Hardly a week passes in Jeddah without my hearing of the break-up of yet another marriage. And recent statistics that over 1000 divorces are filed every month in the city seems to support that assertion. The situation is not unlike many cities across the GCC.
Opinions on the root causes of the subject is highly diversified, with men often banding together in their justifications while women forming a united opposition with their own theories and justifications.
In a mixed group discussion recently, Sameer, an affluent businessman, fanned the flames of what would soon become a passionate exchange of discordant views by explaining that it was well within the fights of any male to remarry again and again so long as he did not exceed the limits proscribed by the Sharia. And he for one believed it was a healthy manifestation of a growing society.
Encouraged by the nods of some of his male friends, he continued. The man would not have to repent of any secret desires, so long as they were executed honourably and within the context of Islamic laws. And that could only be achieved by remarriage. The first wife is free to remain married, but if she chooses not to, then divorce is the next option, she would simply have to understand. Such is the natural progress of evolution, and if she were adamantly opposed, he explained, the first wife could always return to her parent’s home.
Mona, a mother of three, could hardly contain herself and burst out, “How selfish of you to think along these lines! To begin with, Islam has set some very clear conditions for remarriage. Equality without exception, be it emotional or physical!
But you men do not think this way. Your concerns are immediate and short-term. You begin your married lives with a loving and devoted partner; you father children by her, and the what? As you both approach middle age and you have a few riyals to spare, you what to replace her? And you expect her to be appreciative and understanding of your motives?”
Sensing the mood of the opposition, Ismail jumped in. “Wait a minute, ladies! What drives men to do these things? It is because their wives have come to look at them only as providers and problem-solvers, forgetting all along that they are men first. Men need comfort and tenderness too. And if all their wives can think of is when to replace the furniture, then can you really blame them?”
Amal, a Stanford Ph.D., interrupted Ismail. “Please! Most women have more character than to obsess about their furnishings. And when we get married, we believe it is to a man who is committed to the union just as much as we are. As we both grow older, we grow together. We come to rely on each other. We enrich ourselves nurture the family relationship lovingly. If nature causes wrinkles, droops, and sags with the passage of time, it’s not only to women. Most of the women I know try to exercise and stay physically fit.” Looking at the men in the room, she continued, “And I cannot say the same about most of you.”
She had not finished. “And what happens to this safe haven that takes years to evolve? During middle age, our husbands are struck by a mysterious ailment and they believe a new wife is the treatment. Where did all the perseverance and loyalty to the union go? And what about the impact of these men’s actions on their children’s minds? And do I really think that within a few years of remarrying, they will not be struck by the same ailment again?
I often wonder how many broken homes does a man want to be the cause of? What makes a man want to do this to himself after fifteen or twenty years of marriage? To be sure, there are good times and bad in any union but there are problems even among siblings. Do we divorce our brothers and sisters or replace them with others just because we have disagreements?
In the past, we had the privilege of living in an extended family. If problems arose between a couple, the elderly family members were quick to put an end to them. Their wisdom and support salvaged many a marriage.
Unfortunately, times have changed and today we no longer live in those extended families, and there is no elder to turn to. Minor differences can take a dangerous course if not resolved immediately. And the easy way out for any man it to seek solutions with a new woman. What happens a few years down the road when history repeats itself and the same wants begin to surface? Is that really the solution?
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena