marriage document on her behalf after he gets the agreement from her. Moreover, the groom must pay the bride a particular amount of dowry during the process of forming the marriage (Talhami, 2012).
Islam specifies the rights of the wife and the rights of the husband in a way designed to suit their natures. The husband’s duties include paying the dowry and expenses, pleasing his wife, good treatment of his wife, assuming his responsibilities and authority as a man, and wishing for his wife what he wishes for himself. On the other hand, the wife’s duties comprise guarding her husband’s honor and money, pleasing her husband, good treatment of her husband, and wishing for him what she wishes for herself (Al-Qarni, 2015).
The Position of Women in Saudi Arabia
It is important to briefly review the political and social background of women in Saudi Arabia before going in depth in the present paper. Saudi women confront restrictions and limitations of different aspects in their lives (Hamdan, 2005). The perception of male guardianship is a distinctive and strong norm for Saudi women in Saudi Arabia, where they need to have male guardians who are required to be present in public spaces. In other words, every woman in Saudi Arabia has to get consent from a male guardian (i.e., father, brother, or husband) to receive services. For example, women have to get permission from their guardian to enroll in education sectors for studying, employment, and traveling. Moreover, they also are prevented from conducting their own business without showing male guardian permission, and they are not allowed to drive cars (Al Alhareth, Al Alhareth, & Al Dighrir, 2015; Doumato, 2010; Hamdan, 2005). Additionally, women rely on their guardians in presenting to the justice system because they lack direct access to it (Hamdan, 2005). Essentially, “restrictions on the women’s movement can be attributed to social and tradition cultural boundaries more than religious” (Hamdan, 2005, p. 55).
However, many changes have recently been taking place in Saudi laws. Saudi King Abdullah in 2011 gave women the right to vote and to run in municipal elections (BBC, 2011). On May 20, 2017, King Salman announced that Saudi women are no longer required to get permission from their male guardians in order to obtain their services, which has historically been a hindrance to some women, because some guardians exploited their authority over women and took advantage of their cases (Shalhoub, 2017). Finally, the right to drive a car was approved for Saudi women on September 26, 2017, as announced by King Salman (Spark, 2017).
In essence, the driving ban for women was an obstacle in their daily lives. Ramsdal (2013) described the most difficult challenges Saudi women had regarding to the driving ban. She indicated that under this ban women in Saudi Arabia were either reliant on male relatives to drive them around, or on personal drivers. That is not a problem for wealthy families who can afford the salary of a driver for their women. However, the driving ban is still an obstacle for families who cannot hire a driver, especially for women without sons, as well as those with handicapped husbands. These women are forced to use taxis, but it is unacceptable for religious and social reasons to be in a taxi alone with a man. Ramsdal (2013) also stated this ban is a big issue for women when they are not able to take their relatives to the hospital in emergency situations.
Gender segregation is a prominent aspect of Saudi culture as well. Women in Saudi Arabia are only allowed to have physical contact with their mahrams, who are unmarriageable kin. They are not allowed to be alone with men who are not related to them without the presence of their mahrams (Almakrami. 2015). However, those men and women who are unrelated to each other are allowed to mix in certain situations, such as seeing a doctor of the opposite gender or in managing a business. Such interactions are allowed to take place under the consideration that the interaction is restricted to certain norms, and no physical contact is allowed (Al-Dawood, 2016). Furthermore, because of legal separation of the sexes and other cultural matters, dating or romantic love outside of the framework of marriage is prohibited and not socially accepted (Al-Dawood, 2016). All of these traditions affect marriage in Saudi Arabia, because men and women do not have the chance to interact with each other as a couple before officially being engaged. Due to this legal separation, nearly all marriages in Saudi Arabia are arranged.
Arranged marriage is the most common type of marriage in Saudi Arabia (Alhakmi & McLaughlin, 2016). Emran, Maret-Rakotondrazaka, and Smith (2014) define arranged marriage “as the cases where parents wield the primary decision-making power: they choose the spouse of children with or without children’s input” (p. 3). This is the case in Saudi Arabia, where selection of a marriage partner is primarily in the hands of parents and relatives. In some Saudi families, the proposed couple have nothing to do with the marriage affairs. However, there has recently developed what is called arranged marriage with participation, whereby the young man and woman are entitled to reject the selected partner (Al Tamimi, 2009). Some young men participate in selecting their future spouse by referring to their parents someone in whom they are interested. Then the young man’s parents guide the process as usual (Office of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, 2013).
It is common in arranged marriages that the selection process proceeds in a series of stages. In the first step, the male requests that his mahrams (e.g., mothers, sisters, aunts) find a suitable female for marriage, based on the special characteristics he is looking for, such as interests and likes that match his own. Subsequently, his mahrams search and come up with a candidate. Females, on the other hand, are expected to be seen or recommended by other females to be a candidate for potential males. In the case that a male is satisfied with the candidate, his parents contact the girl’s parents and make a proposal. Then, the girl’s parents make an investigation of the groom’s family, as well as his financial and social status, his integrity, and reputation. The parents arrange a meeting for the groom with their daughter if they approve his proposal. Several such meetings might need to be held in order for both potential partners to make up their minds. If a couple agrees to accept one another, they meet with a Shaikh (Muslim cleric), who marries them, and signs the contract of marriage (Al-Dawood, 2016). However, this process requires several things: the consent of both partners (the bride’s signature is required at the wedding ceremony to make the marriage legal), the consent of the girl’s guardian, two witnesses, the dowry given by the groom to the bride, and a medical check (Alhakmi & Mclaughlin, 2016). Finally, both families go through the procedure of making an official contract in court.
After the Shaikh marries a couple, the couple announces what is known as a religious engagement. After that, the couple is considered legally married, and the bride can remove her hijab (scarf) in front of her fiancé. She is allowed to meet him without a chaperone. However, in most cases, they still do not live together (Al-Dawood, 2016). Finalizing the marriage contract is almost always the legal milestone that enables the young man to be a legitimate husband of the woman, without necessarily having a physical relationship together (Ardeaan, 2008). This relationship is postponed to a later date, called the wedding night, which is some days, weeks, months, or even longer periods of time after the marriage contract is finalized. This engagement period is intended to be a time for the engaged couple to get acquainted with each other within the legitimate framework, with the possibility of disengagement if either party is found unsuitable for the other one (Al-Amary, 2003) During this period, the couple is able to meet one another, and they may go out together after receiving permission from the bride’s guardian. Finally, the last step after the engagement period is the marriage party.
The engagement phase might contribute to divorce in some cases. For example, a study by Ardeaan (2008) sought to gain an understanding of why some young men divorce their wives before the wedding. This research found three reasons for divorce before marriage. Firstly, due to certain social reasons, some families rush to finalize the marriage contract without giving the potential partners sufficient opportunity to get acquainted with each other. Secondly, a family will be in a situation when the daughter’s fiancé visits their home, and the parents do not allow him to speak to his fiancée privately prior to the wedding night due to the conservative social environment. Thirdly, it is sometimes discovered that the groom is not a good match for the bride. In any of the cases described above, the groom might divorce the bride to avoid more difficulties in their future marital life. The men interviewed in Ardeann’s study reported that the major reason for divorce was poor decision in mate selection.
Factors Contributing to Poor Marital Adjustment for Saudi Couples
Marital adjustment or quality of marriage, as it has recently been called, is one of the key goals of marital guidance and familial counseling. This is due to the significance of marital adjustment in assisting couples on how to successfully adjust through various stages of the family life cycle. Its impact is reflected in children, familial atmosphere, familial happiness level, and psychological and social safety for family members (Al-Saghier, 2010). The identification of the factors leading to marital adjustment, marital maladjustment, family collapse and divorce, and the role of these problems in the development of psychological disorders in children are considered an important goal in planning different kinds of programs in this field, with the aim to accomplish familial cohesion, adjustment, and resilience to life stresses.
Many Saudi studies claim to identify factors contributing to maladjustment. These factors include disputes between the spouses regarding their prospective roles, differences in the spouses’ values (i.e., one party may be strict and the other may be free, thus leading to disputes between them), child-rearing problems, hastiness in mate selection, and negative attitudes towards marriage on the part of either party (i.e., they may consider marriage an inevitable evil) (Al-Ali, 2015; Al-Qarni, 2015; Al-Shamsan, 2004; Al-Sayed, 2015). Lack of financial resources may also lead to maladjustment when the wife feels unhappy if her husband is not meeting her financial needs. Either party’s negligence of hygiene, and the wife’s neglect of applying makeup and ornamentation may be a direct cause of marital maladjustment (Al-Ewidhi, 2009; Al-Saghier, 2010; Al-Shamsan, 2004).
Al-Anzy (2009) argued that sexual problems are a cause of spouses’ marital disputes. He indicated that a number of studies provide strong evidence that spouses who suffer from marital problems have sexual intercourse only half, or even a third, as often as their peers who do not have marital problems. He has also indicated the absence of sexual enjoyment for either party may lead to tensions, disappointment, and frustration, thus spoiling the marital relationship, and generally affecting the marriage adversely (Al-Anzy, 2009). Al-Qarni (2015) discussed the factors that lead to sexual maladjustment. These include the husband’s ignorance of his wife’s sexual stimulation factor; the husband’s harsh treatment of his wife, which inevitably results in her sexual frigidity and weakness in her response to him; the husband’s incompetence, preoccupation, and work stress; absence of the husband’s desire for his wife; the wife’s ignorance of sexual education; sexual shyness; and fear of pregnancy.
According to Al-Anzy (2009), the lower rate of marital adjustment may be due to several interrelated factors including rashness in the matrimonial selection process, dissatisfaction of either party leading to weakness or absence of marital life skills, a lack of clarity about marital roles, and the spouses moving into the marital union with unrealistic expectations of what they want from the other party. These factors can lead to estrangement and clashes between spouses in the absence of an understanding of the other party and their roles in marital life. Al-Anzy (2009) also noted that the prevalence of certain customs and traditions, specifically not allowing the two parties to talk to each other in the engagement period, often results in the two partners learning about one another through indirect sources, such as relatives, or the internet. Such indirect information can be fake, untrue and incomplete, which in turn creates expectations inconsistent with reality.
Most spouses start their marital lives with a number of different ideas about marriage acquired from their family of origin. According to Al-Omary (2003), the different backgrounds that Saudi couples come from shape different ideas, beliefs and experiences. Such differences may lead to a difficulty in the dialogue necessary to reach understanding between the two spouses. Al-Shehry (2009) pointed out that marital adjustment seems to be a social legacy in Saudi Arabia, accompanying families generation after generation, similar to what American research found about how parents’ marital quality shapes their children’s attitudes toward their marriages. For example, Al-Shehery (2009) found that a husband is more likely to be able to adjust to his marriage if his parents experienced a happy marital life. This adjustment is due to his desire to duplicate the loving relationship and emotional warmth he witnessed during his early childhood and teenage years. Similarly, American scholars found that children who reported experiencing happy parents were less likely to take divorce as an acceptable decision compared with children who had unhappy parents (Amato & Booth, 2001; Cunningham & Thornton, 2006). Also, another study revealed that adults who reported living with unhappy parents are more likely to report problems in their own marriages (Amato & Booth, 1991).
Al-Sayed (2015) investigated the level of marital adjustment and common methods of mate selection in Saudi culture. In a simple random sample of Saudi couples, he found 63 percent of the study sample had a medium marital adjustment, while 19.8 percent had a low marital adjustment, and the remaining 16.5 percent had a high marital adjustment. Al-Sayed’s results suggest that the absence or weakness of marital conformity between the spouses may sometimes lead to ending the marital relationship with divorce or separation.
Al-Ali’s (2015) results indicated there are several proposals identified by respondents regarding the causes of marital disputes. These include distancing from Allah; absence of dialogue between the spouses; abandonment and neglect of prayers; either spouse or both spouses divulging marital life and home secrets; husband’s or wife’s infidelity; marrying from different nationalities; problems of tribe, lineage and ancestry; future bad planning, and neglect of husband’s requirements, among others.
Another cause of marital maladjustment in Saudi couples occurs when wives pursue interests outside of their marital and family responsibilities, such as work and study, due to the cultural and social changes in Saudi society (Citation???). Several factors leading to maladjustment include various entertainment methods, mass media, the abundance of shopping centers, and the difficulty of children’s upbringing. These factors can make the husband feel he is neglected by his wife and thereby feel apathy towards the entire marital relationship (Bassweel, 2008). Furthermore, marital maladjustment is mainly due to the deficiency of spouses’ communication skills; their inability to express feelings of love, cordiality and respect for each other; or their inability to recognize the same. Thus, they are unable to make proper decisions to face family problems as they arise (Ahmed, 2015).
Not all Saudi women are satisfied in their marriages, and some of these women may desire to get a divorce. Compelling factors in their lives, however, prevent them from ending troubled marriages. Almosaed and Alazab (2015) found Saudi wives with low levels of education prefer to remain in their marriages with abusive husbands because they are not able to find appropriate jobs that provide stability for themselves and their children. Furthermore, the lack of family support and economic dependence on their husbands are also considered major reasons that prevent them from divorcing. Almosaed and Alazab (2015) shed more light on an important issue in Saudi culture, which is that the raising of some women contributes to their choice to cope with abusive marriages instead of expressing their desire to divorce. They indicated that certain Saudi women are raised to believe there are different roles for women and men. They were taught by their families to exhibit traits of tolerance, sacrifice, and obedience; therefore, they cope with abusive husbands to maintain their dignity, which could be violated if they revealed their marital life secrets. On the other hand, there are Saudi women who are afraid to get divorced, even though they have miserable marital lives. Almosad (2009) studied violence against married Saudi women and found that 48% of abused women have been told by their families to sacrifice for the sake of their children, 18% have been told to be patient and handle the violence, and only 13% were recommended to seek divorce. Therefore, the support, or lack thereof, that Saudi women receive from their families is extremely influential to their decisions to remain in or to leave their marriages. Besides all of the previously described factors preventing Saudi women from divorce while tolerating their unhappy marriages, family stigma is another major factor. Saudi women either do not stay in their marriages, or they sacrifice their rights due to their fear of societal stigmatization.
Divorce in Islam
Talaq is an Arabic word meaning ‘to set free’, which is used in Islamic law for ending the marriage contract (Ali, 1985). In fact, The Prophet had reported that divorce is considered the most disliked thing to God. He said, “Never did Allah allow anything more hateful to him than divorce” (Abu Dawud 13:3). However, Islam permits divorce if it is the only solution after all attempts of solving disputes between the couple fail, and the marriage becomes impossible to continue (Moulana, 1998). In fact, Islam provides both men and women the full right to end an unsuccessful marriage (Badawi, 1979).
Muslim men and women have different methods for getting divorced, depending on their cases. For the husband, Islam gives them exclusive power and the right to issue a divorce instantaneously (Hassan, 1986). In this type of divorce, the husband has to pronounce the word talaq — I divorce you– in order to divorce his wife (Moulana, 1998). However, before divorce, Islam encourages couples who are about to divorce to appoint an arbitrator from the husband’s family and another arbitrator from the wife’s family in order to reconcile; however, if they still desire a separation, the divorce would occur (Saleh, 2014).
For the wife, according to Islam, a woman might also initiate divorce three ways. The first way is called fasah, which means obtaining divorce by applying to a Muslim court if her husband “is insolvent, insane, impotent, or is suffering from some serious illness” (Hassan, 1986, p.185). Taklik is the second type of divorce initiated by a woman, when her husband is imprisoned for a long period, or when he is absent and leaves her for six months or more without providing her maintenance, which is considered by Islam to be a violation of the condition of marriage (Hassan, 1986).The third way is called kula, which applies when a wife is unwilling for some reason to complete her marriage and thus requires a divorce from her husband. A wife might offer her husband the dowry that she received from him when she got married in order to legitimize the divorce. Importantly, for all three types, the divorce is essentially the woman’s decision, but if she fails to meet these conditions, the marriage will remain intact ( Hassan, 1986). It should be noted that the details provided above are only a brief summary of divorce proceedings in Islam, and specific details are beyond the scope of this study.
Factors that Contribute to Increased Divorce
Saudi society has been exposed to various social and economic changes. The effects of such changes have been reflected in social life and in relationships among individuals. Family life has also been affected by these changes. Such transformations have had a dangerous impact on Saudi families. It has swept away traditional values and social roles within the family and encouraged corruption of relationships between parents and children on the one hand, and between spouses on the other. This, in turn, has led to increases in divorce rates in general, and among newly married spouses in particular, along with other features of social and familial disintegration.
Numerous studies have noted a number of causes for divorce. Al-Amry (2003) attempted to show certain social and cultural factors led to early divorce in the Saudi city of Jeddah. She concluded one of the main reasons leading to early divorce was the inability of the wife to adapt to her husband’s personality. Both spouses start their marital life with a number of different ideas and experiences that can lead to difficulties in their dialogue, and thus can lead to disharmony between them.
Reasons for divorce vary in Saudi society. They include social, economic, demographic, and cultural factors. In terms of the social factors that contribute to divorce, research reveals one of the critical social reasons for divorce is spouses’ non-recognition of marital responsibilities and duties (Citation???). This non-recognition is primarily due to immaturity, poor upbringing of a daughter, and the absence of the wife’s mother’s role towards her daughter to explain to her the marital rights and responsibilities and potential difficulties (Abdljalil & Al sebaei, 2006). Al-Harby (2013) set out to investigate the social factors that contribute to the phenomenon of divorce among newly married spouses in Saudi Arabia. He found six factors leading to divorce, including spouses’ maladjustment, wife’s maltreatment and husband’s disobedience, relatives’ intervention, wife’s neglect of home affairs, wife’s excessive demands, and wife’s refusal to live with her husband’s family. Al-Khateeb (2009) investigated the effects of changes in Saudi society on divorce rates. He determined that one of the most important social factors leading to the tremendous increase in divorce rates in Saudi society was the point of view of some divorced Saudi women. The researcher studied 30 cases of divorced Saudi women from different educational, social, and economic backgrounds. The study’s results indicate the essential causes of divorce from the point of view of Saudi women are the non-assuming of responsibilities, lack of emotional intimacy, bad nature and manners, sexual problems, and reproductive failure. Moreover, this research indicates the most important factors leading to divorce include marital maladjustment or misunderstanding, partner’s ignorance of the meaning of marital life and continuous disputes, as well as spouses’ lack of understanding and recognition of the meaning and responsibilities of marital life.
Other research suggests that in addition to social factors affecting the rate of divorce in Saudi couples, there are economic factors as well. The economic factors leading to divorce include limited income, controlling salary, unemployment, great inequality of socioeconomic status between the families of the partners, and high standards of living (Al-Hazani, 2012).
Along with social and economic factors, demographics also are cited as a cause of divorce in Saudi Arabia. The study conducted by Al-Damegh (2012) pointed to age disparity between the spouses as a factor for increasing divorce. Research indicated that disparity in the age levels between the spouses led to divorce while compromise in such matters will potentially lead to cultural and intellectual conciliation and increase in understanding between the spouses in different matters concerned with their mutual marital life that enhance the values of cooperation, sacrifice, and help to decline the cases of divorce in Saudi Arabia despite the difference in age levels (Abdljalil & Al Sebae, 2006).
Aalem (1995) also found that a younger age of both spouses leads to a low level of experience in addressing social affairs, which also contributes to the likelihood of divorce. Current research has indicated a substantial increase in divorce rates in Saudi Arabia, particularly among couples married less than five years. Furthermore, it has been noted that most divorce occurs in the years of marriage among couples in their twenties (AlHarby, 2013). Moreover, AlHarby (2013) suggested a primary reason for divorce may be that young people are unprepared for and overwhelmed by the challenges of the marriage relationship. He cited an inability of the spouses to assume their responsibilities and duties, role playing problems, communication problems, financial problems, spouses’ maladjustment, relatives’ intervention, lack of emotional intimacy, and differences in the spouses’ values (AlHarby, 2013).
Saudi Arabia has strong cultural rules and expectations due to its conservative Islamic ties; therefore, a lack of adherence to these cultural norms can also be the underlying cause for divorce. Al-Damegh (2012) presented evidence of divorce due to intervention of the wife’s family, non-compliance with religion and ethics, and cultural inequality. Aalem (1995) found the causes of divorce in Saudi Arabia include the wife’s negligence of her children and home, the inability of the spouses to assume their respective responsibilities. Moreover, both spouses’ non-conformance with familial obligations is also a contributing factor (Al-Ewidhi, 2009). Al-Hazani (2012) pointed out a considerable proportion of respondents believed the key reasons for divorce are incompatibility, dislike, and maladjustment. She found these reasons and 34% in both the court of guarantee and marriages in Riyadh and the supplementary questionnaire, respectively. Al-Hazani asserted these reasons emerge due to the wrong choice of mate due to cultural influences, some parents do not take their daughter’s or son’s decision into consideration when they choose the future partner because they believe they are more qualified to find appropriate partners than are their children. These parents focus on financial matters and appearances, regardless of other significant factors, such as compatibility, adjustment, manners, personality, and compliance with religion. The premarital education programs are poised to focus on helping spouses and parents alike to focus on compatibility, adjustment, manners, personality and compliance with religion in coherence with the Islamic culture so as to make appropriate choices when selecting their partners.
In fact, a number of studies on the causes of divorce in Saudi Arabia explicitly point to the necessity for premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia. In order to decrease marital dissolution and divorce, youth approaching marriage should be encouraged to attend training courses organized by official bodies and provided by competent specialists (Abdljalil, 2007; Al-Damegh, 2012; Al-Ewidhi, 2009, Al-Harby, 2013; Al-Saghier, 2010). Unfortunately, existing programs in Saudi Arabia last only a few days, and the majority of them are too limited in scope to prepare men and women successfully for marriage. Another indication of the need for more effective premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia is a dearth of studies on marital and family therapeutic interventions in a Saudi context. The data suggest these programs, which could decrease marital problems that might need family therapy interventions, have limited availability in Saudi society.
In the interest of creating an effective premarital education program in Saudi Arabia, the results of the studies discussed above, along with the various factors contributing to increased divorce rates in Saudi Arabia, have been used to structure this study. A suitable family theory for this study is Symbolic Interaction Theory (SI). SI is an approach that focuses on the “connection between symbols (i.e., shared meanings) and interactions (i.e., verbal and non-verbal action and communication)” (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993, p.135). SI asserts that individuals place symbolic relevance on people, objects, and relationships based on meanings that emerge from social interaction (Willoughby, Luczak & Hall, 2015). Herbert Blumer was influential in developing the theory of SI. Blumer (1969) defined SI as an approach that helps researchers understand human action and view individuals as “pragmatic actors,” who live in a physical and symbolic world. He indicated that this approach pays attention to the symbolic world, which is shaped for an individual by their interaction with others. The theory focuses especially on how people attribute meanings and values by which they live. These values and meanings influence the way people think about the world. People shape and explain symbols in order to create a sense of self, allocate meanings to their surroundings, and communicate in daily life (Shirpak, Maticka-Tyndale & Chinichian, 2007).
SI assumes that everything in a person’s environment has individual meanings to that person, and on the other hand, a person acts toward another person according to the meaning that person has for them. Furthermore, it indicates that meaning is created through interaction, but this meaning is modified through an interpretive process (Smith, Hamon, Ingoldsby & Miller, 2008). Applied to marital life, SI suggests that each partner develops a personal meaning through interactions with his or her spouse. Thus, the meaning that is placed on the marital relationship becomes an essential factor in understanding how spouses interact in any situation; For example, a couple might have different meanings for the same words. They agreed to have a ‘large family’, but what one means by large might mean three children whereas the other partner considers a large family to include seven children. Therefore, in order for people to communicate effectively, they must use common symbols and interpretations, which comprise verbal and nonverbal communication (e.g., facial expression, body position, language tone or action; Segrin & Flora, 2005). They should share common meanings and interpretations of the symbols they use (Galvin & Brommel, 1982). According to Segrin and Flora (2005), people have many shared symbols, but they modify these symbolic meanings through interactions, through perspective taking, and through other interpretive processes. Through these processes, people can understand other viewpoints.
SI theory asserts individuals develop both their concept of self and their identity through social interaction (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993). Moreover, it assumes “the desire to have and maintain a positive self-concept is a powerful motive for behavior, and that behavior exerts an important influence on self-esteem” (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993, p. 147). In combining this perspective with Zhang et. al.’s (2011) study of marital life, self-esteem is seen to play an important role in the marital relationship. This research, conducted in the U.S., has shown wives often suffer from low self-esteem because they are not working, and they feel that they have little value (Zhang, et.al., 2011). Subsequently, they try to power their self-worth through education or employment. The study found women whose self-esteem is low seemed to have more conflict with their husbands due to the disparity in their wants compared to those of their husbands. For instance, most husbands desire for their wives to remain at home and take care of the children and house work and when women who want to work outside of their homes get into such marriages, they often face marriage conflicts and problems with their husbands. Hence, if a husband understands his wife’s feelings and desires in terms of what builds their self-esteem, it might provide a way toward solving many marital problems.
Another assumption of the SI theory is that people and groups are influenced by social and cultural processes, which are established through social interactions (Sergin & Flora, 2005). In fact, roles (e.g., gender roles, sexual roles, family roles) are often established in the context of social norms and expectations. The societal norms help clarify how people should or should not behave (Shirpak, Maticka-Tyndale & Chinichian, 2007). Roles form unconscious guidelines for behavior. However, cultural and social norms are not solid and fixed but are rather dynamic and subject to change (Blumer, 1969). Therefore, if individuals experience difficulties in their roles or their role-based expectations are different from what others expect, role strain occurs (Shirpak, Maticka-Tyndale & Chinichian, 2007). SI assumes that a relationship’s features emerge from the interaction between a couple, causing that couples’ relationship to take on unique properties. These properties emerge because spouses bring some socially shared meanings to their interactions (e.g., happy marital life, a loving marital relationship without conflict, a sexually satisfying relationship; Sprecher, Cate, Harvey & Wenzel, 2004). According to SI, many of the meanings a person shares with others are held by their “particular other” and their “generalized other” (Segrin & Flora, 2005, p. 32). Family members know what is normal behavior based on their cultural norms (i.e., their particular others), and they act with those norms in mind, while the interaction between families contributes to the development of an array of norms and values that are viewed as normal family interaction (i.e., generalized others; Segrin & Flora, 2005). As a result, social roles and the expectation tied to couples are significant for understanding their properties and relationship (e.g., sexual satisfaction). For example, according to the SI perspective, when couples share similar conceptions of the partner’s role, they are more likely to enjoy a harmonious relationship (Sprecher, Cate, Harvey & Wenzel, 2004).
SI theory focuses on the connection between symbols and interactions. The theory is split into three main themes: the importance of meaning, the development and importance of self-concept, and the interaction of self and society (LaRossa & Reitzes, 1993). In an attempt to understand how the interaction between couples reflects the quality of marital life, it is important to understand these three central themes of SI, and some underlying assumptions connected with these, which we can apply to marital life. SI theory provides insight into how people understand other viewpoints through perspective-taking and other interpretive processes, as well as how a couple understands their roles and societal expectations. Sharing such insight with couples will contribute to effective intervention strategies that will help them to increase their marital satisfaction.
The premarital education programs this study focuses on also depend on the opinions of the participants regarding their roles in marriage, the information they require upon entering marriage, and the strengths and weaknesses of marital relationships. In as much as approaching premarital education on an individual level may render it challenging to assure couples or have them develop shared meaning, such is the culture in Saudi Arabia that focuses separate gender approaches and with appropriate adjustments, premarital education programs can incorporate this culture into their teachings and processes and still achieve positive results. Thus, it is important that the study employs a theoretical framework with a family theory, such as the symbolic interactions theory, that provides guidelines for discussing such information, roles, and strengths and weaknesses of marriage as perceived by the participants. The study may discuss various roles, social norms, symbols, interactions, and gestures, but they will only be helpful to the research if they are relevant.
Scholars have expressed an urgent need for more research, for greater efforts to diagnose the problems of familial disintegration, and for the development of methods that will resolve some of the difficulties caused by this phenomenon (Bassweell, 2008). Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the major causes of divorce and marital maladjustment, which point to the necessity of premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia. They demonstrated that the major reason for this issue is due to the fact that young people are unprepared for marriage, which leads them to be overwhelmed by the challenges that they encounter in their marital relationship (Al-Ewidhi, 2009; AlHarby, 2013; Al-Hazani, 2012). Given that participants in this study desired for their daughters to attend premarital education programs, other young people can be recruited into premarital education programs through the recommendation and help from their parents. No such programs to date have been based on the challenges that Saudi couples experience, especially challenges faced in the first five years of marriage. The present study is ultimately concerned with the phenomenon of increasing divorce rates in Saudi society, with the aim of addressing the issue by conducting a research study to better understand married Saudi women’s experiences and perceptions that may contribute to developing a suitable program for unmarried Saudi women through adapting existing US premarital education programs.
In order to design this program, the current research seeks to answer the following questions. What strengths and weaknesses do Saudi women perceive in their marriages? What kinds of information do married Saudi women think is needed upon entering marriage? How do Saudi women’s expectations about marriage compare to their experiences of marriage? And, what are Saudi women’s opinions and beliefs about premarital education programs? In order to answer these questions, the current research utilizes qualitative methods.
A qualitative approach for collecting data was chosen because it is the most
appropriate method to use given the research questions stated above. According to Basir (2003), qualitative analysis captures the fluid nature of meaning, because it seeks to understand the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s, and why’s of social action: who feels the way they do, what exactly are they experiencing, when and where do they have these experiences, and why do they feel the way they do? For this study, the most important tenet of qualitative interviewing is that it gives the respondent an opportunity to give their own account of their marital experiences, both positive and negative. The very words of the respondents affirm the authenticity of the qualitative research.
The primary purpose of this study was action research. Action research aims to study a specific problem and create solutions for this problem. Action research was chosen because it can cover the various standards of a better research design (James, Slater & Bucknam, 2011).
According to Patton (2002), action research generally focuses on a particular issue that exists in society in order to find a solution and make a positive change through a program, organization, or community. James et al. (2011) indicates that action research encompasses three steps. The first step is discovery, which aims to determine the major goal or objective, and what has been done about the issue that is intended to improve it. The second step is measurable action, which is conducted in order to have an inclusive picture of this issue. The final step is reflection, which concentrates on what is working and what is not working in the research process. These three steps of the action research process were applied in this study to collect and research about the problems and challenges that Saudi women face before and during their marriages. The research then addressed these problems by adapting existing U.S. premarital education programs in ways that will help unmarried Saudi women to overcome these challenges. This action approach would be helpful to the Saudi Arabian women in different ways as evident in this study.
Qualitative researchers have to decide what technique they will use in order to gather data for their research. They have to determine whether they want to use a deep or broad technique method. The questions that lead the researchers’ choices are: ‘do you want to know little from many?’ or ‘do you want to know a lot from few?’ Based on this understanding, collecting data from large numbers of samples gives the research breadth. On the other hand, focusing on a small number of participants contributes to an in-depth understanding (Rossman & Rallis, 2003). This research also utilized the in-depth strategy so as to explore participants’ background and experiences deeply with the aim of gathering as much information as possible. The information collected in this research is related to the marriage lives of Saudi Arabian women. The research outlook was done in order to create robust content for developing a premarital education program for unmarried Saudi women based on existing US programs.
Unit of Analysis
The unit of analysis is the first step in determining how the researcher will analyze the data. The unit of analysis is “who” or “what” the researchers are analyzing for their studies, such as students, a group, classroom, program, time sampling, and so on (Trochim, 2006). The unit of analysis in this study was the individual participants. This is so because the input of married individuals is expected to be the best source for designing the curriculum of the premarital education program. The process involved aggregating the experiences of different individuals, then combining these experiences to provide a composite picture of the group that the individual represents.
Sampling Strategy and Data Collection and Procedure
A tactful approach was employed in choosing sampling strategy based on the Symbolic Interactions Theory. This was more effective than employing a random sampling strategy (Popa, Sreenath, & Lewis, 2005). Purposeful sampling, that is, sampling aimed at specific purposes was used in this research, such as criterion sampling with the purpose of understanding specific cases that revealed major weaknesses of the system that was needed to improve through the intended program (Patton, 2002).
This study employed mixed purposeful sampling to connect with potential participants by means of a snowball strategy.
The data collection strategy for this study involved a combined interview approach and an interview guide. The combined interview approach involved informal conversational and standardized open-ended interviewing. An in-depth semi-structured
For this study, data was collected in the following way. First, two friends of the author were contacted, and the interview was conducted with them first. The next step was getting referrals from these two participants, asking them to pass along word of the study to other women along with the author’s contact information. Potential participants then contacted the number if they were willing to participate in the research. Those willing to take part in the interview were given consent forms and a demographic information questionnaire for them and their husbands (Appendix A). The data collected in the demographic questionnaire allowed for a comparison of patterns in the interview data over multiple demographic categories. This information also allowed for incorporation of significant demographic trends into the design and implementation of a premarital education program.
With regard to collecting the data, an interview guide approach was used because this approach provides both flexibility and structure. Questions followed the flow of the conversation, and participants were encouraged to give details on topics that are of interest or concern to them. However, it was also important to maintain a certain degree of structure for achieving the research objectives, because certain key topics might not have otherwise been discussed (Patton, 2002).
The final version of the questionnaire was the product of multiple revisions (Appendix B). A pilot interview was conducted to make sure that the construction and the wording of questions were appropriate for the research goals. The questionnaire was constructed with nine main questions. Each main question had several sub-questions. The major components of these questions were derived from the existing literature. The components are: communication, intimate relationship, financial issues, marital conflict, and sexual relationship, preparation, expectations, strengths and weakness of marriages and opinion on premarital education programs. Saudi studies have revealed that these are the major aspects of marital life that couples in general, and newly married couples in particular, often fail to accomplish successfully (Al-Ewidhi ,2009; Al-Harby, 2013; Al-Hazani, 2012; El-Ewidhi, 2009; Al-Khateeb, 2009; Al-Anzy,1430; Al-Saghier, 1428; Al-Shamsan, 2004). The last two main questions included several sub-questions about participants’ preparation for marriage, their expectation about marriage compared to their experiences of marriage, and the participants’ opinion about conducting premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia.
Population and Sample
This study included participation by 27 Saudi women living in Saudi Arabia, specifically in the cities of Medina, Riyadh, and Jeddah. In order to participate in this research, Saudi women were not allowed to have had any previous marriages and they must have been married for five years or less. This criterion was chosen for a number of reasons. Several studies assert that the major reason for increased divorce among newly married couples is the lack of preparation among those approaching marriage (Al-Ewidhi, 2009). Research has shown that the main reason for divorce among newly married women is a lack of guidance, prior to marriage, on the part of their mothers’ role concerning marital rights and responsibilities and potential difficulties young women are likely to face with their husbands (Abdljalil & Al Sebaei, 2006). The criterion that dictated that participating women should have been married for five years or less was motivated by the increased percentage of divorce in the early years of marriage. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the rate of divorce is substantially higher during the first 5 years of marriage, and that the rate declines for marriages enduring for longer periods (Abdljalil &Al Sebaei, 2007; Al-Ewidhi, 2009; Ardeaan, 2008).
Data Analysis Procedures
Completed interviews were transcribed, coded, and analyzed for consistent themes. According to Weiss (1994), there are certain analytical procedures that are used in every analysis of qualitative interview data. These include sorting the data (i.e. Managing data by coding and sorting of interview materials through making up excerpt files that consist of statements of what we believe the material tells us), local integration (i.e., a process that provides a coherent understanding to excerpt file materials and their coding), and inclusive integration (i.e., segregating the analysis to different areas that result from local integration). In the current study, MAXQDA 12 software was used to search for relevant data, to retrieve, recode, refile, and enumerate coded items, and to relate coded items to one another (Lofland, Snow, Anderson & Lofland, 2006). The process in using this software describes below.
Despite the case study approach being an appropriate option for organizing and reporting qualitative date for this study since individuals (Saudi women) are the primary unit of analysis, the use of interviews as a data collection method made the analytical framework approach involving questions to also prove vital to the process of organizing data. Saudi Arabian women were the focus of the case studies as the study used their lived marriage experiences. The data was organized in different forms based on the case studies of the Saudi Arabian women who portrayed different forms of marriage dissolution attributes in the way they live their married lives. The analytical framework approach involved organizing the responses to the interviews question by question, particularly for the standardized interviewing format. For instance, in the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of marriage that led to or avoided cases of marriage dissolution, responses to these questions were grouped together. According to Patton, it is vital to have backup copies of all data while ensuring that one “master copy” is kept safe (Patton, 2002, p. 441). In this regard, the data was well protected, given that the data collected from the Saudi Arabian women was in bulk and required efficient organization. The plan was to send all research progress to an email address so that it could be accessed anytime, even if the primary data were destroyed or otherwise lost.
According to Patton, formulating some “manageable classification or coding scheme” is the initial step of analysis (Patton, 2002, p. 463). The content analysis involved identifying, coding, categorizing, classifying and naming the primary patterns in the data. The prominent content of the observations and interviews was analyzed to ascertain what was significant. The process commenced by reading the interviews and attaching notes or making comments on how the various data might be used. These notes and comments were summarized into different topics. The copy of the topics derived from the classified notes and comments were the indexed copy. Since most of the responses from the interviews were similar in nature, a coding system was devised for related data to ensure that similar notes and comments were recorded in the same category. Once this initial step of establishing a classification system or coding categories was done and recorded, a new reading commenced to start the formal coding in a systematic manner. The initial step was necessary because the responses from the interviews illustrated more than one pattern or theme. Thus, harmonizing the patterns or themes into a suitable classification system or coding categories was vital in accruing pertinent information from the data collected. Moreover, the process of coding and classification built a framework for organizing and describing the data from the interviews. To avoid confusion, different colors were used while coding to ensure that every response was classified correctly.
With respect to convergence, the principles of internal homogeneity and external heterogeneity outlined by Patton were applied (Patton, 2002,). Having a classification system or specific coding categories is vital but not sufficient. The patterns and the consequent categories for convergence and divergence had to be verified. To check for internal homogeneity, the data in the various categories was evaluated to determine their magnitude of relation. In other words, the data was analyzed to find how well each piece fit in a particular category. The verification of external heterogeneity involved studying the categories to ensure the attributes that make them different were vivid and bold. This process was important as it ensured data would not overlap. Overlapping data would have indicated a fault in the classification system. The process of divergence verification was considered the most important, as it ensured that the study did not include data that exceeds the boundaries set for the coding categories or classification system. Moreover, it ensured that the study did not have an overwhelming number of categories that would have complicated the analysis. Thus, despite the urge to include every piece of data from the interviews, the divergence process ensured that results were not falsified by including data that did not fall within the set categories.
Determining substantive significance depends on the efficiency of the convergence and divergence verification process. It is common for researchers to make Type I and Type II errors (Citation???), that is stating something is not significant when it is significant and conversely saying something is significant while in fact it is not (Citation???). A thorough verification of convergence and divergence was made to avoid Type I or Type II errors in the argument for substantive significance while presenting conclusions and findings.
This chapter discusses the findings of qualitative data analysis of the 27 interviews conducted for this study. As stated in the introduction to this study, these interviews were intended to develop premarital education programs that fit with participants’ feedback. The interviews were conducted specifically with Saudi women who have been married for less than five years. Interviewing this particular group brings the benefit of culturally relevant experience to pre-marriage education efforts.
Specifically, this study attempts to answer the following questions: (1) What strengths and weaknesses do Saudi women perceive in their marriages? (2) What kinds of information do married Saudi women think is needed upon entering marriage? (3) How do Saudi women’s expectations about marriage compare to their experiences of marriage? and (4) What are Saudi women’s opinions and beliefs about premarital education programs?
The sample for this study included twenty-seven (n=27) Saudi women who had been married for five or fewer years. Their ages ranged from 22 to 35 years old, with a mean (or an average) age of 26.19 years, and a standard deviation of SD = 3.28 years. The women were asked to provide information regarding their family life. The age at which they were married ranged from 17 to 30 years, with a mean age of 22.26 years, and a standard deviation of SD = 3.07 years. On average, the participants had been married for just under five years (M = 4.76, SD = 3.93). The number of children ranged from zero to three (M = 1.48, SD = 0.70), with varying ages from 1 month to 4 years old. Participants were engaged from 0 to 24 months, (M = 18 months, SD = 5.88 months). The women were also asked to provide information about their husbands. The ages of their spouses ranged from 25 to 50 years old (M = 31.37, SD = 4.68). The age of the spouses at marriage ranged from 20 to 45 years old (M = 27. 44, SD = 4.55). See Table 4.1 for additional information regarding the women and their husbands’ demographic characteristics.
A majority of the women reported that they did not work outside of the home (59.3%) About a third of the sample reported that they were in the field of education either as student (22.2%) or teacher (11.1%). The remainder of the women reported working in professional roles (see Table 4.2). Their husbands’ occupations were mostly as administrative officers, faculty, and teachers (18.5% each). A full summary of husband occupations can be found in Table 4.3.
At the time of marriage, just over a third of the women had earned their bachelor’s degree (37.0%; see Table 4.4). Following marriage, many of the women had completed additional education (see Table 4.5). Spouses’ highest level of education at marriage and since marriage was mostly a bachelor’s degree (59.3%).
Demographic Descriptive Statistics
|Current age of participant (years)||27||22.00||35.00||26.1852||3.28208|
|Participant’s age at marriage (years)||27||17.00||30.00||22.2593||3.07086|
|Length of marriage (years)||27||1.00||23.00||4.7630||3.93007|
|Number of children||27||.00||3.00||1.4815||.70002|
|Length of engagement (years)||27||.08||2.00||.7519||.49099|
|Current age of participant’s spouse (years)||27||25.00||50.00||31.3704||4.67521|
|Spouse’s age at marriage (years)||27||20.00||45.00||27.4444|
Participant education at time of marriage
|High School Diploma||8||29.6||66.7|
|Some graduate school||2||7.4||100.0|
Participant education since marriage
|High School Diploma||6||22.2||63.0|
|Some graduate school||1||3.7||100.0|
Spouse education at time of marriage
|High school diploma||2||7.4||77.8|
|Some graduate school||2||7.4||85.2|
|Some high school||1||3.7||100.0|
Spouse education since marriage
|High school diploma||2||7.4||92.6|
|Some graduate school||1||3.7||96.3|
|Some high school||1||3.7||100.0|
Q1: What strengths and weaknesses do Saudi women perceive in their marriages?
Marital Relationship Strengths
Although all of the participants discussed multiple weaknesses in their marriages, some of them indicated that there are strengths points or things that keep them and their husbands close to each other. The most common strength cited was spending quality time together with their husbands (44%), followed by loving each other (30%), sharing problems, thoughts, and feelings (22%), and then being honest with one another (18.5%).
Table 4.12 Strengths in participant relationships
|Strength||Number of respondents||Percentage of respondents||Total references in interviews|
|Spending quality time together||12||44||15|
|loving each other||8||30||10|
|Sharing problems, thoughts, and feelings||6||22||7|
Spending Quality Time Together
The findings indicated that what keeps couples feeling close to each otheris when they spend time together, listening to each other, and sharing romantic moments with one another. One participant described the strength in her marriage: “Spending time together by ourselves is the strongest thing in our marriage. Every day we try to spend a quality time with each other without our children. If we can’t, we realize that there is something missing in our day” (Participant #19). Another one talked about how her husband changed because they spend quality time together:
…Spending time together in the house and watching movies after my children sleep. I want to tell you something, in the first two years in our marriage he was spending a lot of time outside the house with his friend, and we always had conflict about that. But after a while, I realized that when I prepared myself to do things with him, like make a dish that he likes, wear a sexy dress, or make my children sleep before he comes, he began to like to spend the majority of his time with me. (Participant #8)
Another participant indicated the importance of having time with her husband, and that they considered it as a habit from the beginning of their marriage:
Spending quality time together is a main component of strength in our marriage. We agreed with each other from the beginning of our marriage that we should spend day a week with each other outside the house, like going shopping or to a restaurant without any social obligations. Also, we spent quality time with each other in the house watching movies or chatting. (Participant #25)
Loving Each Other
Thirty percent (30%) of participants talked about the importance of expressing love in their relationships. They indicated that using different approaches to express love plays an important role in strengthening their relationships and bringing them closer together with their spouses.
A participant referred to being loved by her husband as the strong point in her life:
He is a very tender person. He always looks for me, gets worried when I am absent. Always gives me feeling that he cannot live without me. He always apologizes and that is rare to see a man does so even if I was wrong and I blamed him and then I got upset, he comes to me and apologizes. He loves me so much. (Participant #18)
Another participant articulated how expressing her love to her husband makes them close to each other: “I like to change from time to time but mostly I like to tell him I love him everyday and text him love letters. When I don’t see him for a long time I like to text him and tell him that I miss him. Also I like to tell him about my day” (Participant #23).
One participant explained the importance of using multiple approaches in expressing love to her spouse to strengthen their relationship: “I usually express my love verbally and physically by doing things like sending romantic messages to his phone, making special parties, and writing an affection letter and put it in his bag when he is traveling which make us connected emotionally to each other” (Participant #20).
Sharing Problems, Thoughts, and Feelings
Sharing problems, thoughts, and feelings is the second most cited relationship strength (22%). Participants reported that although they have disagreements in their relationship, they feel that they are connected to each other because of sharing problems, thoughts, and feelings “I feel that we are connected emotionally to each other despite our arguments. We always spend time together, listening to each other, sharing our feelings and our personal thoughts to one another” (Participant #8).
Also, another participant spoke about how she is comfortable sharing her issues with her husband “I always share with him any issues in my life, and I am very comfortable doing that” (Participant #24). Participant #16 identified Sharing interests as the thing keeping her and her husband close to each other “I feel like the thing that helped us the most is us talking about our interests from the beginning.”
Being honest is another factor that keeps participants and their husbands close to each other. Participant #3 indicated that honesty and trust are the major things that strengthen her relationship, but at the same time they also cause problems: “the problems that related to these issues make us far away from each other” (Participant # 3). Another talked about the benefit of her honesty in her marital relationship:
…Sharing what we don’t like and what we need and such. Whenever he does something wrong or something that I don’t like, and he does it repeatedly I tend to comment about it right away. I was honest too at the beginning of our engagement period. I told him about me and what I except, I told him about my family and how they act so he wouldn’t be surprised. (Participant #16)
Marital relationship weaknesses
The responses to this question indicated six major weaknesses that the participants experienced in their marital relationships. Table 4.8 presents those weaknesses in order of pervasiveness. Each of the weaknesses is discussed in detail below, citing examples from participant responses.
Major marital relationship weaknesses
|Weakness||Number of respondents who discussed weakness||Percentage of respondents||Total number of references in interviews|
|Conflict management problems||20||74||30|
|Anger management problems||13||48||20|
|Lack of respect||11||41||14|
|Lack of sharing thoughts and feelings||10||37||17|
|Lack of expressing love||10||37||17|
Conflict Management Problems
The first weakness in this list, conflict management problems, was mentioned by a majority of the participants with subthemes such as heated discussions that end up in yelling and inability to resolve problems. When talking about the way they handle conflict with their husbands, participants indicated that they never resolve most of their problems, and that, after arguing, the issue is often forgotten rather than solved as evident in the study conducted by Gottman that focuses on solvable problems and unresolvable problems. “We discuss the issue until we get tired and stop talking about it, because it is useless talking about it because nothing will be changed” (Participant # 9). Several participants stated that these problems come up to the surface again when no solution is reached. For example, Participant #25 said:
We always have a discussion if there is a problem, but the majority of the time we do not find a solution, because each one is stuck with his/her opinion. Consistently failing to find solutions for our problems leads to an increased likelihood of continuing and repeating these problems.
Multiple participants said that their conflicts often turn into heated discussions in which they end up yelling at one another: “He turns our discussions to yelling and heated arguments without our finding a solution” (Participant #19). From their perspectives, the causes of this outcome include: inability to control feelings “I can’t control my feelings when I see him angry, so I tend to scream back at him” (Participant #8); stubbornness “I get angry, and try to be stubborn in return. So we end up yelling at each other without finding a resolution” (Participant #11) and “Our stubbornness in dealing with each other when we try to discuss problems is something I consider a weakness in our relationship” (Participant #20); refusing to justify opinions “when he refuses to do anything I want , I ask him to justify his opinion or give me a reason, he says this is my opinion and you should obey it which makes me scream at him” (Participant #11); and insisting on one’s opinions and not apologizing when at fault “We yell at each other at the end in our discussion and no one tried to sacrifice or apologize” (Participant #20).
Some participants also brought up how easy it was to resolve problems in the beginning of their relationships. They stated that, early in their marriages, their husbands were the ones to apologize and make sacrifices even when they were not responsible for the problems. However, after 3 or 4 years, solving issues grew harder. The husbands seem to care less about finding solutions to conflicts, and the wives become the ones who apologize, often for problems they are not responsible for: “In the first two years in my marriage, he always came to me and apologized, even if it was all my fault. But now, in the fourth year in our marriage, I am the one who apologizes too much, no matter who is responsible for the conflict” (Participant #13). One of the respondents justified this behavior by saying:
I think I am responsible for this change, because, in the first three years of our married life, he was the person who cared more about our relationship than me. He even apologized on things despite knowing that it was my fault. I love him, but I hate to apologize, even if I know that I am wrong. Also, I feel that he was sacrificing too much in our relationship. All these aspects make him take a step back in our relationship, because he realized that he gave more than he took in his marital life. (Participant #8)
One woman claimed that her husband always escapes from discussing problems by staying silent despite her efforts to make him talk, which makes her keep apologizing: “My husband when he does not like something, he stays silent, when he is mad, he stays silent, I always apologize” (Participant #17). Another explained how she suffers apologizing for things that are not her fault at all “I feel under pressure every time I apologize for something I am not responsible for” (Participant #13).
Participant #9 explained that she believes she always gives up things when problems are raised between her and her husband:
I am the one who apologizes, he does not apologize… rarely he apologizes. In the five years, he apologizes five times…I gave up all my rights, and now when I ask for my rights, my husband says “Why are you asking about your rights now! Where were you five years ago,” It was my mistake from the beginning, and I am still wrong…my husband does not help …I am the reason! “I will not die without him,” “I can live without him.” I can carry the responsibility. I was carrying the groceries, the diaper and everything while he was walking by me empty handed. My hands were hurting I felt they were about to bleed and he was walking as if nothing was going on.
Regarding relinquishing rights, some participants complained that they give their husbands and children too much, while ignoring their own needs, desires, and habits. This makes them feel guilty. “I really give him and my children too much. I give them my time, my energy, and my heart, and I do not get what I am hoping for in return. Again, this is my fault because I did not place any boundaries in our relationship from the beginning. I wish that I would have been told before I got married” (Participant #11). Another participant said “I feel that often times I ignore my own needs and desires in order to make my husband happy” (Participant #22).
Several participants think the reason that wives sacrifice their rights when they have conflicts with their husbands is because they are afraid of destroying their family and losing their husbands. In addition, one told me that when she sacrifices, she gains appreciation from her husband.
My husband usually wins when we have conflicts and I am the one who gives up. But, that is not because I am weak person. It is because I am tired of problems, and I don’t want to lose my husband and my family. I want to tell you something: when I sacrifice to avoid problems, he appreciates that, and gives me what I want. (Participant #24)
When asked whether that meant she does not often find solutions to her problems, she replied “Yes, roughly. I am always trying to stay away from problems” (Participant #13)”
One woman often tries to end the discussion and stop talking about the problem once she realizes that her husband is getting angry. “Mostly with me giving up and stop talking about problem that make a conflict because I don’t want him to be mad” (Participant #10). Similarly, another participant mentioned that if her husband accepts discussion over the conflict, she is willing to talk with him about it, but if he does not, she closes the issue in order to stop bothering him. “If I see that he can accept our conversation, I talk. If not, I just stay silent. I do not do anything that bothers him” (Participant #17).
Anger Management Problems
The second weakness, having difficulties controlling anger, was cited frequently in the interviews. Many participants indicated that they suffer from anger when they are involved in arguments with their husbands. They explained that being angry eliminates any chance of finding solutions to their relationship conflicts: “When we argue, I am usually at fault since I get angry fast and end the conversation without giving him a chance to explain” (Participant #7). Participant #1 claimed that she and her husband do not control their anger and that “During the time of anger we don’t feel what we are doing.”
When asked how she handles her husband’s anger, Participant #8 said “I admit that I deal wrongly with his anger. When he gets angry, I get angry too, and we start screaming at each other.” One of the participants affirmed that being angry fast makes their marital life troublesome, which makes her wish that she had the ability to manage anger better. “I hope that I can stop being angry in my relationship…Also, he often tells me that I get angry very quickly, and that that is why our relationship gets worse” (Participant #5). Another said “I hope that I can manage my anger and think before reacting. I think that would make a big change in my marital life.”
The physical relationship between spouses was another challenge that respondents discussed. Multiple participants said that they suffered because of the sexual relationship, especially in the beginning of their marriages. Some participants talked about their lack of sexual desire. For example: “I feel that this sexual relationship is not necessary… I was not pleased, I did not enjoy the relation” (Participant #17). Participant #24 talked about how afraid she was on the wedding night. She would not allow her husband to touch her: “I had a rough time regarding this relationship, especially in my first day of marriage…I stayed a virgin for a month and a half after my marriage, because I was so scared to have sex with him.”
Another talked about experiencing pain during sex, which led her husband to stop each time she felt hurt “When he saw that I was having some pain through our period of sex he would stop so he wouldn’t hurt me more” (Participant #7). Feeling pain during sexual intercourse not only affects the actual length of sexual encounters, as previously mentioned, but also impacts the participants’ feelings, because they have difficulties handling this situation. In fact, participants claimed that their embarrassment prevented them from finding a solution: “I remembered that in my first month of marriage, I experienced pain after this relationship, and I don’t know how I can handle the situation. I really was ashamed to ask about it” (Participant #20). Also, feeling pain made one participant, who has been married for five years, lose interest in sex “Another difficulty in this relationship, which I suffer from it even now, is feeling pain during the intercourse which sometime make me lose interest in sex” (Participant #23).
The lack of knowledge about sex is the major factor that causes several difficulties in the sexual relationships between participants and their husbands. One participant indicated that no one talked with her about sex, not even her mother. Her lack of knowledge about it led her to be unaware of much she believed she should have known beforehand. She mentioned that she even did not know how intercourse worked: “I did not know how the physical relationship worked, and I didn’t know a lot of stuff that women should know about this relationship because of my lack of knowledge about sex” (Participant #7).
The second difficulty caused by lack of knowledge about sex was difficulty in achieving orgasm. One participant said that this caused her to be depressed at the beginning of her marriage: “In the beginning of my marriage I was suffering from difficulties with becoming sexually aroused or achieving an orgasm and that was something that made me depressed” (Participant #23). Additionally, feeling shy prevented some of these women from talking to anyone: “These issues are serious but I feel embarrassed and shy to talk about them with anyone since I’ve always dealt with my problems alone.” (Participant #24).
The third difficulty was reported by Participant #11, who has been married for just over five years. She reported that her husband thought that she was not interested in sex, because she did not appear to be intimate during this relationship. The truth was that she felt embarrassment every time she had sex with her spouse, and that prevented her from exhibiting any enjoyment during this relationship. She added that she does not know how she can be intimate in sex: “I get embarrassed every time I sleep with my husband. He interprets this as my not wanting to have sex, or that I don’t like to do it, which makes him mad. But that is wrong. I want this relationship, but I don’t know how I can be intimate.”
Fourth, participants had the wrong expectations about sex. Wrong expectations seemed to cause more difficulties in the beginnings of their marriages “I did not have right expectations of what sex is. No one from my family told me about this aspect of the married relationship. The lack of knowledge about sex made me shocked in the first night I slept with my husband…I was suffering from this relationship in the beginning of my marriage” (Participant #13).
Other sexual problems were reported by participants. These include:
– Husbands’ low sex drive: “my marriage relationship is not good, he is weak sexually. When I ask him to go to a doctor or take pills to be sexually active, he refuses!” (Participant #18).
– Premature ejaculation:
“My husband climaxes too quickly when we have sex. Besides my suffering in my marital life, I am also suffering in my sex life, and do not even know what I should do about it. I believe that if I and my husband had a good sexual relationship, it would improve our relationship.” (Participant #14)
– Sexually demanding husband:
“My husband always wants sex. He wants me to be ready every time he wants. Otherwise, he will get mad and it will start a fight. I feel that he just uses me for his own sexual pleasure, without keeping in his mind that I am a person and I have a personal temper. That is the big problem in my marital life which make me sometimes angry, and causes conflicts between me and my husband.” (Participant #18)
Lack of Respect
Fourth is the lack of respect between spouses. Based on the interview responses, this lack of respect can appear on both sides of the marital relationship. There were multiple respondents who said that their husbands do not seem to care about their wives’ thoughts or opinions. For example: “Sometimes he does not acknowledge me; he just makes decisions by himself and comes to say it is what it is. I get bothered because if there is something relates to both of us, we must decide together and then problems rise” (Participant #3).
On the other hand, one respondent said that she did not respect her husband’s identity and she refused to listen to his decisions “He respects my decisions and my identity so much, but I am the one who sometimes underestimates his opinions and his decisions… In my first years of our marriage, I underestimated his thoughts, and I never trusted his decisions” (Participant #8).
Also, ignoring one’s spouse by expressing indifference to their actions and thoughts is considered disrespectful. One participant discussed how her husband does not make an effort to resolve conflicts in their relationship. He oftentimes stops talking when he doesn’t like her discussion on certain issues: “we do not talk, we do not have conversation, we end the conversation very quickly…. he stays silent and I ask him to talk… I want him to talk. I want him to say his opinion and I say my opinion, but that happen most time when we want to resolve problems” (Participant #17).
Lying to one’s spouse is another disrespectful behavior between husbands and wives that respondents discussed. One participant affirmed that she always lied to her husband if he tried to prevent her from doing something she liked: “we discuss our problems, but sometimes, if I say I will give up my habits, I will be lying such as if we discussed not to go to a certain place, I will be lying if I promised that I would not go to that place”(Participant #9). This participant indicated later that she had given up on finding solutions to her problems with her spouse, which made her stop caring about her husband’s opinions.
Another example of disrespectful behavior between participants and their husbands was given by Participant #17: “we lack respect for each other. When we discuss issues, we always yell at each other, and hurt each other by words.”
Lack of Sharing Thoughts and Feelings
Six of the respondents brought up this issue… Each of these participants claimed that her husband rarely shared personal issues and feelings with her, although she would share all things with her husband. Several participants stated that they do not like how their husbands are quiet and do not like to share their feelings and thoughts, which raise problems in their relationships. When asked how often her husband shares his personal thoughts and feelings with her, Participant #24 said “Never. He is an obscure person. He always hides any problems or concerns that he goes through. And, when I see that he is upset, and I insist on his telling me why, he gets angry and yells at me.”
Notably, some participants regretted telling their husbands everything in their lives at the beginning of her marriage, because later they realized that sharing everything with their husbands can be a mistake: “In the first year of my marriage, I told him everything in my life, even things related to my own family. I think this is a big mistake that wives should not do, because men do not forget things and they might, for example, one day tease their wives about their family history” (Participant #19).
Lack of Expressing Love
Finally, some participants reported in their interviews that they face challenges in expressing love toward their husbands. They indicated several reasons that account for this. Some were embarrassed to express love to their husband, causing them to refuse to do it. “In the first year, I couldn’t express my feelings easily, either verbally or physically, because I felt embarrassed. Maybe that’s because I was not used to seeing this with my own parents. My husband does not like my being embarrassed in expressing my love, while he expresses his romantic emotions very often” (Participant #19). Another participant said, “I had difficulty expressing love verbally, because I felt embarrassed talking this way with my husband” (Participant #22).
Another reason was given by a participant who has been married for five years. She mentioned that her nature was preventing her from expressing love. When she was growing up, she was the only girl in her family’s house, surrounded by boys. “…I am a rough person, I am not the kind who hugs and shakes hands, and being around boys made me extra rough…” (Participant #3). One of the participants said “…I cannot express my love to my husband physically. I wish I could. I can only talk a little bit about my emotions, because it is hard for me to put this expression into words” (Participant #11).
Another participant indicated that this issue has had negative impacts on her marital relationship: “I love him too much, and I know that he loves me, but he is the kind of person that cannot express his feelings to others, which often time causes conflict between us” (Participant # 5). Dissatisfaction on the part of the husband is one of the negative impacts reported by participants due to a lack of expressing love. “I know my husband wants to receive romantic emotion from me more than anything else, and he is always trying to tell me about how much he needs intimacy in our relationship. Actually, I tried, but I felt like I pretended something I did not feel” (Participant #11). Another respondent stated, “My husband does not like my being embarrassed in expressing my love, while he expresses his romantic emotions very often” (Participant #19).
While some husbands do not like their wives being dry in expressing love, others do not appreciate expressions of love from their wives. One participant discussed how she feels rejected by her husband when she tried to make romantic moments. She said “…sometimes he refuses what I am doing and tells me that my expressions of love are not given at the right times, because sometimes he got bored from it” (Participant #5). She added that when she tried to ask her husband about the reason that made him ignore her emotions, he said “I should be away sometimes in order to miss you and provide my romantic emotion rather than acting all the time like a teenage couple.” (Participant #5). Other participants express how their husbands refused their loving expression, and that has caused them to stop caring about their relationship any more: “In first year of marriage, I tried to show him more affection, but he always stopped me, and told me that these romantic emotions are bothering him, which in turn made me stop feeling love and I gave up on him. I even don’t care if he loves me or not” (Participant #14).
On the other hand, several participants talked about how their husband are obscure, they do not like to talk emotionally about love although they like to receive such expression: “He does not express his feelings about me that much, but he likes me to do it” (Participant #11).
Major Factors Influencing Marital Relationships
Participants were also asked about what factors they believed influenced their marital relationships most strongly. The family of origin was cited in all 27 interviews, which indicates that this factor can be considered the greatest influence on participants’ marital relationships. Second most influential was the husband’s domination over his wife and the third influential factor was the interference of participants’ family in the relationship.
Major factors influencing marital relationship
|Factor||Number of respondents||Percentage of respondents||Total references in interviews|
|Family of origin||27||100||47|
|Dominant husband/ submissive wife||20||74||85|
Family of Origin
During the interviews, participants reacted in three ways to their parents’ marital relationships: (1) wishing to model the relationship qualities of their parents, (2) wanting to be different from parents’ marriages, (3) wanting to be cautious against repeating their parents’ experiences.
First, the participants who wished to model their parents’ marital relationships articulated three reasons for feeling this way. Participant #2 recalled that her parents quietly discussed their problems in front of her and her siblings: “…they were discussing their issues in front of us in a low voice in a way that did not psychologically affect us negatively which makes me wishing to have the same attitude with my children.” The same respondent also mentioned that there was a sense of appreciation between her parents: “My father has a big role in my thinking and I always admire how he had a great appreciation for my mother’s role.” The third reason that participants gave was their parents’ attitude. One participant claimed that she wanted to get mad at her husband and did not want to sacrifice things for him. She said that she had learned to control her anger from her father: “I got it from my dad, my dad side of the family is like that. They taught me that why would I be mad and tire myself for something that is not worth getting mad for. To them and to me nothing is worth getting mad for except for big problems” (Participant #10).
Those respondents who wanted their own marriages to be different from that of their parents gave multiple reasons for why. For example, Participant #19 said:
My mom was the person who made decisions in my family and that was the cause of most of the conflict that happened between my parents. I often disagreed with this situation, because often times my mother decided things without going back to my father. So when I got married, I decided to not be like my mother (Participant #19).
Similar to Participant #19’s experience with seeing her mother as the decision-maker in the family, Participant #21 stated that her father “was in control in my family and my mom was obedient to him. I disliked that, and I do not want to go through what my mom did. I believe that marital life has to be a sharing between the two parties.” Another respondent said “When I was living with my parents, I realized that my mom was always the one who relinquished her rights. Once I got married, I did not want to take her path. I really wanted to show my husband that I have my own rights, and he should respect that” (Participant #25).
Based on the above responses, the participants demonstrated that their families of origin had negative impacts in their marital life. As a follow-up question, the participants were asked for specific examples of how their family backgrounds impacted how they relate to their husbands. Three of their responses are included below:
“My family was addicted to yelling when I was younger, so once I got married I didn’t want to hear this sound again. I was planning to make my house a quiet place in the world. Also, when my parents had a conflict, my mom was always the one who came to apologize, even if it is was not her fault. I don’t like the sacrifices that my mom made to satisfy my father, which in turn affects my relations negatively” (Participant #15).
My parents divorced, and my mom gives me advice based on her unhappy experience with my father. She does not want me to experience what she went through, and I often times follow her way. I remember in the first year of my marriage, I had a conflict with my husband because of my mother. I was so upset with my husband, and my mother called me at that moment. She told me that I should not sacrifice my rights anymore, and she encouraged me to leave my home and come to her. Unfortunately, I applied this advice which made my husband get angry, and he refused to come to me and apologize. I stayed in my mom’s house for three weeks, and I was about to divorce (Participant #24).
“My parents did not appear affectionate when I was younger. My mother was always the person who sacrificed for her husband and her children. She did not complain about that at all in front of anyone. She obeyed my father’s orders, even if that made her lose one of her rights. She appeared to be satisfied with her life, at least in front of me. When I got married, I tried to be like her. I find myself copying her behaviors: how she dealt with my father. She made me think that what she did with my father is what every woman has to do. I felt intimidated by this kind of marriage and this caused me to be unsatisfied with my marital relationship.” (Participant #11)
For those participants who were cautious against repeating their parents’ experiences, the majority of them confirm that they try to be careful in their marital relationship by avoiding what their parents were doing in their relationships. In the words of Participant #3, “The main cause of my parents’ divorce was the interference of his family and her family, and big problems were created, so I am trying to be careful. Whatever they [her family-in-law] say I respect. I respect them and their opinions. I do not deny my husband’s opinion”. This particular participant continued
I lived with my family for nineteen years, and that has effect on me. Of course, I will be acting like them. Whoever lived in a family has problems, she will be affected by those problems, I am saying to whoever in the same situation, be careful; no one will take in consideration the situation one hundred percent, no one has patience.
Participant #4 stated that she observed, before they got married, their parents’ relationship in order to learn lessons which will help her in her marital relationship. “I tried to study his family’s problems so that I can evade them in my familial life.” One participant put her caution quite simply: “Whenever I see something in my parents’ relationship that I don’t like, I try to not do it in my own relationship” (Participant# 16).
Participant #11 stated that she wished to change her personality (managing anger) because she is afraid to destroy her marriage. When asked who caused this feeling in her, she said “My parents, because my parents got divorced. So I am afraid that I might be like my mother.”
Several participants affirm that because of their fear to repeat their parents’ experiences, they feel sometimes that they are sacrificing too much in their relationships. For example, one participant explained that her mother was the most dominant person in her family of origin, and did not respect her father’s opinions. This experience, in her opinion, is something that made her be excessively obedient to her husband: “I saw how my parents behave toward each other and I was afraid to be the same as them, I did not want the situation between my husband and I to reach the level of disrespect as the situation between my parents. For these reasons, I was too obedient to my husband.” This participant explained how she sometimes finds herself unintentionally imitating what her mother does: “I have tried to avoid my mother’s mistakes and not to do the same mistakes, but gradually I feel like I am acting as same as my mother! I feel it is a trap and it is repeated, but this time it is by me” (Participant #9).
On the other hand, Participant #4 described how her father was a very dominant person in her family, and how her mother reacted to his dominant behavior with disobedience, which in turn led them to divorce. She stated how this experience affects her marital relationship:
I learn my lesson because my parents’ relationship was a constant problem since our childhood. So, there is no problem for me when my husband orders me not go out alone, sometimes I get nervous but eventually I accept the situation. My mother was on the contrary of my character she did not accept that my father controls her and she was not obeying to him when he was ordering her not to go out…I was not affected as I saw how they ended up with divorce. This negatively affected us we were dispersed between our father and mother, though I was mature and I was aware of all what was happening around me. (Participant #4)
As the majority of participants discussed the influence of their families of origin in their marital relationship, they indicated also that their husbands were also affected by their families of origin. “Everyone is influenced by its own environment. My husband has never seen his parents arguing with each other, this what I have learnt from my husband’s family. The opposite is my family, my parents argue all the time, and even in front of my husband. They do not care. They do not respect the presence of anyone!” (Participant #9).
Additionally, one participant talked about how her husband was strict in dealing with her. She thought it was because “His father was very strict in dealing with him and his siblings, and he never gave them any affection. So, I think that is the cause of his personality.” (Participant #14)
Based on the interview responses, it seems like participants’ husbands feel the same caution against repeating their parents’ relationships. One participant explained to me how her husband’s parents had an impact on her husband’s personality:
He was raised in an environment where his mom had control of everything, and she always made most of the family decisions without caring about his father’s opinion…My husband was resentful of the fact that his father, from his mother’s perspective, didn’t have the right to decide or act on behalf of family life. This attitude has negatively impacted his personality, because he does not want to repeat this experience in his life. So his fear of my being like his mother controls his behavior in dealing with me. (Participant # 15)
There was a sense of disagreement in marital relationship between some participants and their husbands, which was attributed to the environment where both partners were raised. One participant captured this idea best when she said:
“I always think that, because we have different background he came from very conservative family who believes that the woman should obey to her husband in everything and, in his opinion, the woman does not have right to object to her husband’s decisions, and I came from moderate family, we often times have distress in our relationship” (Participant # 5).
Participant #13 described in detail the influence of her husband’s family of origin on her relationship with him:
He doesn’t like my way of cooking food, or the way I dress. When I go out with my friends, he want me to be back home early. That is another thing that causes fights between us. I think the environment that he comes from influences his personality. Because he came from a traditional family, and he kept the way that he was raised and wants to apply that in his marriage.
Dominant Husband/ Submissive Wife
The dominant husband/ submissive wife relationship is the second major factor that impacted negatively on the marital relationships of respondents. Twenty of the twenty-seven participants reported this factor. Tables 4.10 and 4.11 below summarize three characteristics of a dominant husband, and four characteristics of a submissive wife, respectively.
Table 4.10 Dominant husband characteristics
|Characteristic||Number of respondents|
|Uncaring about wife’s feelings||10||29||Honestly, my husband is a strict person. I feel like he doesn’t really care about me. He doesn’t do nice things for me. He’s not affectionate. We never have serious conversations. (Participant #14)|
|Controlling||14||18||I had a problem with him thinking that he owns me. He wouldn’t let me hang out with my friends; he would pick me up early from my family’s house that I only go to once a week. He wanted me all to himself basically. (Participant #10)|
|Makes decisions without consulting wife||7||7||Sometimes he does not acknowledge me; he just makes decisions by himself and comes to say it is what it is. (Participant #3)|
Uncaring about Wife’s Feelings
During the interviews, 37% of participants described their husbands as selfish and uncaring about their wives’ feelings. Several examples of these characteristics are given in quotes from respondents below:
He spends a lot of time with his friends. In the morning, he’s at work. And in the evening, until midnight, he is with his friends. When I want to go to my parents, he often times refuses that, and tells me to talk with my brother to help me pack up. He does not feel responsibility for me and his children. He even does not bring the major things to the house, like milk, eggs, veggies, things that we need. His father grabs these things for us. So, all these things cause conflict, and make our communication difficult. (Participant #11)
Some participants confirmed that the lack of care that they received from their husband makes them feel unimportant, which causes fights between them: “He doesn’t care about my opinions he treat me like crap basically” (Participant #27). One participant said “I want him to sacrifice his time for us, hang out and take us places. He gives us money though but doesn’t pay attention to us” (Participant #6).
Also, several participants explained how their husbands are completely withdrawn and avoid any form of communication. The lack of desire to resolve problems makes their communication difficult. When asked why her marital problems are not resolved, Participant #17 replied: “What is your opinion” he does not answer. I ask “What did you not like?” he does not answer. So, the issue was ended with no solution, I stop talking and that is it!” When asked whether the same issue came to the surface again, she replied that it does, and it causes them to start arguing again. Participant #14 said “When there are issues, he refuses to talk about them. And if I bring something up, he gets mad and tells me that I am just making trouble.”
Controlling husbands use different tools in order to dominate their partners. This factor was cited by 14 respondents, who gave different examples of how each of their husbands controls them. Examples include: limiting contact with family members, not trusting his wife with money, making them dress the way he likes, and not allowing his wife to go anywhere alone. The following quotes illustrate these controlling behaviors:
“I had a problem with him thinking that he owns me. He wouldn’t let me hang out with my friends; he would pick me up early form my family’s house that I only go to once a week. He wanted me all to himself basically.” (Participant# 10)
“I oftentimes do not like how he manages money, and he does not like how I spend money. So, usually when we have a discussion about this topic, we always end up with conflicts. I have asked him many times to allow me to manage the family budget, but he always tells me that I am not capable of doing that.” (Participant #25)
“Actually, his dominance makes my life miserable, because he is an unsocial person. He has a few friends, and he chooses them very carefully. He often forces me to be friends with his friends’ wives, and I am not supposed to make friends on my own. That makes me angry, and this anger turns into a fight every time we discuss this issue.” (Participant #19)
“He doesn’t want me to wear, for example, a short or mini skirt or any clothes that would expose my body in front of my children, and when I visit my friends…I do not like that, because I already went through all these issues when I used to live with my parents and I don’t want my husband to do the same for me, I don’t want to repeat the past. So, when I got married, I expected that I would be free to wear what I want, but that never happened, which makes me angry with my husband.” (Participant #5)
“I have issues dealing with him. What I consider to be normal, like traveling alone with my children, is unacceptable to him, because he believes the woman has to be with her husband everywhere she goes.” (Participant #5)
Making Decisions without Consulting Wife
Multiple respondents also said that their husbands do not consider their wives’ opinion in making decisions for the family, which is another factor that causes trouble between spouses: “Sometimes he does not acknowledge me; he just makes decisions by himself and comes to say it is what it is. I get bothered because if there is something relates to both of us, we must decide together and then problems rise, sometimes we get into an argument” (Participant #3). Participant #19 added “Sometimes, yes he respects my decisions, especially if it is related to my children. But if he is convinced about his decision, he enforces his decision without talking with me.”
Table 4.11 Submissive wife characteristics
|Characteristic||Number of respondents||Total references in interviews||Example description by respondent|
|Please husband and ignore self||8||10||I feel that often times I ignore my own needs and desires in order to make my husband happy. (Participant # 22)|
|Relinquishing rights/ self-sacrifice||5||6||I had no personal rights, or personal life, no friends, he does not accept having friends. I just go to the university, and then I go out with my mother or his mother. (Participant #9)|
|Serve family/ ignore own interests||9||15||I really give him and my children too much. I give them my time, my energy, and my heart, and I do not get what I am hoping for in return. (Participant #11)|
Pleasing Husband and Ignoring Self
In order to have satisfied and happy husbands and to get rid of problems, several participants focused on their husbands’ desires, needs, and feelings, and ignored their own. However, they recognized that this behavior caused them to be stressed. One participant captures this opinion by explaining: “I wish that I can feel more confident of myself. I wish that I never hesitated to make decisions or allow others to take advantage of me. I feel that often times I ignore my own needs and desires in order to make my husband happy” (Participant #22). Another participant articulated her case: “Although, I do not do what bothers him sometimes, he does what I do not like; I feel that he enjoys when he makes me mad, sometimes he asks me to organize his clothes in the closet, or asks me to cook every day, while I told him that I am going to be busy cleaning… things like that which makes me think that this attitude is wrong” (Participant #17). One participant indicated that she felt that when she expressed care for her husband’s feelings, he did not express care in return “I used to cancel any appointments just because he was sitting home. He never did that for me, if I am in pain, sick or not happy with anything” (Participant #9).
Relinquishing Rights/ Self-Sacrifice
Results indicated that the most common ‘submissive wife’ behavior that contributes to marital stress is relinquishing rights and self-sacrifice. Ten of the individuals interviewed reported that they gave up their rights or were self-sacrificing in other ways. Each had different reasons for doing this, such as the fear of divorce, fear of destroying their marital relationships, and avoiding small problems. However, all of them reported being unsatisfied with this attitude now, and tired of behaving in this way. For example:
I was so obedient to my husband at the beginning because I was afraid to behave the same way as my parents. He was in control to the point he was the one who order me to sleep and the one who order me to wake up, sometimes, I had no desire to sleep…I was working at the house, going to the university, carrying children and giving birth, taking care of the children. I was carrying a lot of responsibility. Then, I felt like I put burdens on my shoulders while nobody cares. The children eat, drink and grow, and I am the one who is suffering. (Participant #9)
Participant #9 also expressed her dissatisfaction with her marital life at the beginning of her marriage:
Respondent: I was too obedient to my husband, but Now! I am not as obedient as I was. The age! Four years passed with no problems.
Interviewer: Because you were very obedient.
Respondent: Right, I was doing whatever he wants.
Interviewer: You gave up your rights.
Respondent: I had no personal rights, or personal life, no friends, he does not accept having friends. I just go to the university, and then I go out with my mother or his mother.
One participant mentioned that she regretted being excessively obedient to her husband’s orders, and considered that obedience to be a great mistake in her marital life:
I have always thought that my reaction in the beginning of my marriage to his dominance was a major mistake I made in my marital life. I was obedient to his order, because I did not want any problems in my life. That was definitely wrong. Now, after four years, my reaction has changed. I used to cry when he controlled my life, but now I try to discuss everything with him, and not obey his orders too easily. (Participant #19)
Although her conflicts last between her and her husband, she also said that she is satisfied with her new attitude: “We still have problems and our discussions turn into fights sometimes. But at least I am satisfied a little with myself, because I try to refuse to do what he wants. I always try to discuss with him our problems, and I try to talk with him when he is calm, but he turns our discussions to yelling and heated arguments without finding solution.” (Participant #19)
Another participant talked about how the transition from life in her parents’ house to life with her husband caused her stress and affected her negatively: “before my marriage, if I wanted to do something, I would go ahead and do it… I feel I had no responsibility. Now I am very committed; I force rules on myself to the point that I feel stressed” (Participant #3).
She continued her comparison between her life before and after marriage by saying “I had freedom. Now, I cannot go outside at any time, I cannot go out with anyone, I cannot go out by myself, to go out I must have somebody with me and I must tell long enough before it” ((Participant #3).
Serve Family and Ignore Own Interests.
Respondents indicated that they were unsatisfied with their marital lives, especially through being consumed in caring for their homes and children, and totally ignoring their own needs, desires, and interests.
I give up and do what he wants. I really give him and my children too much. I give them my time, my energy, and my heart, and I do not get what I am hoping for in return…I feel like I want to be released from the predicament that I put myself in. I started to think that I have rights to go anywhere I want, and not just stay in the house and go outside when my husband wants. Unfortunately, I realized that late. My husband is used to see me always in house, and he does not accept the fact that I have a right to do something individually without him. I admit, it is my fault. (Participant #11)
I asked one participant about the major thing that she is hoping to change it in her marital life, she respond by saying “… take care of myself more, to put myself as my first priority … I don’t take care of myself. I feel like I am giving my family all my energy and time without paying attention to myself” (Participant #23).
Forty-four (44%) of participants affirmed that their in-laws are interfering with their marriages and in raising their children. One participant said that this is a problem that tends to push her and her husband apart. Some of them claimed that the interference of their in-laws contributes to a lot of conflicts in their relationships. Two participants explained:
The interference of the family-in-law leads to conflict between us. The problem is their interference in my family decisions. My husband is responsible for that, because he always encourages them to do that by allowing them to get involved in our personal decisions. I very often refuse their involvement, which in turns lead to a big fight between us. (Participant #25)
The problems came from him and his family, he always does what his family want even if it includes me. Like if his mom told him to ask me not to do a recent thing he will ask me to not do it. I used to listen to him, give up for him and do whatever he told me to do even if it was coming from his family because I don’t want to destroy my marital life until recently I had enough. (Participant #10)
Participant #6 articulated that the primary factor that caused the interference from her in-laws is that they live in the same building as her and her husband: “His family was and still is a huge problem, because we live in the same building they always interfere in our lives. I don’t recommend any one living near their family after they get married, because there will always be problems.” She also said that her husband’s family even invaded their privacy: “They interfere a lot. They even used to have a key to my house. One day his mother came in the house while I was in bed with him, she came to our bedroom which surprised me. His family always invades our privacy.”
Participant #4 told a similar story. She explained that she lived with her in-laws for eight months. When her husband found a job, they moved away. She said that: “at some time in the past we had emotional spacing as I said. This was due to the relatives’ intervention in our marital life. This made matters very bad for both of us. later our life stabilized after their intervention ended.”
Participant #9 discussed her own family’s interference, rather than her in-laws’. She explained that her parents would say: “Come with us, why do not you want to come with us? “Come travel with us”. Every day I was at my family house as if I were not married! My husband used to go out to visit his family, and I used to go out to visit my family! daily!”. When asked if this situation affected her marital life, she said “Yes, I felt like I have no private life, we just sleep and eat at the house, I have never felt the stability at my house till today! I feel no stability at my house.”
Four respondents explained that their in-laws also interfered with raising their children, which bothered them and contributed to conflict with their husbands (Participant #23,7,8,9). Participant #7 said “After we had our first kid our problems seem to change to his family trying to interfere with the way we raise our kid.” Participant #8 stated that “the other thing that makes our communication difficult is when his family intervenes in my marital life. His mother intervenes in the way that I raise my children, and she always criticizes me on how I spend money.”
Q2: What information do married Saudi women think is needed
before entering marriage?
The second research question was intended to find out what Saudi women think they ought to have learned before they entered marital life. During the interviews, this question was given to the participants as three separate questions: Do you think that you were adequately prepared for marriage? Explain why or why not? What is the information your daughters need before marriage? And what do you think are important topics to include in premarital programs?
Do you think that you were adequately prepared for marriage? Explain why or why not?
In response to this question, 78% of participants reported that they were not ready for a marital relationship. In their answers, participants discussed some indicators that prove a lack of readiness for marriage such as unrealistic expectations, lacking proper guidance before marriage, escaping from family problems, preparing only for household work, negative impacts of other women’s experiences, lacking knowledge for marriage preparation, negative effects of bad advice, lack of realistic expectations about marriage’s responsibilities, difficulty in the first two years of marriage and preparation for sexual relationships.
Several participants (30%) believe that they were not ready because they had unrealistic expectations about marriage before they got married. One participant said, “I used to think that marriage was going to be so enjoyable without any responsibilities and that we were going to go out and hug each other all day but I was wrong. I never had enough knowledge about marriage” (Participant #10).
Other participants’ answers indicated that no one gave them any structure on the aspects of marriage, even though they were willing to receive any guidance:
Participant #21 talked about having difficulties dealing with her husband because she anticipated that her husband will be like her brothers, who are the only males she dealt with before she got married. “I expected my husband to be like my brothers, who do not talk or get angry very quickly. My brothers were the only men that I dealt with, so all my expectations were drawn from my experience with them. I prepare myself to deal with this kind of man, who are so quiet and do not want anyone to interfere in their life. My husband is the opposite of that, I did not know to how appropriately deal with him.”
Escaping from Family’s Problems
The second indicator of the lack of marriage preparation that participants referred to was their own concentration on running away from their own family’s problems rather than focusing on preparing for marriage. Participant #19 responded to the question of whether she was ready for marriage, saying “No, I was not ready for marriage. No one guided me or gave me advice about marital life. I just wanted to marry, because I wanted to escape from my family’s problems. I was not thinking about whether I had enough information about marriage and what marriage requires of you. As I said, I just wanted to have my own life without problems.”
Preparing Only for Household Work
Some participants indicated that their parents just educated them about household chore skills and neglected to teach them about marriage. For example, Participant #9’s response to whether she was ready for marriage beforehand:
No, I was not ready, all I knew was how to cook and clean! No one provided me guidance on marriage. Regarding to the sexual relationship, my husband taught me about it and that is all. I did not know how to talk to his family or what to talk with them about, how to respect his family, when I must go to them, how to treat my husband, and how to solve our problems with him, I did not know anything.
Participant #15 stated that: “The only guidance that I received before marriage is how to cook and clean house. These things are what my mom focused on. I don’t know why our society measures the success of marriage on the skills that a woman has in household work.”
Negative Impact of other Women’s Experiences
Participants also described the negative effects of hearing others’ experiences before they themselves entered marriages: “No, I just heard about some of my friends’ experiences with their husbands and how they deal with them which sometimes influence my marital life negatively” (Participant # 14). Another respondent said, “Before I got married, I thought that I would not be able to have a happy life with my husband, because of my sisters’ problems in their marriage” (Participants # 20). One participant expressed her concern about her future spouse because she had heard other women talking about the difficulties in their own marital relationships “I was afraid whenever I had a gossip with older ladies. They usually tell that all men are alike, they are infidel. Frankly, such gossip was affecting me negatively…Frankly, I was afraid. I was wondering are all men really alike, are they controlling women and depriving them of their freedom? And are they really infidel?” (Participant #4).
Lacking Knowledge for Marriage Preparation and Negative Effects of Bad Advice
Several respondents reported that they did not have adequate information about marriage before getting married. One participant said, “I got some information about marriage relationship, but not all the information, not 100% enough information, there were problems. I was annoyed. I did not get enough information” (Participant #3).
Like the previous case, another participant indicated that she faced difficulties in her relationship in the beginning of her marriage, because she did not know how to communicate effectively with her husband: “I had some knowledge that with marriage comes responsibility and a lot of other things than just love, but I have no idea what kind of problem I will face and how I can resolve them. Also, I don’t know how I can communicate effectively with my husband in the beginning, especially in the engagement period” (Participant #12). Participant #13 responded to the question of preparedness for marriage by saying “No, because no one told me about marriage. The only thing that I had been told regarding to marriage by my parents is to save my marriage whatever that will cost me” (Participant #13).
Participants revealed that they learned about marriage either through advice or observing their sisters’ marital relationships, which influenced them negatively in their relationships with their spouses “I just heard some advice about how I should deal with my husband. I remembered when my sisters were sitting with me, and they gave me some advice that had negative effects on my marital life when I applied them” (Participant #22). Participant #20 gave the following example from her life before her own marriage:
My mother passed when I was younger, and my father was always busy with work. So I did not have that experience in my family of origin, but I spent a lot time with my married sisters. Consequently, their experience in their marital relationships impacted me a lot. I tried to copy what my sisters did with their husbands, and I applied their ways in handling their conflicts, which caused me a lot of problems in my marriage
Lack of Realistic Expectations about Marriage’s Responsibilities
Several participants commented that they did not have realistic expectations about the size of their responsibilities in marriage. Some of them were shocked by the amount of responsibility, and regretted getting married. For example: “Before I got married, I believed that I was prepared adequately. But, after I was married and had children, I felt that the responsibility was too big for me” (Participant #14). Another respondent said, “I was not expecting that I would have big responsibilities when I got married. I told my husband that I regretted that I married. When I was living with my parents, before I married, I was happier than now. I did not have any responsibility that I have to think about” (Participant #13).
Participant #1 told me that “marriage is a responsibility, but I did not expect that it is that bulky one.” Another of the women interviewed stated: “I was surprised when I found myself with all these responsibilities, and I should do my best to make everyone happy in my home, even if that caused me to neglect what I need as a woman” (Participant #8).
Difficulties in the First Two years of Marriage
Nine participants replied to the question of readiness for marriage by saying that they experienced difficulties in their relationships in the first two years of marriage. For example, Participant #10 stated: “We used to have a lot of problems. Especially the first two years I had a lot of problems with him and with the people that surround him.”
One of the participants indicated that she did not feel ready for marriage beforehand, but she learned a lot after she got married. When asked whether that lack of knowledge affected her relationship, she replied: “Yes, we were having a lot of disagreements during first two years and we were close to divorce at that time” (Participant #23).
Participant #2 said “The start of our marriage there was emotional convergence during the first and second months of marriage, we had much arguments with each other and tensions heightened between us. We neglected reaching a compromise with each other or at least to try to understand each other.”
Preparing for Sexual Relationships
When asked if she had received adequate knowledge on sexual relationships before she entered marriage, she said “I was scared because I didn’t know a lot of stuff about sex. Also my cousin told me stuff that made me more scared. I think that my sister should’ve talked to me since she has been married for a long time” (Participant #23).
A few participants expressed how the lack of knowledge on sex contributed to some challenges in their relationships. Participant #5 stated:
No, I got married without any background of this aspect. I bought a book, but it was not that helpful to me. My sister told me a little about it, but it was not enough to understand this kind of knowledge. When I had sex for the first time with my husband, I was shocked, felt awkward, and scared. Also, I refused to do it again the second time. We had some rough moments until we were used to it.
Participant #8 described struggling with questions about sexual relationships, and she believed that she did not find appropriate guidance to answer her questions:
No one talked to me about this topic, not even my mother, before I got married. I had many questions in this relationship, and I wish I could have asked someone who was a specialist in this field. I tried to ask my friends, but each one had different opinions, which made me more confused. I think if someone with expertise had talked to me about this, maybe I would not have been terrified, especially if someone had talked to me about what I should do in the first night. Because I was extremely scared, I refused to sleep with my husband in the first ten days after our marriage, and every time he touched me I was crying and I was shocked.
Several participants expressed that they wished they had been told about sexual activity before marriage because if they had been educated about it, they would not face some of the problems that they are struggling with in their marriages now. For example, Participant #24 gave the following details: “My friends told me some scary stories about their sexual relationship, which made me terrified. Lack of this kind of knowledge also lead me to this situation, and I believe that if someone had educated me correctly about this relationship, I would not have had all this trouble in my marital life.”
Things Participants Want Their Daughters to Know Before Marriage
When asked specifically, “Imagine that you have a daughter who will get married soon. What information do you feel she should know before she gets married?”, most participants discussed teaching their daughters to believe in themselves, having their own lives, not putting their husbands as the first priority, and taking care of themselves. One respondent said “I will tell her to don’t give up her friends and her family for him. She should learn to have character and not just do whatever he tells her to do so he wouldn’t get mad” (Participant #10). Participant #11 said that her biggest mistake in her marital relationship is what she intends to tell her daughter to avoid:
I would tell her is to be herself. In other words, I want her to believe in herself and to not lose her identity. She should know that she does not live only to satisfy her husband. She also lives for herself. She should not ignore her parents, friends, and even the smallest thing that she likes. The big mistake that I’ve made in my relationship is to make my husband used to the fact that he is the most important thing in my life. I have disregarded my parents and my friends. I wish that someone advise me on this point before I get married.
Another respondent said that she will open her daughter’s eyes on thinking of the future by standing completely on her own and not to count on her husband: “By raising her to love herself for herself first, to not put all her trust on him because you never know what will happen” (Participant #27).
The second most cited topic for preparing participants’ daughters for marriage was the importance of educating them about sex. Several participants demonstrated how important sexual relationship education should be to their daughters before they get married: “The most important thing that she must learn is how to handle sexual activity. She has to understand the essential aspects of this matter before her marriage” (Participant #5). Another respondent said, “First I will tell her about the sexual relationship, she must understand it before her marriage, then after that I will tell her about the other relationship” (Participant #17).
One of the participants explained why this topic is important for her daughter to learn: “The first thing that I will try to do is to give her a good background on the sexual relationship, because I want her to enter marriage having a good expectation about this relationship. I want her to have the ability to address any problems she might face it” (Participant # 13). Participant #15 similarly said: “The first thing I should inform her about is the sexual relationship. Because, I believe that women should be educated about sex early.”
Besides participants preferring to educate their daughters about independence and sexual relationships, some participants were indicating different topics, such as problems solving resolution, communication skills, anger management, explaining different types of personalities, and the size of marriage responsibilities.
Important Topics for Premarital Programs Identified by Participants
Table 4.13 summarizes the topics that participants thought were important to include in premarital education programs, from the most cited to least cited:
Table 4.13 Important topics for premarital programs
|Topic||Number of respondents||Total references in interviews||Percentage of respondents|
|Problem solving skills||14||17||52|
|Discovering personality type for her and him||13||15||48|
|Self-esteem and confidence||10||14||37|
|Dealing with family-in law||9||9||33|
|Knowing her rights||5||7||18.5|
|Learning how to be affectionate||4||4||15|
Q3: How do Saudi women’s expectations of marriage compare to their experiences of marriage?
As summarized in Table 4.14 below, the majority of respondents anticipated that marriage would be filled with fantasies, contrary to marital realities. The table gives examples of the premarital expectations and the marital realities of the participants, expressed in quotes from the various respondents.
Table 4.14 Premarital fantasies and marital realities
|Love, freedom, and happiness||Before I got married, I imagined marriage to be what you see in movies.||I confess that marriage consists of some romantic moments, but it consists of fights, problems, and responsibilities too.||23|
|I imagined marriage to be just like the TV shows and the movies, easy and perfect.||But it didn’t turn out that way.||10|
|I used to imagine the romance that will happen, and that is a normal thing to think about.||7|
|Before I got married I imagined marriage to be the images that you see in movies and TV shows. I imagined it to be perfect like my dreams, with no responsibilities.||Obviously when I got married it wasn’t like that at all. Marriage consists of love and respect but it also consists of fights and problems and responsibilities and taking care of your kids.||1|
|Most girls think that marriage is a fantasy full of romance and love.||But I don’t like to have high expectations.||3|
|Thought I would be able to travel a lot and have fun all the time.||We did that, but responsibilities come eventually. Now I have to cook and clean the house all the time.||4|
|My expectations are that I am moving to a life happier than the life before marriage and that all my requests will be granted.||I don’t always get what I want, and I am not always happy. However, I like my marital life better than when I was single.||6|
|I was expecting that marriage is like a beautiful box full of love, friendship, and companionship, and there are no problems or conflicts in it.||However, I was surprised when I found myself with all these responsibilities, and I should do my best to make everyone happy in my home, even if that caused me to neglect what I need as a woman.||25|
|I used to imagine the romance that will happen and that is a normal thing to think about.||However, when it comes down to responsibilities I knew they were coming.||8|
|Marriage isn’t what I expected it to be. I thought marriage was going to be full of romance, love, and freedom.||I found some of these things in marriage but not like I thought they would be.
|I expected a life of love and stability of understanding and that it will be just like the movies, although I knew that the reality was contrary to the picture.||After I got married I knew that marriage came with responsibilities.||11|
|My expectations are that life is better and that it is a life of stability, comfort, happiness, freedom and security.||However, when I got married it wasn’t like that.||14|
|Marriage without responsibilities||I used to think that marriage was going to be so enjoyable without any responsibilities and that we were going to go out and hug each other all day.||But I was wrong. I never had enough knowledge about marriage.||17|
|I thought that I would be able to go out a lot, have fun with my friends and not have any responsibility.||However, I figured out that marriage is based on responsibility and respect and you don’t always get to do what you want.||13|
|I expected that there will be a lot of responsibilities before marriage, but I did not accept the idea that I would be separated from my family.||But after marriage I liked the situation.||15|
|Expectations never turn into a reality. Girls think that marriage is based on going out a lot and having fun. They think that they won’t have any responsibilities.||However, it’s the total opposite.||19|
|Realistic expectation about marriage||I had a realistic imagination, that was an important thing to have so I wouldn’t be surprised. Of course, I used to imagine the romance that will happen and that is a normal thing to think about.||However, when it comes down to responsibilities I knew they were coming.||16|
|In general, I did not have expectations for a rosy life. On the contrary, I expected that there will be a lot of responsibilities before marriage. I did not accept the idea that I was separated from my family.||But after marriage I liked the situation. I thought that men nowadays will not help around the house like old times, but I was wrong. I also thought that I would marry someone social, but he is the total opposite of that.||12|
|Before marriage my expectations for marital life are very realistic and logical, I had high and imaginary fantasies of life.||Thank god life turned out to be beautiful and better then my expectations.||21|
Love, Freedom, and Happiness
The majority of participants indicated that their expectation was falling in love, enjoyment, stability, understanding, and freedom. Also, they used to imagine that marriage would be like what they had seen in romantic movies and TV shows, which made them imagine a happy dream of marriage. They were expecting that there would not be any conflicts or problems in their marital relationship, and marriage would be full of companionship and friendship. One participant said “Before I got married I imagined marriage to be the image that you see on movies and TV shows. I imagined it to be perfect like my dreams, with no responsibilities” (Participant # 1). Participant #25 expressed how beautiful of a marriage she thought she would have: “I was expecting that marriage is like a beautiful box full of love, friendship, and companionship, and there are no problems or conflicts in it.” Another said, “marriage isn’t what I expected it to be. I thought marriage was going to be full of romance, love and freedom” (Participant #9). Participant #7 articulated how she was expecting that marriage would change her life, which will be full of happiness “…I used to imagine the romance that will happen and that is a normal thing to think about. My expectation is that marriage is life changing; it will change your life to be full of joy and happiness.”
However, those participants who thought that their marriages would be full of romantic moments experienced a reality contrary to their expectations. Participant #1 related that after she got married, she realized that the reality is different from what she had expected. Even though she said her marriage included some moments of love, she experienced problems in her marital life as well. Participant #25 expressed her shock with her responsibilities in marriage, and she talked about her sacrifices for her family “I was surprised when I found myself with all these responsibilities, and I should do my best to make everyone happy in my home, even if that caused me to neglect what I need as a woman.” Participant #7 explained how marriage has changed her attitude and made her more mature: “Now you are the one who is responsible for your home just like your parents were responsible. I found that marriage changed me to be more mature. I went from caring about makeup and silly things to having a house for myself and having responsibilities.”
Marriage Without Responsibilities
Participants reported that they thought that marriage would be more enjoyable and without any responsibilities. Besides that, one participant told me that she refused to believe the fact that marriage will take her away from living with her family: “I expected that there will be a lot of responsibilities before marriage, but I did not accept the idea that I was separated from my family” (Participant #15). Another participant said “I used to think that marriage was going to be so enjoyable without any responsibilities and that we were going to go out and hug each other all day” (Participant #18). One participant expressed her expectations, saying “I thought that I would be able to go out a lot, have fun with my friends and not have any responsibility” (Participant #13). However, marriage turned to have immense responsibilities in terms of house work and taking care of children.
However, some participants realized the size of responsibilities in marriage when she got married, compared to their expectation for a marriage empty of responsibilities and full of fun. They confirmed that their expectation was wrong, and marriage did not provide them with what they want. One participant said, “
Realistic Expectations about Marriage
A few participants reported that they had realistic expectations about marriage before they got married, and they were expecting the size of responsibilities they would face. One participant talked about the reality of her expectation “In general, I did not have expectations for a rosy life. On the contrary, I expected that there will be a lot of responsibilities before marriage” (Participant #12). The same respondent explained her experience after she got married, she said “…after marriage I liked the situation. I thought that men nowadays will not help around the house like old times, but I was wrong. I also thought that I would marry someone social, but he is the total opposite of that.”
Another one described that although she had realistic expectations about marriage, she stated that romance is natural to think about “I had a realistic imagination, that was an important thing to have so I wouldn’t be surprised. Of course I used to imagine the romance that will happen and that is a normal thing to think about” (Participant #16). Participant #21 was the only respondent who said that marriage was better than she expected: “Thank god life turned out to be beautiful and better then my expectations.”
Q4: What are Saudi women’s opinions and beliefs about premarital education programs?
The fourth research question is intended to gauge the opinions and beliefs of Saudi women regarding premarital education programs. To answer this question, interview participants were asked about the sources they used to prepare themselves for marriage, their experiences participating in premarital education programs, and their opinions on involving Saudi women in these kinds of program.
Sources Used to Prepare for Marriage
Participant responses revealed six sources that participants used to prepare themselves for marriage: talking to friends and relatives about marriage (52%), attending three-day marriage preparation programs (26%), reading books (26%), receiving some shallow information from their parents (15%), being educated by husbands, particularly for sexual relationships (7%), and looking up information on the internet (7%).
Experiences of Saudi women participating in premarital education programs
Before marriage, several participants attended marriage preparation programs for three days. Half of those who attended indicated that the programs they were enrolled in provided them with only superficial information about marriage, and others indicated that the programs provided them with very little information about sex. One participant said:
Before my marriage, I joined a course for three days and I benefited from it. As for being ready, I was not that ready and I feel after I finished this course that I need more information in marital aspects… the course covered roughly 40% of the things I wanted to know before marriage. (Participant #2)
Participant #17 said of the marriage preparation program that “it was just ideas about men and women’s mentalities, and things like that… it was about how to deal with a man and how men think, things like that, it was superficial ideas; it did not go deeply in the sexual relationship” (Participant #17). One participant described the premarital program that she was enrolled in, saying that it was for couples who are in engagement periods. She also recalled that the instructor was shy and did not answer all their questions, which disappointed her: “She did not explain in detail, she said that would be explained to the men, and then the men would explain to you” (Participant #18).
The other half of interview respondents described how the marriage preparation programs they were enrolled in were beneficial for them: “I went to a program that helped me learn more about sex and made me feel a lot more comfortable on top of providing me with basic information about this relationship” (Participant #16). Participant #4 said that some of the topics discussed in the program were beneficial for her:
Frankly, such courses helped me a lot… as they taught us things we were ignoring before marriage. They taught us our rights and responsibilities and what I should know before I initiate my marital life. You know such matters I myself was ignoring them… they allocated a complete day, during the course, for problems and the ways to overcome them. (Participant #4).
One participant said, “I took an online marriage preparation programs which help me a lot in my marital relationship aspects” (Participant #26).
Opinions of participants on premarital education programs
When participants were asked their opinions on premarital education programs in general, some of them said that establishing premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia would be more beneficial for young women since they experienced suffering in their marital lives. One participant explained the importance of this program for young women, and she talked about the advantage of the education program through being among groups, which made particular subjects easier for her to learn:
It would be great for girls who are about to married. In fact, I was told about the relationship, but I did not know how that happens and how I can deal with problems, yes there was little sufferance. Honestly, I don’t like being told of sex by any one, but it might be easier for me to be among people in these programs. (Participant #3)
Other participants referred to another reason that affirms the need for this program. For example: “There are a lot of girls that don’t know anything about marriage like I did. There are also a lot of girls that suffer from their strict parents that don’t let them go out and have friends. So in these conditions they should get prepared for marriage before marriage” (Participant #6).
Other participants agreed on the importance of premarital programs in Saudi Arabia, but only under particular conditions. They indicated that if there were a superior program that provided young women with adequate information to prepare them for marriage, and employ qualified instructors to teach them, they will encourage young unmarried women around them to participate. One participant said:
Some premarital programs in our society do not provide women with enough information, based on my friends’ experiences with such programs, but if the educator of these programs is well known, and she is a specialist on marriage, I strongly believe that Saudi women should participate in it. (Participant #21)
Participant #11 said that: “If I found a good workshop that prepares women for marriage, I will register [my daughter] immediately, because I want her to learn about marriage from a specialist and in an educational way.” Another said, “I prefer that she learn it from me, but if I find someone who specializes in marriage and family relationships, I prefer her to get educated by this person” (Participant #15).
Reasons for Saudi Women to Participate in Premarital Education Programs
Every single interview respondent confirmed that Saudi women need a program that prepares them for marriage adequately. The participants had four prevalent reasons for supporting premarital education programs: (1) negative influence of the environment and experiences that make young women vulnerable to divorce; (2) social norms that have negative impacts on young women; (3) high expectations for romance, freedom, and no responsibilities in marriage; and (4) negative impact of social media.
The Influence of the Environments and Experiences
Several participants confirmed the negative impact of the environment and experiments on Saudi women’s marital lives. Articulating why this kind of program is needed in Saudi Arabia, Participant #19 said:
What makes me think that these Saudi women need these programs is because women are always impacted negatively by their families of origin by either trying to copy those life styles or to live in the opposite way because they are angry about it or have suffering from it.
Participant #10 saw the impact of the environment on marital lives differently from Participant #19:
I fully support that idea because Saudi young women are affected by their experiences and environments that they raised on either positively and negatively and they try to implement them or to avoid them based on her perspective which might cause a lot of problems in their marital life.
Participant #19 also highlighted another reason for premarital programs in Saudi Arabia:
Actually, not just young women need guidance. Their mothers need it too. Saudi mothers are always concerned about their daughters if they do not get married early. And if they do get married, the only thing that their mothers think about is how their daughter can maintain their husbands and marriage. It doesn’t matter how suffering their daughters are going through. So these mother prepare their daughters for housework only, without thinking about how they will live with a strange person and that they also need to understand how to deal with their husbands, and that they need to understand what their rights and duties are in the marital relationship.
Participants talked about how Saudi women’s mothers normally act when they have daughters who are about to get married. For example, Participant #8 said that: “When Saudi mothers want to prepare their children for marriage, they just teach them how to cook, clean, and take care of their children…They even feel ashamed to talk with their daughters about sexual activities.”
Participant #14 talked about different types of Saudi families and their effects on their daughters. When asked whether she thought that Saudi women needed marriage preparation programs, she responded:
Yes, I think so. Because Saudi families are either very traditional families or more modern families. For traditional families, they restrict their daughters, such as restricting them from visiting friends, using the internet and going outside by themselves. So these young women do not gain experience about how much responsibility they will have, and sometimes they don’t have adequate experiences of how they should deal with men. All these factors may have negative impacts on their marriage. For moderate families, they give their daughters broad freedom without supervision. So they might go through many experiences, but that might raise the likelihood of having bad experiences with men. If that occurs, these young women will have a bad reputation that reduces their chances of getting compatible husbands. When that happens, it is more likely for most of these marriages to fail due to incompatible couples.
Saudi Social Norms
The social norms that exist in Saudi society, which have negative impacts on young women, was the second reason that participants cited in favor of premarital education. For example, one participant expressed how some Saudi women are influenced by the stereo type of gender inequality found in Saudi society:
“There are a lot of things that are expected of us as Saudi women toward our husbands that are wrong. For instance, we are expected to always listen to our husband and not go against their words and such. So if our girls went in marriage knowing only that, it isn’t going to help them in any way.” (Participant #7)
Another participant said:
“It is better for them to join such programs. In fact, you know that men are everything and “women should obey them. You also know the elderly’s advice to girls approaching marriage that concentrates on women’s obeying their husbands. In general our society is closed in this regard and concerning such matters. They should learn that both wife and husband are like one person”. (Participant #4)
Participant #9 said “The girl needs to be educated before marriage not because the man like to have value. I like the man to have value, but the man is not my life support!”
Other participants confirm the need for Saudi women to have marriage preparation programs due to the sex segregation in Saudi society. This policy makes them unaware of how to deal with men who are strangers to them. One participant said:
“An unmarried Saudi woman does not have experience of how to deal with men. She just deals with her father, brothers, uncles, period. So I very much agree that Saudi women do need these programs to prepare them for marriage and make them ready for a new life.” (Participant #8)
One participant indicated that such programs are needed because of the increased rate of divorce and marital distress in Saudi Arabia: “Because I always hear about divorce and marital distress in Saudi families, I am sure that the lack of preparation for marriage is the major cause of these issues” (Participant #13).
Another participant identified two types of women in Saudi society and mentioned that both types need this kind of program:
“I fully agree on that, they need to learn how to be responsible. Actually, young women are now divided into two parts: women who are willing to sacrifice in order to get lovely husband and women who place strong boundaries between them and their husbands by being independent of their selves and do not allow their husbands to interfere in their personal lives due to their fears of future. In fact, there are a few women who can balance between sacrificing and independence.” (Participant #27)
Participant #17 spoke about her experience in having shy mothers and sisters, who would not discuss the sexual relationship part of marital life:
“We are a shy society; my mother was shy to tell me about the sexual marriage relationship, even between sisters, I have a married sister, she never told me about her marriage relationship. We are shy to talk about this relationship. I feel it is something private.”
Having High Expectations for Marital Life
The third major reason given by participants for starting premarital education programs was the high expectations for marriage that young women often have before they get married. According to the participants who discussed this reason, these young women anticipated lives full of romantic moments, freedom, and no responsibilities. As examples, several excerpts from respondents follow:
Yes, because young Saudi women have wrong expectations of marriage. They think that marriage is just romantic moments they will spend with their lovely husband, as they see in Turkish TV shows. And, they think that with marriage, they will get some freedom from their families to go anywhere they like. (Participant #11)
Yes very much, because the majority of them aren’t used to being responsible when they were with their parents, so they need to learn how to be responsible and not to be stubborn. They need these programs to prepare them from having high expectations. (Participant #12)
Yes, they absolutely need such programs. The majority of young Saudi women think that they know everything about marriage, while in fact they do not. When they get married, they are shocked, because they feel that their responsibilities toward their husbands, children, and houses are too much for them. (Participant #19)
Influence of the Internet and Television
Fourth, the influence of the internet and television was mentioned by some of the participants. Those respondents said that premarital education programs could be important for those Saudi women whose parents did not supervise their use of the internet and television. Participant #5 gave a long description of this problem:
I do think that Saudi women need this kind of program before they get married. There is a big lack of supervision of young adults when they use the Internet through TV, social media, YouTube, Google, and so on. Unfortunately, they learn things that are prohibited in our religion. Moreover, all the exposure to various foreign channels by Saudi women is threatening family values.
This particular participant continued talking about the negative influence of the lack of family supervision on young women by saying:
In short, some young women in Saudi Arabia in particular need awareness, knowledge, and skills that help them to prepare for marriage, because they are exposed to wrong resources that have changed their values, attitude, and culture and which later adversely affects their marriages. All these changes occur as a result of exposure to wrong information in the absence of family supervision.
The results indicated that despite the different sources of premarital education and opinions held by Saudi women regarding premarital education, participants completely support such programs.
The phenomenon of divorce in Saudi society was explored in this paper, with the goal of addressing the need for premarital education programs for Saudi women, and thereby to decrease the divorce rate in Saudi Arabia. This study set out to better understand married Saudi women’s experiences and perceptions, in order to develop a premarital education program. Based on previous research that demonstrated the importance of premarital education and the rising rates of divorce in Saudi Arabia, the purpose of this research was to provide practical evidence and research-based justification for the need for premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia. Such programs should address the marital problems identified by the participants of this study: Saudi women who have been married for less than five years. Previous research has concluded that premarital interventions help couples in building and sustaining relationships that are healthy and contribute immensely to the establishment and growth of a united and stable family (Cowan & Cowan, 2000). Premarital interventions establish an enduring marriage beneficial to both partners and their children (Stanley, 2001). Relationship education programs have been successful in achieving meaningful advances in conflict management, communication processes, and other areas that contribute to the success or failure of marital relationships (Rhoades & Stanley, 2011).
Many relationship and marriage education (RME) approaches base their curricula content on social learning theory and changing relationship quality and satisfaction through the improvement of couple behavioral skills. In the same manner, behavioral theory talks about people experiencing increased stability and commitment based on the positive demeanors they have fostered in their relationships. However, in order to attain this increased commitment, stability, and improved relationship satisfaction and happiness, individuals must work on the self by developing a positive concept of self and identity through social interaction as advocated by the Symbolic Interactions Theory (SI), which this research is grounded on. The SI theory is used to explain human behavior by postulating that people assign meaning to the objects in their environment and align their actions to their concept of a given situation (Sergin & Flora, 2005). SI also places emphasis on how people develop their self-conceptions, because self-concept is supposed to be shaped by, and in turn shape, symbolic meanings as well as actions through social interaction (Blumer, 1969; Sergin & Flora, 2005).
Relationship education used to be and is still today often provided to premarital couples as a way to create healthy marital relationships. These educational programs are provided as lectures and discussions, and sessions for couples to practice the skills that they learned with one another (Halford et al., 2003). There are several meta-analytic studies supporting relationship education programs that target couples through indicating their effectiveness in preventing relationship distress, as well as improving communication (Hawkins, Blanchard, Baldwin & Fawcett, 2008). In such couple-based services, the concentration is typically on improving healthy communication; a significant number of respondents in this study stated that their marriages lacked healthy communication. Improving communication will help couples to be committed to each other, and positively impact other aspects of marital life that foster a strong connection between the married couple (Rhoades & Stanley, 2011). However, couple-based services are not well suited to those who are not in relationships or people who have social norm restrictions (e.g., sex segregation) that prevent them from receiving these programs with their partners. Other situations involving the couple-based approach do not tackle issues that are pertinent to the culture of the program participants, as is the case for the Saudi women in this research.
Therefore, in certain situations, it is more beneficial for some individuals to take relationship education programs as individuals rather than as couples. This is due to some people not being married or in relationships, or due to a culture that restricts discussions on some issues that are covered in couple-based relationship and marriage approaches, such as sex. Research has found that individual-oriented relationship education curricula have demonstrated the value of this approach not only for relationship issues, but also for individual issues in participants’ lives. Such programs taught individuals effective communication skills for their intimate and family relationships, and provided a positive influence for both attending partners and non-attending partners (Markman, Howard & Rhoades, 2012).
As indicated in the literature review, many studies supported the fact that Saudi women need relationship education in general and premarital programs in particular. This research explored the major problems that Saudi women experience in their marital lives and outlined how relationship and marriage approaches exemplified through different curricula or programs can help solve these problems effectively. The findings of the present research will help to implement premarital education programs, especially for components related to the present research results regarding women in Saudi Arabia. In as much as relationship and marriage education programs are not only vital but also effective in dealing with and providing solutions to relationship and marital problems, it is the educational and practical approaches to these problems that form the foundation for the success of relationship and marriage education. It is the educational and practical approaches to these problems that form the foundation for the success of relationship and marriage education programs. In this regard, the prescriptive skills approach, the principles-based approach and the mindful-based approach outline the effectiveness of relationship and marriage education programs in building happy and healthy relationships and marriages. As will be seen in this discussion, there is a shift in relationship education from the prescriptive skills approach to the principles-based approach, which focuses on precepts such as forgiveness, sacrifice, commitment, and support. The discussion will then go beyond the prescriptive skills approach and the principles-based approach to determine how a change in the mindset can help build healthy and happy relationships and marriages through the mindfulness-based approach.
The skills-based approach is one CRE approach implemented over the past several decades with significant focus on enhancing relationship education through concentrating on teaching couples new communication and conflict resolution skills to improve relationship satisfaction (Halford & Snyder, 2012). Therefore, these approaches help couples to exhibit these skills, which have been linked with improving couple relationships and the prevention of relationship problems (Hawkins & Ooms, 2012; Markman & Rhoades, 2012; Wadsworth & Markman, 2012). The underlying assumption of the prescriptive skills approach as outlined in the research conducted by Collins (2006), Johnson and Bradbury (2015), and Johnson et al., (2005) is that quality relationships can be improved through improvement of couples’ interaction patterns. In other words, behaviors or demeanors drive relational outcomes. As such, if novel skilled behavior could be learned and practiced by individuals and couples, marital stress could then be decreased.
Effective communication is a vital component of the PREP program since the program uses a skill-based approach to solve marital problems occurring among couples (Citation???). Carroll, Badger and Yang (2006) provided a complete picture of how PREP utilizes prescriptive behavioral approach by putting forth a developmental model of marital competence that entails an interpersonal domain, effective negotiation, and communication skills. According to Schramm, Galovan and Goddard (2017), PREP was formulated on the basis of behavioral couples’ therapy, developed by Markman et al., 1993.
PREP is an empirically-tested and scientifically-based technique of teaching relationship education (Citation???). The program is based on over thirty years of research in the field of relationship health and is listed in SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP). The implication of such research and evidence-based relationship and premarital education is that the integrity of PREP, in its workshops and trainings, can be trusted. PREP is an important program, because it formulates practical materials that help facilitators to design or foster the dimensions of relationships that theory and research have linked to effective marital functioning (for further information see PREP website).
In addition, the program utilizes techniques of communication-oriented marital enhancement programs and cognitive-behavioral marital therapy to help individuals and couples maintain high levels of functioning and prevent marital problems from developing (Citation???). PREP is founded on years of research in the field of relationship health, with most research coming from the University of Denver and under the sponsorship of the National Institute of Mental Health. Such recognized health institutions give credibility to the work done by PREP in helping couples achieve maximum marital satisfaction in their marriages (PREP website).
Prevention Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) is a program for helping couples strengthen their relationships or marriages. Since certain problems in relationships or marriages are individual-oriented, it may prove difficult to solve them as a couple (Rhoades & Stanley, 2011). Schramm et al. (2017) also states this, and questions the prescriptive behavioral approach; in particular the importance of communication skills in improving conflict management. This is because the purported strong link between communication skills and conflict management has been shown to be weak in recent studies when dealing with couples (Carroll, Badger & Yang, 2006). As such, an individual-oriented approach of the prescriptive behavioral model through Within My Reach PREP program (Citation???) is considered a prominent approach to improving relationship and marital satisfaction.
It is for this reason that the direction of adaptation of Within My Reach is different from the couple-focused PREP. For instance, Within My Reach provides leeway for people to find ways of solving their relationship problems in an individual-oriented manner (PREP website). Moreover, the focus of the program is not exclusively on specific current relationships; rather the emphasis of Within My Reach is on the fact that whatever a person’s status is regarding relationships, these relationships impact all other major aspects of functioning (Sparks, 2008). As such Stanley, Pearson, and Kline (2005) argued that individual-oriented relationship or premarital education provides an opportunity for participants to explore vital topics that cannot be covered as comprehensively in couple focused programs.
Within My Reach refers to a research-based curriculum in the style and setting of PREP that was created for individuals regardless of whether or not they are currently in a relationship (Sparks, 2008). The program makes no presumptions that individuals are in existing or committed relationships that they want to stay in or that their relationships are healthy and safe; moreover, it not only focuses on the classic strategies from PREP such as conflict management, skills in communication and models for managing expectations, but also focuses on helping individuals make good choices in relationships and marriages. Thus, it is safe to assert that the effectiveness of Within My Reach program or curriculum is based on its derivation from PREP (Sparks, 2008).
According to Catholic Health Initiatives (nd) Within My Reach curriculum has fifteen units including:1) the State of Relationships, 2) Today Healthy Relationships: What They Are and What They Aren’t, 3) Sliding versus Deciding, 4) Smart Love, 5) Knowing Yourself First, 6) Making Your Own Decisions, 7) Dangerous Patterns in Relationships, 8) Where Conflict Begins, 9) Smart Communication, 10) The Speaker Listener Technique, 11) Infidelity, Distrust, and Forgiveness, 12) Commitment: Why it Matters to Adults and Children, 13) Stepfamilies and the Significance of Fathers, 14) Making the Tough Decisions, and 15) Reaching Into Your Future. All of them are extremely vital in helping individuals learn relationship skills and make decisions that enrich their relationships.
According to the PREP website, the Within My Reach program provides relationship strengthening skills for women planning to continue with their existing relationships and those hoping to marry, as well as providing safety measures and steps for terminating relationships that are unhealthy or dangerous. Research demonstrated the effectiveness of Within My Reach on raising knowledge about relationship skills; moreover, it showed a significant positive change on conflict management and communication quality, as well as a significant increase on the reduction of aggression (Antle, et al., 2013).
Despite the fact that research provides support for the prescriptive skills approach and its effectiveness, certain studies have evinced that this approach has meager impact on couple relationships (Hilper, Bodenmann, Nussbeck &Bradbury, 2013; Wood, McConnell, Moore, Clarkwest & Hsueh, 2010). This can be attributed to the fact that the prescriptive skills approach has at least four flaws, according to Schramm et al (2017).
First, the context of relationships goes beyond the confines of prescriptive phrases and conflict management skills in that, as outlined by the vulnerability-stress-adaptation model, personal individual traits, such as anger, neuroticism and impulsivity, render. It is difficult for individuals to replicate the learned behaviors by the prescriptive behavior approach or react to behaviors from their partners (Karney & Bradbury, 1995).
Second, as Collins (2006) states, questions have been raised regarding the temporal order of association between communication and relationship satisfaction. This argument is based on the evidence on bidirectional impacts of communication and relationship satisfaction put forward by Lavner, Karney and Bradbury (2016) that suggests that in some situations, relationship satisfaction is a more consistent predictor of communication than communication is a predictor of relationship satisfaction.
Third, couples in relationships and marriages exist in circumstances whereby strains, chronic stresses, and acute events often disrupt the ability of couples to formulate closeness, stability, and connection, as well as, enact or relay proper prescriptive statements during heated confrontations or conflicts.
Finally, as Arbinger Institute (2016) reports, there are suggestions that a change in something else, for instance, a change in mindset is required before behavior change. The mindset refers to how people see and regard other people, challenges, obligations, circumstances, opportunities and the world at large.
Since individuals’ demeanors are functions of how they view possibilities, situations and other people, it is more plausible for a change to occur in the mindset first, before occurring in peoples’ behaviors. Thus, there is a need to move to a principles-based approach. However, in as much as the prescriptive behavior or skills approach has a low impact on couple relationship and it was defined as an incomplete approach, it is still a valuable approach for relationship and marriage education programs (Schramm et al., 2017).
According to Markman, Rhoades, Stanley and Peterson (2013), a shift from a prescriptive approach to the application of principles results in more lasting improvements and changes in relationships skills since skills can only be effective if individuals want to utilize them and skills training can change expectations for future interactions. Contrary to the skill-based approach, the principles-based approach focuses on character development and teaching of broad principles, concepts, and virtues that can result in a vast array of applications to people’s verbal exchanges, cognitive processes, and behavioral actions; help individuals building their personal resources and gaining a motivation for change; give the individuals advanced experiential learning; and empower them to hold the responsibility for care and quality of their relationship (Futris, Adler-Baeder, Ketring, Smith, et al., 2014). One example of the principle-based approach is ELEVATE, which teaches couples and individuals seven principles, whose effectiveness in developing healthy relationships was demonstrated by existing research (Citation???).
ELEVATE: Taking Your Relationship to the Next Level is an educational program that combines practical skills with an understanding of the physiology of human interaction with the aim of fostering healthy relationship skills and knowledge (Futris, Adler-Baeder, Ketring, Smith, et al., 2014). The program comprises an eight-hour, research-informed curriculum that takes couples through theoretical and practical learning on matters regarding healthy relationships. This includes the seven key principles critical to maintaining stable and healthy relationships. While knowledge regarding healthy relationships is vital, it is equally important for couples to have practical skills that will help them attain relationship satisfaction in their marriages. This dual relationship fulfillment is what ELEVATE offers, as evidenced in the two distinct features of the program. These two features are the practical tools and strategies taught in the education curriculum and the mindfulness activities that help couples maintain control of their heart-brain responses to stressful triggers (Futris, Adler-Baeder, Ketring and Smith et al, 2014).
A significant attribute of the ELEVATE curriculum is that it teaches skills that principally focus on the dyadic couple relationship, with one module that focuses on the seven key principles related to healthy relationships (Rodriguez, 2015). The seven principles include:
- Choose (lay the foundation): making a decision to actively work on one’s relationship.
- Care for self (empower): maintaining sexual, spiritual, physical and emotional wellness.
- Know (enlighten): getting to know and discern one’s partner.
- Care (value): providing sufficient care for one’s partner by showing affection, kindness and support.
- Share (attach): formulating and sharing interests based on friendship and interconnectedness.
- Manage (tame): managing conflicts, difficulties and repeated stressors effectively.
- Connect (engage): connecting as a couple to the broader community and providing social support.
While the foundation of the ELEVATE program is based on couples and building healthy relationships, the curriculum also provides information on self-care. As evidenced in research, couples or participants who take part in ELEVATE decrease their use of negative demeanors, experience stress reduction, and increase their utilization of pro-social skills (Rodriguez, 2015). Thus, the overall outcome of the ELEVATE program is enhanced stability and quality in relationships.
According to Futris, Adler-Baeder, Ketring, Smith, et al., (2014), there is growing evidence that increasing family and marital instability negatively affects couples, children, families, and communities. As such, the ELEVATE program accounts for the impact that family of origin, relatives, and friends have on marital relationships. An individual’s family and friends may impact his or her marriage negatively based on the examples they set, or through the marital advice or counseling the individual receives from them. While advice from family and friends can be valuable to couples, it is imperative to note that each marital relationship is different. Advice based on one marriage may be impractical in another. ELEVATE’s comprehensive extension programming has a formidable platform of theory, research, and practices that builds on people’s strengths while promoting safety and health in couple relationships and respecting their diversity. This means that ELEVATE is an inclusive relationship and premarital education program that does not discriminate against participants or select participants in a biased way.
Research by Buck and Neff (2012) indicates that people who are stressed, as in certain cases in marriages and relationships, have less ability to regulate their emotions. The information on self-care and demeanors in ELEVATE is effective in managing stressors and conflicts. This process involves educators in the ELEVATE program explaining to individuals and couples how the physiology of emotions affects interactional processes and relationships. Moreover, specific stress reduction methods are introduced and taught and designed for participants. The outcome is improved use of pro-social skills and reduction in stress and utilization of negative behaviors, which in turn fosters relationship stability and quality. Moreover, research conducted by McGill (2016) on distressed families provides assurance for practitioners and educators that they can feel confident in the ability of ELEVATE to provide adequate support to distressed families.
Couple relationship education programs have moved to the foundation of love and developing the dynamic of well-functioning relationships, instead of focusing on educated suffering couples who experience unhappy marriages (Kozlowski, 2013). Schramm, Galovan, and Goddard (2017) suggested that practitioners can improve relationship education programs by looking beyond problem-solving skills and communication skills, and finding solutions by learning more from other disciplines (e.g., neuroscience, positive psychology, happiness and well-being, and mindfulness) in order to have positive effects on a relationship. A substantial amount of mindfulness and meditation research has been used to create relationship education programs. These programs improve individuals’ mental and physical health, as well as couples’ marital satisfaction (Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2004; Gambrel & Piercy, 2015; Kabat-Zinn, 1990).
The mindfulness approach is linked with increasing self-esteem and self-confidence and reducing stress, which enable individuals to alter negative experiences and sentiments with positive ones (Samuelson, Carmody, Kabat-Zinn, & Bratt, 2007). Furthermore, Deci and Ryan stated that mindfulness practice has a positive influence on “social connectedness” (Rodriguez, 2015, p.13) and inhibited negative interaction during conflict (Bear, 2003). Barnes et al. (2007) state that such awareness may be demonstrated through meditative techniques, such as practicing yoga, bringing awareness to the breath during breathing exercises, and taking part in focused activities, such as mindful walking and eating.
In as much as stress, which is a key pillar of the premarital education program in this research, can be managed in couples’ therapy, it is equally important to manage stress on an individual level before merging stress management solutions. Fortunately, learning how to manage emotions and stress can be taught in Mindfulness-based approach, through skills, such as acknowledging and focusing on arousal triggers, physiological changes, and finding behaviors to aid in calming these responses (Rodriguez, 2015). These are the main focus points of the mindfulness approach whereby the individual is taught to work on the self, that is, taking better care of oneself through various positive activities, such as healthy eating and exercises.
Different researchers provide definitions for mindfulness. For instance, Coleman (2004) defined mindfulness by asserting that it is “designed to help the person become more aware of and connected to present moment experiences. The process involves increasing self-awareness and awareness of the environment, and merely observing thoughts and feelings as they come up” (p. 19). Previous research referred to other mindfulness techniques, including systematic tension release and the “body scan” relaxation technique, breath meditation for relaxation, and distress management (Coleman, 2004). Research has demonstrated that practicing mindfulness is associated with lower anxiety and depression, and increasing the quality of life for individuals (Khiry, Sharma, & Fournier, 2015). Recently, the concept of mindfulness has been applied within the context of couple relationships. For instance, Futris et al. (2014) stated that “mindfulness is an open attention to and awareness of the present moment, both internally and externally. It is used to help individuals and couples pay attention to thoughts and feelings in the moment. This also helps one to act skillfully, instead of emotionally, in stressful situations” (p. 5).
Mindfulness techniques within the context of building and maintaining happy marital relationships and wellbeing has been demonstrated by many studies. Mindfulness Based Couple Relationship Education (MBCRE) is an emerging approach to CRE which focuses on both individual and relational mindfulness practices. The Couples Connecting Mindfully (CCM) curriculum is one example of a mindfulness-based couple relationship education program. The CCM curriculum indicated the benefits of using mindfulness for couples and individuals through emphasizing “physiological, emotion, and mindfulness-based stress reduction skills to address both individual stress and stress within relationships” (Thompson, 2016, p. 26). A large body of research links mindfulness to positive relationship adjustment and satisfaction (e.g. Khaddouma, Gordon & Bolden, 2015; Krafft, Haeger & Levin, 2017; Kozlowski, 2013; Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
Several studies of mindfulness-based Couple relationship enhancement programs demonstrated the effectiveness of mindfulness techniques in improving relationship satisfaction and subjective well-being that in turn helps spouses to change their ways in approaching conflict (Carson, Carson, Gil & Baucom, 2004; Gambrel & Piercy, 2015). For example, Carson, Carson, Gil and Baucom (2004) found in their study that mindfulness skills “(e.g., continual development of a single generic skill, that of mindful attention, versus various domain-specific skills such as problem-solving strategies; didactic focus on stress reactivity versus sexual functioning” used by married couples have a positive impact on relationship satisfaction, relationship adversity, acceptance of one another, closeness, independence, and relatedness (p.10). Furthermore, the prior study found that its participants had improved optimism and relaxation, and reduced psychological suffering.
Integrating CRE Approaches With Findings from Saudi Women
The results of this research demonstrate that most married Saudi women find themselves at the precipice of losing their identity and self-esteem, isolating themselves from familial connections due to their dedication to their marital roles and new families. It is for this reason that most participants in this study desired their daughters to learn viable and amicable ways of solving problems in marriage and gain the resilience to maintain their identity amidst the responsibilities they are expected to perform in marriages. Some of the things that the participants desire for their daughters before they enter marriage include: belief in themselves, having their own lives, or maintaining their identities amidst pressure to put their husbands’ and families’ needs above their own, strengthen their self-esteem and confidence, and controlling their anger.
Certain participants reported losing their identities by giving up on their interests and focusing on meeting the needs of their families. This finding reiterates the theory of symbolic interactionism as applied to family dynamics put forward by LaRossa and Reitzes (1993), who stated that based on the social interactions in the marriage unit, an individual can lose his or her identity as a result of the other person’s demeanor or character in the marital relationship. Thus, in as much as wives are tasked with fulfilling their roles and responsibilities in marriage, should these be overwhelming, they might refrain from focusing on their self-conception and instead focus on their husbands and children. In marital life, when spouses feel that their partners appear disrespectful or seem to underestimate their thoughts and decisions, they will experience negative emotions, such as anger or stubbornness, and may end up yelling and lying, and may result in a decrease in their self-esteem. This finding expands on the study conducted by Turner (2012) that found that based on the Symbolic Interactions Theory, individuals seek to verify their identities through social interaction and this process is constructed on whether individuals succeed in verifying their identities to others or fail in getting others to verify them. If people fail to verify their identities, Burke and Stets (1999) are of the opinion that the response will be negative emotions, as evident in the finding of this study whereby partners experienced negative emotions such as stubbornness and anger. These negative emotions will drive a lack of respect between spouses, which is considered one of the challenges that Saudi women face in their marriages, as found in this study.
An important finding of this study is that when some of the participants experienced low self-esteem and lacked self-confidence, they felt helpless if not clueless on how to solve the conflicts or problems in their marriages. Those who tried to solve their marital problems while in this state of low self-esteem only ended up making the situation worse. This finding builds on the research by Koruklu (2015) and Ziegler and Heller (2000) that concluded that self-esteem and confidence affect individuals’ social problem-solving ability. Moreover, based on the research in the literature review on self-esteem and self-confidence, when individuals have poor problem solving skills because of low self-esteem, they deal negatively with problematic situations, which affects their mental health. Research stated that there is a positive relationship between self-esteem and marital adjustment, and the importance of self-esteem in close relationships (Sciangula & Morry, 2009).
As mentioned above, anger is a potentially negative outcome of loss of identity, and low self-esteem was identified by forty-eight percent of the participants in this study. This was prevalent especially in situations where the husbands of the participants were also angry. This particular finding expands on the research conducted by Baumeister (1993) and Wylie (1961, 1989) that show that low self-esteem often resulted in individuals experiencing behavioral problems (i.e., dysfunctional, pathological, and easily suggestible behavior), which appear in a variety of ways. This study found that negative outcomes, such as anger, led to stress and had negative influences on marital relationships, including eliminating the chances of solving conflicts, losing control of their anger, and screaming at each other. Therefore, in order to address all these problems, participants should focus on maintaining their self-identities and building self-esteem, since these factors have a strong effect of individual’s behaviors.
Based off the present research findings and the literature reviews, Saudi women’s low self-esteem led to experiencing difficulties in their martial relationship that affected them in various ways. As the participants revealed, when Saudi women get married, they are met with novel responsibilities that could so much on majority of the women that they end up focusing completely on meeting the needs of their families and being submissive wives and in the process lose their identity. However, when they realized that their husbands underestimate their thoughts and decisions, they interact negatively with exhibiting negative behaviors, such as anger and stubbornness, which end up with yelling. This process contributed to decrease further their self-esteem and self-confidence. Subsequently, given that low self-esteem and self-confidence result either in making them unable to solve marital problems or dealing negatively with problematic situations. Thus, finding education solutions programs that focus on enhancing physiological and mental well-being such as ELEVATE and MBCRE are vital to helping Saudi women learn how to regulate their emotion in order to increase their self-esteem and decrease stress in their future marriages.
Educational Solutions for Being Mindful
The ELEVATE program supports practicing mindfulness strategies is beneficial for couple relationships, regarding the physical and psychological wellness of individuals (Citation???). This is because ELEVATE focuses on helping couples discern and become attuned to the philosophy of human interaction as to utilize it to foster healthy relationships, which is consistent with the mindfulness approach (Citation???). Being attuned to the philosophy of human interaction is a component of the Symbolic Interactions Theory (Citation???) used in this research and identified by participants in this study as a means of solving marital problems achieved through emotional well-being. This program indicates that mindfulness strategies help individuals to improve their emotional health, which results from a better self-image, self-esteem, and increased positive interaction, and reduce their stress (see the ELEVATE website for more information) though it is not similar to MBCRE. As such, it will be vital to teach Saudi women who are yet to marry how to practice mindfulness strategies, such as partner connection, loving-kindness, and attitude change, so as to maintain their identities, solve marital conflicts effectively and improve relationship satisfaction in their marriages.
MBCRE may have a similar theoretical foundation to the ELEVATE curriculum, but the program is also based partly on stress theory, and assumes that the health and well-being of a couple is a reflection of the individual health and well-being of the partners (Citation???). Thus, one’s own ability to make better health decisions and manage stress effectively is essential to having healthy relationships. A majority of participants in this current study cited increased disagreements with their spouses when they got married and loss of self-identity due to their disconnection with their self and their partners. Thus, they ended up experiencing immense stress in their marriage. This finding builds on the research by John Kabat-Zinn, who developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program (Rodriguez, 2015), to focus on assisting medically ill people to regain control of their emotional and mental health and have peace of mind. This focus can be assumed by individuals and couples by engaging in mindful behaviors aimed at surmounting or managing stress. However, as research by Gottan, Coan, Carrere and Swanson (1998) showed, stress may result in changes in behavioral expression and emotion regulation, which in turn influence relationship satisfaction and quality. Learning how to manage emotions and stress can be taught in mindfulness programs to prospective Saudi wives, through skills, such as acknowledging and focusing on arousal triggers, physiological changes, as well as finding demeanors to aid in calming these responses (Rodriguez, 2015). These are the main focus points of mindfulness programs, in which the individual is taught to work on the self, that is, taking better care of oneself through various positive activities, such as healthy eating and exercises, which is what this research focuses on.
A majority of the participants in this study cited increased disagreements with their spouses when they got married and loss of self-identity due to feeling disconnected from their selves and their partners. Thus, they ended up experiencing immense stress in their marriages. O’Kelly and Collard (2012) confirmed that being mindful benefits individuals in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression through mindfulness-based stress reduction. In fact, this kind of program provides training for practicing mindfulness strategies through “body scan, sitting meditation, and Hatha yoga” (Sharma & Rush, 2014).
It is evident from the results of this current study, or rather from the responses of majority of the participants, that responsibilities in marriages can be overwhelming for Saudi women. Most find themselves lost in meeting the needs of their families and being submissive wives to their husbands that they lose their identity and interests. The frustration that comes from this loss of identity is manifested through anger, stubbornness, and easily suggestible behavior, which ultimately deteriorates the mental health and well-being of Saudi women in marriages. What ELEVATE and MBCER offer to prospective Saudi wives are routines and techniques that help them Thus, premarital education programs that build on being mindful are essential to fostering the mental health and well-being of prospective Saudi wives, but knowing their partners is critical to making this process successful.
Knowing One’s Partner
Based on the findings of this study, 48% of participants stated that they wish they had known how to identify their own personalities as well as their spouses’ personalities. They attributed the dissatisfaction in the first two years of marriage to misunderstanding their husbands’ personalities and to the influence of family of origin experiences. Furthermore, according to the findings, family of origin is one of the root causes of weaknesses in participants’ marriages. This is an expansion on the research by Dinero, Conger, Shaver, Widaman and Larsen-Rife (2011) that shows that a person’s family of origin plays a significant role in shaping his or her marriage or the trajectory the individual wants his or her marriage to follow.
Based on the responses of the participants in this current study, knowing and understanding one’s partner is vital in improving relationship satisfaction. This argument reinforces the assertions by Futris, Adler-Baeder, Ketring and Smith (2014) and Neff and Karney (2005) that knowledge of partners’ backgrounds and personalities helps individuals anticipate problems in relationships or marriages and know how to deal with these problems. Moreover, research by Rhoades and Stanley (2009) emphasized the importance of self-knowledge and understanding how one’s own personality traits and behaviors affect relationships. These authors also referenced other factors that influence individuals’ behaviors, expectations, and attitudes in relationships, including: family background, family communication style, culture, and previous relationship incidents.
While SI theory indicates the significance of events in an individual’s upbringing, it also states that the lens that individuals view their upbringing through is more important than the events themselves (Weiss, 2014). Thus, it is no surprise that an overwhelming one hundred percent of the respondents quoted family of origin as a factor that influenced their marital relationships and contributed to their ideas and expectation about marriages, which is corroborated by SI theory.
Participants of the present research who came from strong and stable families wished to model the relationship qualities of their parents in their own marriages based on their parents’ ability to solve problems quietly, appreciate each other, and attitude towards each other. Those who wanted a different path from that of their parents’ marriages did so based on their parents’ conflicts regarding family roles. Another group of respondents viewed their families of origin as lessons on what not to do in their marital relationships, so as not to make the same mistakes as their parents. The responses of the participants in this study regarding family of origin and its influence reiterate the research by Mokomane (2012) that found that in as much as families are a huge influence on people’s personalities, some individuals fight to rid themselves of these influences or are cautious not to let their families influence their personal and marital lives. This caution is also one of the major results in the current study. Since family of origin is an important factor in deciding the trajectory of one’s own marriage, it is safe to assert that it also impacts an individual’s self-conception. As a weakness stated by numerous participants in this study, family of origin is connected to the difference in identities, self-conception and expectations between husbands and wives.
In addition to the negative effect of family of origin on participants’ marital lives, dominant husband and submissive wife issue was considered another root cause of weakness by seventy-four percent of participants. Participants in the present research stated that expressions of dominance by their husbands reduced their role in marriage to that of submissive wives, who please their husbands and ignore themselves, relinquish their rights in marriage, and serve their families while shunning their own interests. Leech (2017) stated that people who are suffering from low self-esteem (which some participants in this study suffer from) experience difficulties in their relationships, because they do not know how to have healthy social boundaries. Leech explained this by saying that low self-esteem causes irrational thoughts, actions, and emotions. This irrationality leads people to lose themselves in relationships, depend on others’ approval and recognition, and become vulnerable to control by others (i.e., Saudi women’s partners).
As a result of the dominance of their husbands and their submissiveness in marriage, the respondents ended up experiencing problems and frustrations born from loss of identity and lack of freedom to pursue their own interests and express their feelings and opinions. These responses echo the SI Theory argument by Zhang and Li (2011) that wives often suffer from low self-esteem when they feel that they have little value in marriages.
Additionally, interference was considered another root cause of weakness by forty-four percent of participants. Incessant interference by in-laws from both sides, in terms of family roles, raising children, and how to solve their conflicts resulted in even more problems in Saudi women’s marriages.
Research supports this idea by claiming that family in-law interference from both sides is one of the major problems in marital lives (Bernie, 2013; Towers, 2012), and it could lead some couples to divorce (Mitchell, 2010; Park & Raymo 2013). These results point out how a lack of proper boundaries can result in marital problems.
As mentioned by a majority of respondents in this research, knowing and discerning one’s partner is vital in enhancing relationship satisfaction in marriages. As such, close to half of the participants in this study said that the dissatisfaction in their first two years of marriage emanated from misunderstanding their husbands’ personalities and the influence of family of origin. While Saudi women, who came from families where their parents solved problems quietly and appreciated each other, wanted to model their marriages after those of their parents. Those who saw their parents quarrel about family roles wanted a different path from that of their parents’ marriages. However, the main reason why the influence of family of origin is crucial in this context is because it is connected to the difference in identities, self-conception, and expectations between husbands and wives. Thus, a program that fosters enlightenment in marriages in terms of prospective Saudi wives knowing themselves and their partners, placing social boundaries from others, learning the influence of their families of origin on their identities regarding marriage, such as ELEVATE and Within My Reach are key to helping the participants have healthy marriages in the future.
Educational Solutions for Knowing One’s Partner
Enlightenment is an important factor that influences healthy marital relationships in the ELEVATE program (for further information see ELEVATE’s website). Enlightenment is better discerned through the know principle that not only encourages individuals to know themselves but also know their partners. Partners or couples are encouraged to know each other by understanding and sharing with each other (Futris et al., 2014).
The premarital education program developed by this research must advocate for sufficient enlightenment between partners, akin to the ELEVATE program, so that the shared knowledge can aid in creating and maintaining stable, healthy marital relationships. This is based on the responses from participants in this research, who cited that discovering their personalities and spouses’ personalities is something they wish they had done before marriage. Some respondents also indicated a desire to understand the effects of their family of origin on their relationships. Examples of ways that Saudi women can get to Know their partners better include: being sensitive to their partners’ needs and worries, expressing authentic interest in what is happening in their partners’ lives, discussing what they expect in a relationship with one another, inquiring about their partners’ thoughts, lives and feelings to get to know them better, reflecting on positive experiences, and viewing situations through their partners’ eyes so as to fathom how they look at things.
A vital component that is missing in the lives of some Saudi women is the ‘Ten Ps’ advocated by the ELEVATE curriculum (Citation???). The ‘Ten Ps’ are aimed at helping partners know each other in the beginning stages of relationships (i.e., engagement period). These are partners’: passions, personalities, previous partners, plans and priorities, provider potential, past family experiences, perspective taking, parental experience and approach, problem solving, and physical/psychological health (Futris et al., 2014). Just like the ELEVATE program, the Within My Reach program also advocates for adequate knowledge of identities, self-perception, and personality of one’s partner so as to know how to respond well to them.
Besides the significant role that ELEVATE plays in highlighting the important principles in knowing individual’s partner, Within My Reach is considered another contributor into this matter. It highlights individual’s thinking, reacting, and acting in a particular way. Indeed, emphasizing these dynamics helps participants to be aware of their personal responsibilities, as well as assist them to understand how to control their own reactions and behaviors without paying attention to their partners’ actions and reply (for further information see PREP’s website)
According to the findings, partners may invade each other’s private space or touch on topics that are personal, resulting in stress and conflicts in relationships and marriages. By engaging know strategies, in ELEVATE and Within My Reach, aimed at determining the areas or topics that the partners find too personal, couples can set boundaries on issues or behaviors that can cause them to have conflicts or stress due to interference. These boundaries are beneficial because they promote peaceful-coexistence, trust, unity, and closeness in relationships and marriages, since the partners are aware of these trigger points and do their best to avoid them. Also, within the ELEVATE program, the share principle fosters the provision of care for one’s partner by respecting their boundaries.
Essentially, what Within My Reach and ELEVATE programs do, in this regard is that they teach participants how to be sensitive to their partners’ needs and worries, discuss what the social boundaries they should place from others, inquire about their partners’ thoughts, lives and feelings to get to know them better. In sum, by learning how to be mindful (explained previously), as well as how to know and understand themselves and their partners, prospective Saudi wives will avoid losing themselves in relationships, depending on others’ approval and recognition, and becoming vulnerable to control by others to the point whereby being dominated by their partners causes them to have irrational thoughts, actions, and emotions emanating from. In fact, knowing their partners will help prospective Saudi wives differentiate between realistic expectations and fantasy/idealistic expectations in marriages as seen in the next section
Real Versus Ideal
Every individual has his or her expectations of marriage and how they perceive future marital life. However, as evidenced in the research conducted by Kepler (2015), the reality is that most marriages don’t live up to the expectations or fantasies of the couples. Given that the difference between reality and fantasies of prospective couples is an issue that most Saudi women in this study recommended to be addressed in premarital programs, it was necessary to ask the participants about their expectations of marriage and how those compared to their actual experiences. The findings in this current study reiterate the argument put forward by Kepler (2015) in that the responses of the participants revealed a clear indication of the mirage-filled anticipations of Saudi women regarding marriage with minimal thought or contemplation of the actual realities of marriage. In order to make a better comparison between premarital fantasies and marital realities, the responses were divided into three categories, that is, love-freedom-happiness, marriage without responsibilities, and realistic expectations about marriage.
Love, Freedom, and Happiness
Based on the findings, a majority of participants stated that their expectation was falling in love, enjoyment, stability, understanding, and freedom. Some respondents equated their marital expectations to those depicted in romantic movies and TV shows, which made them imagine a happy marriage. This finding is supported by the research by Azzopardi (2007) that confirmed that TV viewing is the main source from which young women construct their expectations of marriage. Most respondents expected marital relationships devoid of any conflicts or problems and, instead, full of companionship and friendship. It is imperative to note that these responses regarding love, freedom and happiness are in line with views held by many women regarding how the union of marriage should be, as evidenced in different studies (Citations???).
The majority of the participants’ anticipation of marital relationships was that of immense bliss, freedom to express themselves, and love abounding. Such expectations are understandable and are espoused by the research by (Zhang & Li, 2011) that indicated that it would almost be ironic for prospective wives to hold a pessimistic view of marriage when they are committing to or contemplating long term commitment to their partners. However, while there were prior indications or expressions of love and affection, these seemed to fade away over time. This finding was premised on the argument by Azzopardi (2007) that men tend to enter marriage through the position of independence and women through dependence; consequently, men need more space for themselves and women seek connectedness, closeness, and doing everything together. The fantasy expectations that women hold before marriage are related to the position of dependence on a partner.
Marriage without Responsibilities
Due to the various duties and responsibilities that Saudi girls have at home, the predisposition toward a marriage with minimal responsibilities is common among most Saudi wives to be (Abdlsamad & Al-Sebaay, 2005). This line of thought was also evident in the current research as most participants expected a marriage in which their responsibilities would be reduced immensely. However, this was not the case in actual marriages, as the participants assumed even greater responsibilities in their new roles as wives and mothers. Once it dawned on them that these responsibilities were there to stay, many participants felt overwhelmed by the increase in tasks, contrary to their fantasies or expectations of more rest than work in marital relationships. Consequently, being overwhelmed with all these responsibilities that they did not anticipate beforehand leads in turn to distress in their marital relationships. This finding reiterates the conclusion by many Saudi researchers that one of the major causes of divorce is not assuming marital responsibilities, as well as not understanding the responsibilities of marital life (Abdlsamad & Al-Sebaay, 2005; Al Gharaibeh & Bromfield, 2015).
Feeling overwhelmed with marital responsibilities and experiencing a lack of freedom in marriages that are not at all what participants anticipated are not the only consequences that participants in this study experienced due to their unrealistic expectations of gender roles in marriages. There are participants who reported losing their identities by giving up on their interests and focusing on meeting the needs of their families and being submissive wives, as mentioned above. This finding reinforces the concept of SI Theory outlined by LaRossa and Reitzes (1993). This concept is based on the social interactions in the unit of marriage, a person can lose his or her identity due to his or her demeanor or character in the marital relationship. Thus, in as much as wives are tasked with fulfilling their roles and responsibilities in marriage, these roles should not be overwhelming, since they might cause Saudi women to refrain from focusing on their self-conception, identities and personalities, and instead focus on their husbands and children.
Realistic Expectations about Marriage
In spite of the majority of the participants having certain expectations about marital relationships and having a different experience altogether in their real marriages, there are certain respondents who had realistic expectations regarding marital life due to receiving (in their opinion) adequate information regarding marital relationships. In fact, Neff and Geers (2013) found that realistic expectations about marriage help develop healthy marital relationships. The previous authors explained in more detail that if couples were in the circumstances that enabled them to achieve their high expectations, they will be more motivated to face marital weaknesses and to increase their satisfaction with marriage. While certain participants in this study, who had mere fantasies regarding marriage experienced difficulties in their actual marriages, a participant with realistic expectations had a happy marriage to the point that she indicated that her marriage exceeded her realistic expectations by turning out to have immense love and happiness.
Ultimately, the current study found that, due to the sudden change of environment, as well as, lack of realistic expectations regarding marriage responsibilities, certain Saudi women tend to experience difficulties in the first two years of marriage. While this may appear to be a short time at face value, the mounting problems and pressure of marriage may drive some Saudi women to the point of divorce. This is particularly the case for marital problems arising from insufficient acquaintance with knowledge about their partners and their expectations. This finding is supported by Futris et al. (2014) that found that ample awareness and consensus regarding expectations decreases the possibility of having arguments while increasing understanding between partners in relationships and marriages. Nonetheless, there are certain points that individuals must have in mind to make their positive expectations successful in marriages and relationships. For instance, similar to the SI theory that promotes social interaction as a way of improving relationship satisfaction, Segrin and Flora (2005) suggest that each person (partner) develops a personal meaning through interactions with the other person (his or her spouse). Thus, the meaning that is placed on the marital relationship becomes an essential factor in understanding how spouses interact in any situation.
Therefore, participants in the premarital program need to communicate their expectations and not assume that their partners automatically know their expectations. If partners understand the expectations of one another, they will understand the way that each other interacts in different situations. The expectations also need to be reasonable, and since expectations normally change over time, couples should plan time to regularly share and discuss their expectations. Discussing expectations will help couples adjust to the changing expectations and plan how to achieve them. The SI theory supports the reality of changing expectations, stating that people have many shared symbols, but they modify the meanings of the symbols through interactions, perspective taking, and other interpretive processes (Citation???). Through these processes, people can understand other points of view (Segrin & Flora, 2005). Thus, one of the objectives of the premarital program in this research is to help participants (i.e., Saudi women) take time to be aware of what they expect in their relationships, especially when they are in the process of getting to know their partners (engagement period).
As evident in the responses in this current research, a majority of the participants expected their marriages to be full of love, bliss, freedom to express themselves, companionship, friendship, and devoid of any conflicts or problems as depicted in many romantic movies and TV shows. A similar trend is evident in marriage responsibilities in this study whereby most Saudi women participants expected a marriage in which their responsibilities would be reduced immensely, but ended up assuming even greater responsibilities in their new roles as wives and mothers. Lack of understanding the responsibilities of marital life, have been explored as a major cause of divorce in Saudi marriage (Citation???). Notwithstanding, participants in the current study, who had realistic expectations regarding marital life, due to receiving adequate information regarding marital relationships prior to marriage, ended up having happy marriages. This is the outcome that ELEVATE premarital education program can aid prospective Saudi wives avoid by helping them have realistic expectations about marriage. The ELEVATE program intends to help participants be aware of three domains of expectation (i.e., boundary, investment, and control) in order to help family practitioners to organize some concerns that prospective Saudi wives present (Citation???). Besides the content of ELEVATE in this matter, Within My Reach sheds light on personal expectations in order to clarify them and teach their effect on decision-making, which help Saudi women to have realistic expectations for marriage and inform them of the influence of these expectations on their marital life (Citation???).
Educational Solutions for Marital Expectations
Based on the results of this current study, knowing your partner is a vital part of forming expectations about how your union or relationship with your partner will be and how you will cope with problems. This is an expansion on the research conducted by Futris et al. (2014) that states that one of the subsets of the Know precept in the ELEVATE program is having realistic expectations. This is because expectations play a critical role in determining the trajectory or outcome of the relationship of a couple as explained above. In situations whereby the expectations are unreasonable, unstated or unmet, this can become a source of immense conflict in marital relationships (Futris et al., 2014). One of the strategies of ELEVATE that helps participants to have realistic expectations is asking individuals to make a list of the expectations they have for their relationships and future marriages and indicate the person responsible for each expectation or item, whether it is themselves, their partner, or both partners. This process will help individuals have realistic expectations, so partners can meet those expectations.
Furthermore, ELEVATE intends to help participants understand the three domains of expectation: boundary expectations (e.g. “beliefs regarding the extent to which partners share time, activities, thoughts, and feelings.”), investment expectations (e.g. “the standards for what each partner does and shares with the other person in the relationship”) , and control/power expectations (e.g. “beliefs about the role each individual has in the process and outcome of decision-making and allocating resources”; Futris et al., 2014, p. 28). ELEVATE highlights the importance of these expectations to organize some concerns that spouses present, as well as help them to have realistic expectations for marriage and inform them of the influence of these expectations on their marital life, the more that couples attributed relationship difficulties to these three dimensions, the more distress relationship they have. The Within My Reach program also considers clarifying expectations to be a core content area. It helps in exploring personal expectation and the role that decision-making plays regarding to these expectations.
Premarital education programs such as ELEVATE and Within My Reach can help Saudi women to be aware of their expectations, and their partner’s expectations in ways that let them understand the impact of them on their relationship when they get married. These programs will assist them to form expectations about how their unions or relationships with their partners through asking them to make a list of the expectations they have for their relationships and future marriages. However, these expectations need to be reasonable and realistic, and since expectations normally change over time, prospective Saudi wives need to plan time to regularly share and discuss their expectations. Moreover, they need to communicate their expectations and not assume that their partners automatically know their expectations. As such, it is imperative to note that communication, that is, healthy communication is critical to helping participants have realistic expectations about marriage.
Some factors that relate to individuals in relationships and marriages, such as being mindful, knowing oneself and others, and realistic expectations, have been previously discussed. However, healthy communication between couples in relationships is another important factor to consider, including conflict management, love, trust and honesty, and healthy sexual relationships.
Depending on the couple, communication can be either a strength or a weakness in relationships, in that couples who communicate often tend to have better conflict management skills, while those who rarely communicate aggravate their problems as evident in the responses of the participants in the current study. This finding is premised on studies by Fetsch and Jacobson (2007), Gottman (1994), and Moghadam, Ahadi, Jamhari, and Fakhri (2010). First, Fetsch and Jacobson (2007) demonstrated that the principle predictor of marital unhappiness and divorce is the way that spouses manage conflict. Thus, pointing out destructive communication habits (e.g., criticism, defensiveness, contempt, manipulation, coercion, escalation, domination, subordination and stonewalling) that participants in the present study have used in the past is extremely important to find proper education programs that can prevent these problems. Second, Gottman (1994) and Moghadam, Ahadi, Jamhari, and Fakhri (2010) found that these destructive communication habits are associated negatively with marital quality and can lead to divorce. These findings underline a main question for the couples’ scholars’ field, regarding how to enhance couples’ ability to use valuable techniques for reducing or even solving conflicts emanating from destructive communication or lack of healthy communication.
Indeed, an overwhelming seventy-four percent of the respondents in this current study expressed their frustration when it comes to managing conflict. Their inability to manage conflicts effectively stems from a lack of temperance with regard to their feelings, stubbornness, and reluctance to justify opinions, resolving to maintain one’s opinion regardless of whether it is right or wrong, and neglecting partners through withdrawing from conflict. The outcome is recurrent shunning of conflicts or problems, rather than dealing with them, which eventually results in the same problems resurfacing. These findings are consistent with what Lafontaine, Bélanger and Gagnon (2009) suggested that when both partners fail to express distress during their conflict discussion, their ability to find solutions and distinguish the problems decreases. While According to Collins, Guichard, Ford and Feeney (2006) the more a person shows concern to another individual, the stronger is the bond created.
Moreover, the results of the present research found that each partner’s behavior impacts the other partner’s behavior in regards to how they interact to each other in dealing with conflict. Some participants stated their negative reaction when they found their husband angry and screaming at her, which consequently led to heated discussions in which they end up yelling at one another. This mutual impact usually ends without finding solutions and makes them not talk to each other for many days. This relationship dynamic was discussed by researchers by stating that it is common for spouses to impact the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of each other (Citations???). Such mutual influence leads to identify the relationship interaction style since the outcomes of one partner can be affected by the other (Collins & Ford 2010; Winterheld, et al., 2013)
Furthermore, the current research’s findings found that some participants confirmed that their giving up their personal desire to satisfy their partners’ needs, in order to protect their relationship intimacy and step away from problems is what, for some participants, made her feeling depressed and feeling that they lost their identity. On the other hand, other participants indicated that they are satisfied with these sacrifices because they interest of their husbands feelings more that their feeling. These participants justified this reaction by claiming that their husbands are always appreciating these sacrifices and give them what they want when they gave up and relinquished their rights during the conflicts. This result was supported in the literature by indicating that there are positive and negative effects of sacrifice in relationship (Citation???). These researchers found that sacrifices lead to negative personal consequences when their partners exhibit less social support. They demonstrated that the more one sacrificed, the higher depressive symptoms they experienced and the lower marital satisfaction they reported
The findings of the present research expand findings from existing literature. These findings indicated that Saudi women need an intervention that help them to establish positive communication with their partners through regulating their emotion and avoiding unnecessary distressed relationship. It can be concluded that there is need for partners to communicate more effectively by understanding the potential cognitive and communication behaviors for one another to demonstrate investment in order to solve conflict, which in turns lead to improved intimate relationship. Furthermore, healthy communication allows partners to explain to their mates what they are experiencing, feelings, and their needs without ignoring their selves’ rights. Thus, through communication, connections are also established in relationships.
As revealed by participants in this study, couples who communicate often solve conflicts easily, but those who rarely communicate or have destructive communication habits tend to aggravate marital problems and have marriages that lead to divorce. These findings underline a main question for the couples’ scholars’ field, regarding how to enhance couples’ ability to use valuable techniques from premarital education programs, such as Within My Reach, ELEVATE, and MBCRE, to reduce or even solve conflicts emanating from destructive communication or lack of healthy communication.
Educational Solutions for Conflict Management
Every relationship entails some level of stress and conflict, as revealed in the responses of the participants in this research. Even so, there are several things that people can do as a couple to reduce their stress levels and improve the way they handle conflict. Learning constructive conflict management is an important aspect of the Within My Reach programs through teaching positive communication skills (Citation???), as well as the important aspect of the Manage principle of the ELEVATE program that can help couples avoid unnecessary distress in their relationships or marriages based on healthy communication (Citation???). The ELEVATE program illustrates to the participants how they manage stress in their conflict and provides tips to regulate their emotions. The program also stresses the importance for couples to consider that there are certain factors to pay attention to in their efforts to manage conflict through healthy communication. For instance, differences are a normal part of every relationship, and, as such, individuals should know that their partners are different people and cannot resolve all of their differences. People should also accept their partners as they are and adjust their expectations of them and focus on the positive aspects of their relationships. Moreover, putting oneself in a partner’s shoes will help in understanding their point of view (Futris et al., 2014).
MBCRE also cover the conflict management area in relationships. It plays a critical role in equipping couples with mindfulness traits and implementing mindfulness strategies during conflicts, which helps them regulate neuroendocrine stress responses (Citation???). Partners who reported a more mindful stance during conflict displayed “quicker cortisol recovery”, or at least did not display impaired recovery related to negative behaviors, such as anger, controlling action, hostile action, withdrawing, or stonewalling (Laurent, Hertz, Nelson & Laurent, 2016).
One study highlighted the role of using mindfulness techniques in preserving happy marital relationships (Citation???). It demonstrated that rising conflict between couples is connected with developing negative reaction patterns, which often turn into “assigning blame” rather than finding solutions. However, when spouses learned mindfulness techniques, such as “drawing distinctions across situations, acknowledging the existence of alternative perspectives, and recognizing that disadvantages may also be advantages from others points of view”, they tend to consider the presence of their spouse’s point of view and avoid “mindless attributions” (Burpee & Langer, 2005, p. 50).
As mentioned before, the given findings of the current study found the negative effects of dysfunctional communication on Saudi couples’ relationships, which contributed to distressed relationships. These results supported in the previous literatures by stating the importance of healthy communication between couple in ways that predict and identify happy relationships. Relationship education programs address these issues by providing their participants various approaches that help them to avoid these issues. Ultimately, building a healthy communication is what should be considered in developing premarital education programs for Saudi women.
What Within My Reach, ELEVATE, and MBCRE offer prospective Saudi wives are suitable techniques and mindfulness traits to help them solve marital conflicts and distress through healthy communication. Through the Within My Reach prospective Saudi wife will be taught positive communication skills (Citation???), while through the Manage principle of the ELEVATE program, participants can manage stress in their conflict and regulate their emotions by adhering to healthy communication (Citation???). On the other side, mindfulness traits and strategies help them regulate neuroendocrine stress responses (Citation???). However, the effectiveness of healthy communication as a component of premarital education programs for managing conflicts needs to address healthy sexual relationships as well.
Healthy Sexual Relationships
In that sexual relations are a key component of marital bliss, the sexual difficulties that thirteen participants faced in their marriages cannot be swept under the rug. This problem is rooted in the conservative upbringing of women and different social and cultural norms that influence their demeanor and attitude towards sex (Citation???). Most participants of the current research reported that in Saudi culture sex is a taboo topic for young people and their parents did not accept them talking about sex unless they got married. Because of that, the majority of them emphasized need young Saudi women for premarital education program in order to be educated about various aspects in sex and marital sexual relationship.
Dupont (2016) and Alquaiz, Almuneef and Minhas (2012) highlighted this social norm by providing more details about the perspective of Arab world in general and Saudi culture in particular.
El Feki revealed in her book that people in the Arab world accepts sex as social knowledge only in the context of marriage, otherwise it will be “ayb (‘shameful’), illitadab (‘impolite’) or haram (‘forbidden’)” (Dupont, 2016, p. 2). Dupont indicated that the Arab world places red lines around sex; because of these red lines and the lack of published information regarding sex, it is difficult for Arab people to get any insight on sex. Alquaiz, Almuneef and Minhas (2012) revealed that sexual and reproductive health in Saudi society is a culturally sensitive issue, which consequently leads young people to confusion, lack of awareness, and misconceptions. Dupont’s statement supports the assumption of SI theory by indicating that people and groups are influenced by social and cultural processes, which are established through social interactions (Sergin & Flora, 2005). Also, it claimed that societal norms help clarify how people should or should not behave (Shirpak, Maticka-Tyndale & Chinichian, 2007).
In support of the findings of that previous research, sexual difficulties are a marital weakness that forty-eight percent of the participants in this study mentioned. These sexual difficulties manifest in the form of pain during sex, lack of sexual desire, sexual fright, difficulty in achieving orgasm, and embarrassment during sex on the part of women and low sex drive, premature ejaculation, and frequent sexual demands on the part of men.
As revealed by most participants, they experienced difficulties having healthy sexual relationships with their partners since they were not educated on matters about sex before marriage. These sexual difficulties can be avoided through healthy communication as evident in this study through the ELEVATE program by advancing healthy communication about sex through the precepts of care and share (citation???) and the MBCRE program through higher levels of mindfulness traits that connect sexual satisfaction and physical and emotional wellness (Citation???) and learning specific themes of Within My Reach on sex (Citation???).
Educational Solutions for Healthy Sexual Relationships
Within My Reach program focuses on enhancing the sexual/sensual side of the marital relationship (Citation???). It focuses on three themes that cause sexual dissatisfaction: “couples do not distinguish between sensuality and sexuality; couples do not make the sensuality – sexuality part of their relationship a priority; and couples let romance, an elixir of lovemaking, slide away” (Markman, Stanley, & Blumberg, 2001, p. 12). In this program, the instructors address some common sexual difficulties and how to handle them. Furthermore, it includes a list of romantic activities that help couples to be more romantic, which would be helpful for Saudi women. The Saudi women who participated in the current study reported difficulties in expressing love (both from themselves to their husbands, and from their husbands to themselves), which is considered one of the major marital relationship weaknesses in this study.
Also, the Care of self-principle in the ELEVATE program has information that expresses how couples can reach healthy sexual relationships and discusses the connection between sexual satisfaction and physical and emotional wellness (Citation???). Additionally, healthy communication between couples, as advanced by the principles of Care and Share in the ELEVATE program, is the most vital tool for surmounting sexual difficulties. With these principles, partners can achieve greater pleasure in their sexual experiences (Futris et al., 2014).
In addition to the contribution of Within My Reach (Citation???) and ELEVATE (Citation???) programs in addressing sexual difficulties, MBCRE provides a strategy that transform individual’s thinking from negative to positive attitudes during sexual intercourse (Citation???). In fact, Brotto (2013) asserted that when partners have higher levels of mindfulness traits (non-judgmental awareness, practicing of the Body Scan, and mindfulness skills, such as being attentive to present moment sensations), they might switch their attention away from negative attitudes (e.g. critical, anxiety provoking cognitive) into sensations that occur during sexual intercourse with their spouses.
ELEVATE (Citation???), MBCRE (Citation???), and Within My Reach (Citation???) premarital education programs expound on how healthy communication between partners and mindfulness traits can help prospective Saudi wives have healthy sexual relationships with their partners. Healthy communication, which involves caring and sharing, as well as, fostering sensuality or romance with sexuality is ideal to helping prospective wives find connection between sexual satisfaction and physical and emotional wellness by being aware of present moment sensations. Thus, the significance of these programs in developing healthy sexual relationship emphasizes the need Saudi women have for premarital education programs. In fact, the effectiveness of healthy communication as a component of premarital education programs is contingent on love, trust, and honesty
Love, Trust, and Honesty
The current research was not just interested to investigate weaknesses in the marital relationship, but it also explored strengths in the marital relationship as reported by Saudi women. Indeed, learning these strengths will be beneficial for family practitioners in ways that help them to understand how happy couples strengthen their intimate relationships. The most prominent of those strengths cited were: spending quality time together; being able to share one’s problems, thoughts, and feelings; trust; and honesty.
‘Love conquers everything’ is a message that thirty percent of the participants in the current study were quick to point out as another strong pillar of marriage. Simple gestures such as apologizing when wrong, showing tenderness, getting worried when your partner is absent, and making a point of expressing your love verbally and physically are the foundations of strong and happy marriages as noted by most delighted participants. These results are consistent with couples’ studies that explored that engaging couples in the routine of participating in behaviors, such as hugging, kissing, and conversing with spouses in their daily lives, is associated with marriage satisfaction, relationship connection, and closeness (Driver & Gottman, 2004; Phillips et al., 2009).
Additionally, many of the current study’s respondents (44%) were of the opinion that spending quality time together is one of the strongest pillars of marriage. This is because spending time together enabled the couples to grow close to each other, share romantic moments, and have intimate conversations. The participants stated the time spent together yielded immense benefits that only made their marital relationships grow stronger. This result is consistent with research that found spending high levels of intimate time together helped couples to maintain their intimacy (Milek-Bodenmann & Butler, 2015).
Communication is often emphasized by many people when giving marital advice (Citation???). Therefore, it is no surprise that participants in this study stated this as one of the strengths of marital relationships. Being able to share one’s problems, thoughts, and feelings is not perceived as a weakness by their partners (Citation???). Instead, it is viewed as a show of trust in one’s partner and appreciation of their value and worth in helping solve marital problems and build happy homes (Citation???). Lucas-Thompson, George and Quinn-Sparks (2016) demonstrated the significance of mutual trust between couples by defining trust as innovative tools that help couples to elicit marital conflict behaviors in the context of novel stressors during two interactions.
Honesty is a key ingredient of strong marital relationships emphasized by the participants or the current study. Certain problems that arise in marriages are brought about by the lack of honesty between partners regarding their expectations, personalities, problems, and feelings. Honesty is the surest way of building trust between partners and strengthening their marital bond (Citation???). Similar research has found that honesty during communication is an indicator of commitment in relationships (Weiss, 2014).
On the other hand, certain problems that arise in marriages are brought about by the lack of honesty between partners regarding their expectations, personalities, problems, and feelings. The severity of these weaknesses in marriages has culminated in the unfortunate non-expression of love, as stated by thirty-seven percent of the participants in this current study. This weakness results in certain husbands or wives feeling embarrassed when expressing love, feigning feelings, showing meager expressions of love, and finding it difficult within their nature to express love. This is another marital weakness that Symbolic Interactions Theory predicts. SI theory assumes that couple relations are unique, and depend on the relationship’s features that emerge from the interactions between a couple (Citation???). These properties emerge because spouses bring some socially shared meanings to their interactions (e.g., lack of expressing love) (Sprecher, Cate, Harvey & Wenzel, 2004).
Therefore, reported lack of respect and lack of expressing love as weaknesses among Saudi couples, should lead couple practitioners to shed more light on these weaknesses and enhance couples’ ability to use beneficial techniques that help them to address these problems. Indeed, Gambrel and Piercy (2015) in their quantitative study with 13 couples, reported how MBCRE and ELEVATE improved relationships through increasing love and appreciation, connection, and communication for their partners. Also, prior research confirmed the benefits of approaches in regulating the participants’ emotions and increase presence and acceptance among them (Citation???), which further will explain with more details about how these programs address these issues.
Educational Solutions for Love, Trust, and Honesty
Fortunately, conflicts arising from failure to share their concerns, feelings, and thoughts can be managed through healthy communication. Three principles of ELEVATE can help with this aspect of healthy communication: Care (i.e., providing sufficient care for one’s partner by evincing affection, kindness and support), Share (i.e., formulating and sharing interests based on friendship and interconnectedness), and Manage (Citation???). Under the Manage principle, HEAR skills and SPEAK skills are elaborated. The HEAR skills that participants in this relationship education program use include honoring their partners’ feelings and thoughts, empathizing, allowing a difference of opinion, and repeating their partners’ feelings, thoughts, and concerns respectfully. Saudi women can also use SPEAK skills, such as paying attention to what they say and how they say it, starting with a positive point of interaction, avoiding trigger words such as never and always, explaining how they feel using details, and keeping their utterances brief so as to give their partners a chance to paraphrase (Futris et al., 2014). Additionally, the loving kindness meditation, which is one of the MBCRE strategies, has demonstrated its effectiveness in increasing empathy, compassion, and gentleness towards others, in addition to its benefits for individuals in calming their mind during mediation practicing (Kabat-Zinn, 1990).
Therefore, the current research’s results and the previous literatures provide a clear picture of the importance of expressing love, trust, and honesty between couples in forming intimate relationships. It also demonstrates how these elements have contributed to marital distress when couple use them negatively. Apparently, focusing on these three elements in premarital relationship is what unmarried Saudi women, who are about to be married, need to understand in order to shape healthy relationship with their future supposes.
Through its principles of care, share and manage, the ELEVATE program helps prospective Saudi wives learn how to provide sufficient care for one’s partner by evincing affection, kindness and support, formulate and share interests based on friendship and interconnectedness, honor their partners’ feelings and thoughts, empathize, allow a difference of opinion and repeat their partners’ feelings, thoughts and concerns respectfully, as well as, start with a positive point of interaction, avoid trigger words such as never and always and explain how they feel using details (Citations???). On top of this, loving kindness meditation of the MBCRE program increases empathy, compassion, gentleness towards partners and calm during meditation (Citation???).
Beliefs Regarding Premarital Education Programs
It is imperative to note that the strategies discussed above are extremely vital to helping Saudi women have greater relationship satisfaction, love, and happiness by undergoing premarital education. However, it is equally important to contemplate the views and beliefs of Saudi women regarding premarital education programs and whether they consider them ideal for helping young Saudi women have happy marriages while maintaining their identities. The results of the current study are a clear indication that despite the different sources of premarital education and opinions held by Saudi women regarding premarital education, participants’ marital relationships completely support such programs.
Obtaining marriage advice from friends and family is one of the primary ways that women use to prepare themselves for marital relationships. The participants described six sources that they utilized to prepare themselves for marriage. Fifty-two percent stated that friends and relatives were their main source of information. Aside from friends and relatives, the other sources were: attending three-day marriage preparation programs, reading books, receiving meager information from their parents or guardians, being educated by their husbands (particularly on matters regarding sex), and looking up information on the internet. These responses capture the essence of SI Theory, which is, shared meanings or connections between symbols and interactions. According to SI theory, individuals place symbolic relevance on people, objects, and relationships, based on meanings that emerge from social interaction (Willoughby, Luczak & Hall, 2015). Thus, people shape and explain symbols in order to create a sense of self, allocate meanings to their surroundings, and communicate in daily life (Shirpak, Maticka-Tyndale & Chinichian, 2007). This is more evident when the foundations of these sources are analyzed. The connection between the responses and the Symbolic Interactions Theory is evident in the fact that the identities of the participants in marital relationships emanate from their interactions with friends and relatives, premarital education instructors, and parents/guardians. Thus, the foundation of their identities in marital relationships lies in the information they receive and implement from social interactions and symbolic cultures.
Even though some participants revealed that they benefited from attending premarital programs when they got married, others indicated that these programs had not provided them adequate information about marriage. On the other hand, those women who stated that these programs were beneficial claimed that the knowledge that they received was superficial, but from their point of view, that knowledge made some aspects of marriage easier and relieved some of the tension they felt before entering marriage.
Other women aired complaints about the premarital education programs. For instance, some of the participants complained that the three-day programs were not beneficial due to the shallow information provided by the programs. Other participants encountered problems with the programs’ educators, which included educators that did not answer some questions, particularly about sex, and having unqualified instructors. However, these shortcomings did not deter the participants from recommending premarital education programs to young women, since they recognized the deficiency of such programs in Saudi Arabia. Hence, the respondents who had attended premarital programs before getting married supported the idea of having premarital education programs designed to help Saudi women have happy marriages and develop better problem-solving mechanisms for solving marital conflicts and prepared these women for marriage in order to have healthy relationships.
Some participants identified conditions that could improve the premarital education programs in Saudi Arabia. Those conditions are: extending the length of the programs, covering all marital aspects, and employing qualified instructors. In fact, all participants were of the opinion that Saudi women need a program that prepares them for marriage adequately. The four most common reasons given by the respondents for supporting premarital education programs include: negative influence of the environment and experiments that make young women vulnerable to divorce, social norms that have negative impacts on young women, high expectations for romance, freedom, and no responsibilities in marriage, and negative impact of social media.
Several participants affirmed the negative impact of the environment and experiments on the marital lives of Saudi women. Those participants stated that they tried to emulate the lifestyles of their families of origin or live in the opposite way, and as a result, their own marriages were affected negatively. It is for this reason that a significant number of the participants felt that it would be vital for Saudi women to have premarital education programs to counter those negative effects. These findings are consistent with Weiss’s (2014) research, which indicated the significance of experiences and socialization in couples’ families of origin in building their expectations for marriage and marital relationships. This study found positive relationship qualities that couples wanted to emulate and negative relationship qualities that they wanted to avoid in their own marital relationships.
Saudi social norms were also a prevalent reason given by participants in the current study for supporting premarital education. ‘Saudi social norms’, in this context, refers to social norms that are capable of affecting marital relationships negatively. For instance, the stereotype of gender inequality that exists in Saudi society has a negative influence on marital relationships. This example resonated with other participants in the research who felt that they did not have enough freedom in their marriages, with their role in marriage mostly reduced to unquestioning obedience to their husbands.
In as much as most women claimed to know a lot about marriage, as shown in this current research, they realized that they had insufficient information or knowledge of marriage. Thus, it is vital that Saudi women have these premarital education programs (as recommended by a majority of the participants) so as to have a clearer picture of what marriage entails, especially their roles and responsibilities as wives and mothers.
In this era of advanced technology, the Internet and television have a strong influence on marriages. Many Saudi women today can go on the Internet and research different topics without supervision. This lack of supervision has resulted in Saudi women knowing about things that are prohibited in their religion and culture. One participant stated that exposure to various foreign channels is threatening family values. Research found that technology plays a vital role in providing knowledge for every subject, especially in sexuality. However, this information is in conflict with aspects of many religions and cultures (Craig et al., 2003; Chandra et al., 2008; Escobar-Chaves et al., 2005). It is for these reasons that most of the participants feel that it is vital for Saudi women to have premarital education programs that will shield them from the negative influence of the Internet and television, which are capable of ruining their marriages or filling their minds with high expectations about marriage.
It is evident from the results of this study that responsibilities in marriages can be overwhelming for Saudi women. Most find themselves lost in meeting the needs of their families and being submissive wives to their husbands. The frustration that comes from this loss of identity is manifested through anger and behavioral problems, which ultimately decrease the mental health and well-being of Saudi women in marriages. What premarital programs such as ELEVATE (Citation???) and a mindful-based approach (Citation???) offer to prospective Saudi wives are routines and techniques that help them attune their bodies and minds to human interaction, which is vital in maintaining their identities and knowing the identities of their partners so as to avoid frustrations and stress in marriage that may make them develop behavioral problems and render them unable to solve marital conflicts (Citation???). Thus, premarital education programs that build on being mindful are essential to fostering the mental health and well-being of prospective Saudi wives, but knowing their partners is critical to making this process successful.
A majority of the participants in the current study desired to know their partners’ personalities and the influence their families of origin have on their personalities, identities, and expectations regarding marriage before entering marriage. As seen in this research, the Within My Reach and ELEVATE programs teach participants how to be sensitive to their partners’ needs and worries, express authentic interest in their partners’ lives, discuss what they expect in a relationship, inquire about their partners’ thoughts, lives and feelings, reflect on positive experiences and view situations through their partners’ eyes so as to understand how they look at things (Citations???). More so in this context, by learning how to know and understand their partners better, prospective Saudi wives will avoid losing themselves in relationships, depending on others’ approval and recognition, and becoming vulnerable to control by others to the point whereby being dominated by their partners causes them to have irrational thoughts, actions, and emotions emanating from low self-esteem. Thus, premarital education programs are vital to helping prospective Saudi wives differentiate between realistic expectations and fantasy/idealistic expectations in marriages by knowing their partners as seen through Within My Reach and ELEVATE (Citations???).
A majority of the participants in the current study expected their marriages to be full of love, bliss, and freedom to express themselves, and devoid of any conflicts or problems as depicted in many romantic movies and TV shows. However, expressions of love and affection seemed to fade away over time. A similar trend in marriage responsibilities was evident in this study, whereby most participants expected a marriage in which their responsibilities would be reduced immensely, but they ended up assuming even greater responsibilities in their new roles as wives and mothers. Notwithstanding, participants who had realistic expectations regarding marital life, due to receiving adequate information regarding marital relationships prior to marriage, ended up having happy marriages. ELEVATE and Within My Reach program can aid prospective Saudi wives avoid such problems by helping them have realistic expectations about marriage (Citations???).
As seen in this current study, couples who communicate often solve conflicts easily, but those who rarely communicate or have destructive communication habits tend to aggravate marital problems and have marriages that lead to divorce. These findings underline a main question for the couples’ scholars’ field regarding how to enhance couples’ ability to use valuable techniques from premarital education programs, such as ELEVATE and MBCRE, to reduce or even solve conflicts emanating from destructive communication or lack of healthy communication (Citations???). ELEVATE and MBCRE offer prospective Saudi wives suitable techniques and mindfulness traits to help them solve marital conflicts and distress through healthy communication through the Manage principle of the ELEVATE program and mindfulness traits and strategies that help them regulate neuroendocrine stress responses (Citations???).
As revealed by most participants in the current study, they experienced difficulties having healthy sexual relationships with their partners since they were not educated on matters about sex before marriage. These sexual difficulties can be avoided through healthy communication as taught in the ELEVATE program by advancing healthy communication about sex through the precepts of care and share (citation???) and the MBCRE program through higher levels of mindfulness traits that connect sexual satisfaction and physical and emotional wellness (Citation???) and through specific themes on sex that focus on connecting sensuality and sexuality through the Within My Reach program (Citation???).
In as much as most women claimed to know a lot about marriage, as shown in this current research, they realized that they had insufficient information or knowledge of marriage. Thus, it is vital that Saudi women have these premarital education programs (as recommended by a majority of the participants) so as to have a clearer picture of what marriage entails, especially their roles and responsibilities as wives and mothers. Additionally, the principles, mindfulness skills, strategies, and themes of the ELEVATE, MBCRE, and Within My Reach programs (Citations???) will benefit prospective Saudi wives in many ways, including solving marital conflicts effectively, having realistic expectations about marriage, attaining sexual satisfaction, having healthy communication, and avoiding stress.
Limitations and Future Research
Marriage is a union of two individuals. Thus, it is vital to include sentiments from both genders when tackling issues regarding problems in marital relationships and how best to avoid them. The fact that this research only collected data from female respondents is a limitation since couples experience different challenges in marriages. While the objective of this research is to find a suitable premarital education program for Saudi women, the opinions of husbands are equally important in formulating a premarital program that incorporates all aspects of marital relationships. Thus, future research seeking to develop viable and productive premarital and marital programs for Saudi women should incorporate male participants in the research as well, so as to obtain a comprehensive view of marriage.
Another key point that emerged from this research is that marital satisfaction fluctuates during the first five years of marriage. If the present research documented the length of time that participants have been married, the fluctuations in satisfaction could be tracked accurately. For example, the majority of participants reported that they experienced more difficulties in the first two years in their marital relationships. Future research in this area should document fluctuations in relationship satisfaction during the various stages of marriage in order to find the major weaknesses and strengths for each stage, which will assist in developing relationship programs.
Furthermore, the presence or lack of children is a crucial factor that influences relationship satisfaction in marriages. This factor deserves broad evaluation in premarital programs. This is because women with children tend to have different, and possibly more, perceptions of marital relationships compared to women without children. In the context of this research, the participants with children in their marriages experienced additional problems that participants without children did not. Doss, Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2009) revealed that 90% of couples reported a reduction in their marital relationship satisfaction after they became parents. Other research found that parents are more likely to be dissatisfied with their marriage than nonparents (Twenge, Campbell, & Foster, 2003). Thus, it is vital that premarital relationship education programs educate participants on the impact of children or lack of them on relationship satisfaction in marriages and ways to help couples overcome this challenge in the future.
Another filial relationship that affects happiness, freedom, and love in marital relationships is family of origin. A number of Saudi women who participated in this research mentioned the immense influence that their families of origin had on their marriages. While some tried to emulate their families of origin, some were determined to avoid repeating the mistakes made by their families of origin in their marriages. This research explored how families of origin affected the participants’ marriages. It is equally vital to explore the subject of families of origin in the future aspect, that is, educating the participants regarding the effects of their marital relationships on their children or future children. Future research should explore this area so as to ensure parents can help their children prepare for a meaningful and lasting marital relationship and focus on the healthy development of their own marriage by teaching and demonstrating healthy relationships to their children.
Courtship is a vital process that precedes marriage in most cases. Most individuals date before getting married. In most cases, the engagement period is considered by Saudi women as dating in the United States. This is because the engagement period is the initial stage before marriage during which the couples get to know each other. This engagement period is vital for most Saudi women, as it helps them determine how their actual marriages will be (Tamimi, 2009). The engagement period could form a critical part of premarital education programs, as it enables the couples to be conversant with each other’s personality and prepare them for marital challenges or problems. Since the engagement period was not explored in this research, future research should evaluate the impact of the engagement period on marriage.
Divorce in Saudi Arabia has become a serious problem in recent years. Saudi women and men are not adequately prepared for the stresses and responsibilities of the marital relationship. The purpose of this study was to gather information from Saudi women in the early years of their marriages, and to use their experiences and perspectives to aid in the development of a premarital education program for Saudi women and men who are preparing for marriage. The data for this study was gathered through conducting a semi-formal, open-ended interview with each of the participants.
The results of previous research on marital relationships and divorce correlated with the responses from the participants in this study. This is demonstrated in the multiple issues that participants brought up during their interviews, such as unrealistic expectations, sexual problems, and poor communication between the wife and husband. Along with the previous research, the results of this study will be instrumental in the creation of an effective premarital education program for the women and men of Saudi Arabia.