Dubai sets innumerable couples on the road to financial security and professional achievement.

Yet, they need solid relationships to survive the speed bumps.

The pathway to success is littered with broken vows and wrecked marriages.
"Dubai marriages are always on the hook," says an Indian expat. "90 per cent of men have another woman, but don't quote my name on that - I don't want my wife worrying."

In the absence of statistical backup, one must hope this is an exaggeration. But counsellors and psychologists paint a picture that is decidedly bleak. What goes wrong?

The initiator

As a lawyer who now spends half her professional life dealing with breakups, lawyer Carol Alderson says both men and women initiate divorce. ?Over the last two years I have actually dealt with more women than men who initiate divorce," she says.
Whatever the underlying causes, Alderson says shaky marriages tend to collapse with violence and infidelity. ?It's either one or the other," she says.

But, as with divorce, incidence is hard to assess. Doctors and psychologists say violence can be aggravated by a lack of police intervention. One suggested that - especially with white women, who they may regard as prone to promiscuity - police are loath to intervene.

Same issues

"I think that the issues are the same as everywhere else, only bigger," said an American marriage counsellor. ?It is a miracle to me there are not more killings."

That said, infidelity seems to comfortably pass violence as a cause of breakups. Alderson says it featured in around 70 per cent of the divorces she has worked on.

"For this there is not really any bias - it could be men or women," she says. "Older men are often trying to recapture their youth with younger foreign women. However, over the last two years, I have encountered more women than men who are unfaithful."

But behind it all, lurk the tensions and temptations of expat life. "Infidelity is actually rarely the real reason for divorce," says Dr Raymond Hamden, a psychologist at the Comprehensive Medical Centre.


?First of all, Dubai attracts certain mentalities," says Dr Roghayeh McCarthy of Belhoul Hospital's Counselling and Development Clinic. ?They are not settled people. They come to Dubai as a place with no landmark."

?Secondly, they are executive people. Often she has to sacrifice her career for his high-profile job. She loses her identity and becomes dependent completely," she says. ?They think in the beginning they can make the sacrifice but after a while the malls and art classes cannot satisfy her."

Not good enough

?Another group already have problems in their marriage. They think it will survive if they have more money and a babysitter. These marriages fall apart immediately. Suddenly he gets a more senior position. He becomes arrogant and his wife is not good enough," she says.

Crucially, when temptation kicks in, a permissive social context places no obstacles in its way. ?Such men have no friends or cousins here to laugh at them," says Dr McCarthy. ?Here everything is allowed."

But, all said, there are just two risky areas for Dubai expat marriages - work and leisure.


The intensity of Dubai worklife is the main factor for Dr Hamden. ?Not just marriage but family life is in trouble," he says. ?People are here to do business, but they do not balance their lives."

"I meet a lot of lonely married women," says a British marriage counsellor. "Employers make brutal demands and a lot of men are married to their jobs. If they work for international companies and across timezones, even days off do not belong to their families."

On top, hard work makes for enhanced opportunities to stray. Long working days and business trips provide perfect occasions for colleagues to develop romantic relationships.


"Over 60 per cent of affairs start at the workplace," says psychiatrist Dr Amer Saadeddin of Dubai Community Health Centre. "Many companies here are very big and they are continually taking on new staff."

Not that enterprising husbands and wives cannot also find extramarital dalliance in their leisure time.


"People socialise a lot more here," says Brit expat Claire Malcolm. ?In the UK people generally do not live near the city centre and they don't have a nanny to leave the kids with. Maybe it leads to more possibilities."

"When they come to Dubai, people feel that it is always summer," says Belgian clinical psychologist Suzie Hachez. "They feel in a party mood and material support makes life easier. They are exposed to wider contacts, so they are also more likely to find a listening ear."

"It takes a lot to stay true to your beliefs," she says. "It's not just opportunity. It's the environment, the attention, the stress - a new surrounding and a life they hadn't imagined."

Watch out

Not, of course, that all this leads inexorably to divorce. However, there is close to a consensus among professionals that couples need to watch out.

For Carol Anderson tidying up the wreckage of marriages is now routine. After 13 years in Dubai, she finds family work now occupies half her professional life - and yet there is still unsatisfied demand for specialist legal expertise.
"For ethical reasons I cannot represent both sides in a divorce," she says. ?But I am frequently approached by both partners. I often wish there were someone else here with my background working in the field."

How bad is Dubai for your marriage?

There are a lot of broken marriages here," says British lawyer Carol Alderson. "When I first came here 13 years ago, I never expected family law to take up so much of my practice. Matrimonial cases now make up 50 per cent of my workload."

In broad terms, most other professionals agree. Dubai can seriously damage relationships.

But there is less consensus on how Dubai stands up to stiff international competition from other marriage-wrecking metropolises.

Bad big cities

"Before coming here I was in Washington DC. There is no difference between the communities in the incidence of problems," says Dr Raymond Hamden of the Comprehensive Medical Centre.

"Our experience is that people come here seeking a geographical cure but a marital problem is only delayed by geographical change."

"Are there really more problems here than any other big city?," says Dr Amer Saadeddin, psychiatrist at the Dubai Community Health Centre. ?Maybe yes. But there are no statistics proving that. There is stress all over the world in a big city."


"Would marriages that fail here have survived elsewhere? Most of the people coming here are in their middle adulthood and they have been married for over five years. Their marriages may already be becoming routine or cold," he says.

But in the wider expat community, opinions diverge widely on Dubai's compatibility with matrimony.

"My personal impression is that marriages here are more stable," says Jane Drury, group editor of ?It's just a feeling, but the lack of financial pressures is a positive factor. Not having things can make you discontented. People here have quite a lot in their lives."

"As far as marital life is concerned, Dubai is quite risky," says Nirmala S, an Indian expat who set up a support group for women in distress.
"I think the main issue is long working hours. This also gives husbands an excuse for being out of the home."

Tips for a healthy marriage ? and divorce

Carol Alderson believes it is crucial to a healthy relationship that women have their own bank accounts and spending power.

"I do not think it unrealistic for them to seek an allowance from their husband, if they are unable to work because of young children," she says.

"Infidelity or violence by the man often means that the wife is left with nothing," she says. ?She may then have to borrow from family and friends to get legal help in gaining what she is rightfully entitled to - and could face the threat of having her residence visa cancelled."

Ten tips:

- Talk to each other and regularly spend time as a couple

- Do not take the other party for granted. Consider the other person's feelings before acting without consultation.

- As a woman, take control of your life and have some independence, but be warned that staying out late too often could lead to mistrust.

- As a man, talk to your wife as an equal - the person you loved and the mother of your children.

- Always tell each other the truth, even if you feel it might hurt. If you lie once, you will never be trusted again.

- Enjoy a healthy physical relationship. If you have problems consult a counsellor.

- If all else fails and you have just fallen out of love, continue to at least respect each other as the person you once loved.

- On separation, never shout at each other or about the other parent in front of the children. They are suffering enough.

- Try not to show anger or frustration towards the other parent in front of children as this could divide their loyalties. Even if you have such feelings, your children deserve to have regular contact with both parents.

- Remember that you have worked together in the marriage.

Even if one party earns substantially more, there are contributions such as caring for children.
If you have encouraged your wife not to work, then consider her position when the marriage is over. She may need to rehabilitate or re-train. You go into a marriage with a view to give and take, remember to do so also in separation.