Does couple therapy in Egypt help reduce marital conflict?

Does couple therapy in Egypt help reduce marital conflict?

Photo via Daily Mail

Social media, globalization, lack of mental health support, and even the recent COVID-19 pandemic have all contributed to a significant increase in divorce and separation rates in Egypt. However, in recent years, more and more couples have started to seek couples therapy to find solutions to their arguments and conflicts.

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has repeatedly criticized the notion of verbal divorce among Muslims in Egypt and called for the establishment of a law to make divorce procedures stricter. In 2018, the Al-Azhar Institute launched a campaign called “Live with them fairly” (وعاشروهن بالمعروف), with the aim of reducing Egypt’s high divorce rates. Additionally, in 2014, the Coptic Orthodox Church introduced a compulsory premarital course for couples, giving them advice on choosing partners, understanding marriage, managing finances, dealing with marital problems, among others. aspects.

Egyptian Streets spoke with Rasha Salama, Relationship Advisor and Founder of The REtreat Relationship, on the most common marital problems in Egypt, the stigma surrounding therapy, and the effectiveness of couples therapy among Egyptian couples.

Racha Salama
Photo via the Daily Crisp

Her project, The RElation REtreat, offers retreats where couples are encouraged to try different activities together, group retreats designed around a specific theme, such as communication, and personalized events where an assessment is made of strengths and weaknesses. of the couple, and a program is designed to accommodate and meet the challenge they face in their relationship.

Photo via Instagram

What are the most common marital problems in Egypt?
Marital problems in Egypt are not much different from universal marital problems encompassing loss of passion, conflict management, sexual dysfunctions, miscommunication, differences in parenting styles, financial burdens, and infidelity.

I work with Egyptians married to non-Egyptians and the problems are the same; Marital problems are universal. I don’t have any experience abroad, however, but according to what we read in the books, the issues are the same everywhere.

Which couples are most likely to come to therapy, in your experience?
Usually the people who come are from the higher socio-economic class because it’s not cheap and in Egypt we don’t have insurance to cover care. However, this social class has become very diverse. From my personal observations, the higher one rises in social class, the more marital problems are driven by drug use and involvement in extramarital affairs. The further down you go, the more common issues you encounter such as miscommunication, financial burdens, and parenting styles.

Why have these problems become common here?
Globalization plays an important role in the growth of marital disputes in Egypt. I believe our exposure to Western culture has brought concepts that have shaken some of the established foundations of marriage in our Middle Eastern culture, creating confusion in the modern family.

As we became heavily exposed to Western culture, we became influenced by them in everything; the food we eat, the language we speak, and even the way we interact with each other. To add to this we have o’det el khawaga (the foreigner complex), which basically characterizes anything from the West as excellent and disapproves of our own culture.

Feminism, for example, totally disagrees with the concept of si el sayed, which was not frowned upon before. People accepted different gender roles and divorce rates weren’t so high that couples were used to dealing with their issues. Another example of westernization is how most parents used to raise their children beating them with the shebsheb (slipper), now we have positive parenting.

Since these concepts have become part of our lives, they have caused confusion as there is no verbal agreement that “we are going to follow the Eastern model or the Western model”. There’s a confusing mix, and it’s not agreed, so it creates unnecessary tension. This creates more problems than we used to see before. If you compare divorce rates between today and in the past, our grandparents divorced after 20 years of marriage. Today is in the first 7 years.

*Si el sayed is an Egyptian male archetype named after a character in a novel by Naguib Mahfouz, where the man in the relationship gives orders to his wife and she submits to him.

How do you handle these issues?
Having worked with couples from different socio-economic classes, I have to ensure that the therapeutic approach is culturally sensitive. Building a strong relationship is fundamental to the success of the therapy process, while providing a safe, non-judgmental space for both partners.

Is the number of marital problems in Egypt increasing or decreasing? Why?
It is quite difficult to know whether it is increasing or decreasing; Although more couples are seeking couples therapy, this does not indicate that the problems are increasing, just because if they were not reported it does not mean that they did not exist.

We can argue both ways that problems increase due to increased stress levels and could decrease due to increased awareness of general well-being reflected in relationships.

The fact is that marital problems do exist and there is an increased awareness to do something about those problems, even if the solution is to walk away from an unfulfilling or unfulfilling marriage.

How do you deal with extreme issues such as domestic violence, marital rape, etc. ?
From the first session, it is important to agree on the therapeutic objectives with both partners. So, with such “extreme” cases, couples usually agree to resolve these issues to save their marriage.

Some couples arrive with the awareness of their wrongdoing, others do not always attach a label to it, and this is where the role of psycho-education comes in.

In my experience, domestic violence is very common, but marital rape is not. Some people come with different issues and halfway through the conversation you realize there is domestic violence involved. Emotional abuse is also huge in our culture, but nobody talks about it.

Is couples therapy becoming more mainstream or acceptable in Egypt, or does it still struggle with the same stigma as general therapy?
It is becoming more and more common and acceptable. However, the challenge is still at the stage when couples ask for help, which is usually on the verge of divorce or when they have resorted to all the other non-professional solutions, such as family, friends, religious preachers …etc. and failed.

The problem is that when working with couples at this stage, you face a lot of resentment, which is the hardest emotion to deal with.

In your opinion, has social media affected couples and marriages in Egypt? If yes, how ?
Social media has affected all interpersonal dynamics. People are getting more and more used to communicating virtually, and this has spilled over into marital communication. Modes of expression change and not all couples have been able to adapt to this change, especially the older generations.

Images of the “perfect life” presented on various social media platforms have had a negative impact on relationships, making couples wonder why they are not so happy or how they can be so happy, which creates unrealistic expectations. The effect of social media may be subtle, but it is strong.

Tell us about your initiative “The RElation REtreat”, how did you come up with the idea, what did you want to achieve through it, and what has it achieved so far?
After noticing that couples came to therapy at a late stage, I wanted an earlier stage intervention that would focus on building the relationship instead of fixing it. So, in 2017, I decided to introduce the concept of couples retreats in Egypt, especially after trying it myself, and realizing that it was a turning point in my own marriage a few years earlier.

The goal of The RE is to help couples build and strengthen their couple in a fun and playful atmosphere. I believe that the foundation of strong communities is a strong marital bond, and that is what I hope to achieve. We have organized several events with different activities that bring couples together, in addition to our best-selling REkindle REtreat program that addresses effective communication.

We hope that in the years to come, couples will put their relationship first and work on it simply by attending one of our retreats at least once a year.

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