The UAE has recorded the highest divorce rate in the region. In Dubai alone, 1,129 divorces took place last year - more than three per day. The figure is even more alarming for Emiratis, who make up less than one-fifth of the population but account for over one third of all divorces.
So what’s gone wrong? Why aren’t couples here unable to sail through the ups and downs that come with every relationship?
Based on interviews with relationship experts and estranged couples we have compiled a list of the top ten reasons for divorce. But if you are in a rocky relationship, simply knowing these reasons may not save your marriage. So if you are facing certain complications, identify the problem and work on it. If there is no way out, contact a marriage counsellor and seek professional help.
1. Infidelity: Extramarital relationships are the leading cause of divorce in the UAE. The ‘anonymity’ people enjoy here has turned our cities into fertile grounds for infidelity. The numbers confirm this. Nearly one in five men [19 per cent] has been unfaithful to his partner while six per cent of the women admitted infidelity, a YouGov Siraj survey showed.
According to sociologist Dr Rima Sabban, many extramarital relationships happen ‘underground’ as there is a large number of expat workers whose circumstances prevent them from bringing their families here.
2. Poor communication: Lack of communication is a true destroyer of marriages. Among Emiratis, it ranks ahead of lack of love, infidelity or physical violence, according to a study commissioned by the UAE Marriage Fund. Most of the 1,742 divorced Emirati women covered in the survey cited absence of communication as the main reason behind breakups. Experts reckon it’s also the reason for splits among expat couples, particularly those who come from different cultural backgrounds. “Communication breakdown leads to differences among couples,” says Norma Cairns, licensed counselling psychologist, American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology. “There is no problem that cannot be solved through dialogue. “So if you want your marriage to be successful, talk, talk and talk with your partner,” said a Sharjah-based counsellor.
3. Loss of job: A job loss will tear apart a family anywhere in the world, but more so in the UAE where it impacts survival as it is directly linked to the employment visa. “A job in Dubai isn’t just a job, but a means of living — hence the loss of a job in Dubai could lead to one half of the couple having to leave the country — and if the other half doesn’t want to leave, that would lead to a breakup. I’ve seen this happen many times,” said Dr Lavina Ahuja, consultant at LifeWorks Dubai.
4. Religious and cultural differences: In a country that is home to 200 nationalities, marriages between people of different religions and cultures are common. But when other factors push these marriages to the edge of a precipice, religious and cultural differences often lead to breakups. “Nearly 80 per cent of couples who turn up for counselling at my clinic are of different nationalities,” says a Dubai-based psychologist.
5. Lack of support system: Not every couple can cope with life in a foreign land without the support of family and friends. Relocation is a life-changing experience, especially when kids come into the picture. “It makes a couple vulnerable to either getting totally involved in their respective duties not wanting to bother the other partner, or them feeling very lonely and depressed,” says Mary John, counsultant psychologist, Dubai Community Health Centre. The problem could get aggravated when the partner is the only support system. “We can’t expect our partner to be our partner, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, best friend, mother, father, etc. This often leads to unrealistic expectations, which inevitably lead to disappointment and often heartbreak,” says Dr Lavina.
6. Unrealistic expectations: Many couples who relocate to Dubai dream of leading a life of luxury. But when reality hits hard, they often drift apart. False expectations have also been cited as reasons for failed marriages among Emiratis. Afra Al Basti, Director General of the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, puts it down to immature behaviour. Marriage counsellors said such couples should sit down and try to work out a mutually acceptable solution.
7. Social networking: With nearly half its population registered with social networking sites more and more couples are blaming Facebook and Twitter for destroying their relationships. Counsellors say there have seen a significant rise in cases where partners have admitted their addiction to social media sites has affected their relationships.
8. Sexual incompatibility: Long commutes and work hours that come with a Dubai lifestyle not just lead to stress and obesity but also affects sex drive. According to sexologists, being stuck in traffic for hours can cause people to lose their sexual desire. In the long term, this causes erectile dysfunction and leads to problems in the bedroom. “Of late, I have seen a 30 per cent increase in the number of expats seeking help for issues causing stress in relationships,” says Mary John.
9. Financial negligence: Money often becomes a contentious issue for working couples, especially when a partner earns more than the other, said Dr Lavina. “It can be a touchy issue with couples and families in Dubai, especially if both individuals have different ideas regarding money management. If one partner racks up a debt it is seen as his/her fault,” she says.
10. Child rearing issues: In the absence of a family support system, many new working couples struggle to share responsibilities when they have children. This strain often drives a wedge in career oriented parents, resulting in separation.
What is the top reason for expat couples drifting apart?
Is today’s modern lifestyle to blame for breakdown in marriages?
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Annual divorce rate in the UAE varies between 30 and 32 per cent while it is 20-22 per cent in Dubai as more and more cases reach the courts.
According to educationists and family affairs experts, at least Dh800 million is spent in the UAE every year on divorces. About 3,012 lawsuits were filed in 2010 compared to 2,700 in 2009 and the figures are on the rise, say experts. In 2011, 445 foreign couples living in Dubai ended their marriages.