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Marriage counseling and Muslims: how it works and challenges Muslims face

Is your marriage in trouble? Have the virtually endless fights and arguments led you to a dead end? Are you seeking a solution?

One option offered to couples trying to save their marriage is to see a marriage counselor.

A marriage counselor advises couples with emotional or other personal difficulties. Counselors help them work out their problems by encouraging them to discuss and think about their problems. They also to try to find solutions that will help the couples deal with their problems.

On the surface, this seems like an arrangement that can work. But there are a number of considerations Muslims must keep in mind before seeking the help of a marriage counselor who does not have an Islamic orientation, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

Dr. Akthtar Raza is a psychiatrist and medical director of the Piney Ridge Center Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.

In an interview with Sound Vision, he gave a general account of what happens in marriage counseling in the mainstream social services structure.

First, the marriage counselor talks to the husband and wife together, as well as individually.

Raza notes that the person who usually seeks counseling amongst couples in marital disputes is the wife. In come cases, husbands do not want to come in so the counseling cannot obviously take place.

During a session, if the counselor sees the couple’s marriage as salvageable, and both the husband and the wife want to commit to making it work, the counselor will continue the counseling, moving on to the next step.

If however, the husband or the wife shows indifference and s/he does not care if the marriage lasts, the counselor will drops the case and will make no further attempt at counseling. If the couple both agree, counselling starts.

The stages of marriage counseling

There are three main stages in marriage counseling.

1. In the first five to six weekly sessions, the couple openly express all negative feelings about each other. They can sometimes be very hostile to each other.

Raza notes that this can be shocking for one or both partners, since they never realized the other feltt so negatively.

2. The next stage is extremely difficult. As the couple has openly conveyed negative feelings to each other, they are usually very angry with one another. In a number of cases, they may completely end coming to counseling.

3. If the couple survives the second stage and remain in counseling, the counselor asks each of them if they are still committed to maintaining their marriage.

If they are, the rest of the sessions (about 10 to 15) are focused on that. Muslim couples face problems when seeking marriage counseling in the mainstream

One major problem for Muslims who seek this type of counseling is its immediate emphasis on divorce.

Raza notes though that a counselor who is well-trained will never recommend divorce. S/he will only present it as one of many options.

This approach to a marital conflict poses difficulties for Muslim couples seeking counseling from non-Muslim marriage counselors or even Muslim counselors trained in the mainstream counseling system.

"Over and over again the complaints that I have heard from these couples when they are sent to so-called Muslim agencies is that these people are trained in the mainstream. They see a family or marriage and domestic violence case and their advice is divorce," says Shahina Siddiqui executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association of the United States and Canada (ISSA). She has been a counselor in the Winnipeg, Canada Muslim community for over 15 years.

"Couples have said 'Sr. Shahina, if we wanted divorce, we would go to lawyer, why would we go to a counsellor?,'" she adds. Siddiqui explains that when most Muslim couples seek marriage counseling, it's because they want a resolution to their disagreements, whether they are minor or even if they involve abuse like domestic violence.

The difference in approach when it comes to Islamic marriage counseling versus the mainstream one is that the former makes a serious effort to find what is positive in the couple's relationship before dismissing it as a divorce case.

"We will try our best to take whatever silver lining there is in the cloud and work on it and work on it and help our clients work on it, because the majority of them do not want to break the relationship but they are helpless," says Siddiqui.

"They are now in a situation where they cannot see that silver lining, we find it for them. We help them see it and we help them try to keep that marriage together. Not at any cost but if they are both willing and we see that there is good in this marriage, that something can be worked on, we encourage that" she adds.



Your Comments

SISTER, CALIFORNIA - wrote on 4/14/2012 6:48:56 PM
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Comment: As Salaam Alaikum, there are women writing on this site which are clearly in danger. Allah(swt) does not want us to stay in unagreeable situations. We are to part agreeable when possible. Safety is first and with Allah (st) acknowledging that divorce is halal, disliked by Allah but acceptable, do not stay in a situation where you are clearly disrespected and unloved. A man who cares for a wife treats her as a part of himself. We would not hit himself therefore he should not hit you. Is anger is a control issue of his ownself. You stay you enable him to continue in his unislamic ways. He is being mean and evil toward you and your children suffer as well. Pray to Allah, invoke Istakarah. Make a plan to leave safely. Do not tell him your plans. Be wise and strong in Allah. Allah sees all and knows all. Have fear ONLY for Allah. Go to Allah and seek guidance for a safe and sustainable EXIT !!! Inshallah. Takbir!


shokria, husien - wrote on 2/22/2012 5:55:58 PM
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Comment: I've been married for 18 years.I have been unhappy 95% of the time. We manage because we dont want the shame of divorce. He has shamed me, hit me, verbally abusive and emotionally abusive. We feed off each other by irratating each other because we are miserable with each. Arab culture twists Islam to fit their bias. He is aggresssive and thinks all women are objects to control and to keep in their place before they try to control theman. Its a power struggle that unless you totally surrender and become a slave to his ego and pride will allow him to eat at your soul.Please girls be careful wise and pray


Thaufeer al-Deen, Chicago - wrote on 1/24/2012 9:22:48 PM
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Comment: Counseling posits authority (rightly or wrongly) with the Couselor. Mediation, on the other hand leaves the identification of the situation, the framing of solutions and the decisions as to the dsired soltion with the parites. It achives this in a safe setting where the impetus is the solution that works best for the disputing parties. solutions.


Marzay, Chicago - wrote on 11/17/2011 4:59:55 PM
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Comment: As a muslim counselor myself, I am disturbed by this article. First, because no good counselor would ever suggest divorce - not only is it bad practice but it is also unethical to impose your ideas on your client when they are in a mentally fragile state. Secondly, if domestic abuse is involved, there is no silver lining. Unless the spouse who is the abuser is actively seeking help for anger management or abusive behavior along with the marital therapy, that marriage should not be "saved".


Hmida, Hamid - wrote on 5/18/2011 4:01:13 PM
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Comment: I want to know a muslim married man in US, can he marry another women in islamic way without a marriage certificate


chioma u, lagos Nigeria - wrote on 9/23/2010 4:44:47 AM
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Comment: i've never sough for the help of a counsellor.I am a christain and at age of 23 i got married to my violent husband.I never thot he cud raise hs finger on me bt showed me dt one cud really pretend in order to get a prey.This man hit me before our guests on 25th of dec 2004 jst 2 years after our marriage.He trailed me to his friends house where i ve gone to collect my money from his friends wife.He asked me what i ve come to do before the woman and before i cud open up my mouth to explain,he lifted a wrought iron stool beside me and broke my head.I fell down and blood was gushing out and he never minded and left me in the pool of my blood.i ve three boys for him and he never stopped beating me up.chased me with a jeep along our neigbourhood cos i caught him with a girl.Hit my gulf with his jeep on the major road but god saved my life.trailed me from the estate gate and asked me open yhe car and it was raining heavily,i refused and was trying to cul the house so they cud open the gate for me but he broke the sidescreen wit a huge stone,pulled me out beat me up and tore my clothes,i had to cover my breast wit my hand.All these while he never allowed me finished school bt nw i got a form without his knowledge bt bcos i was scared he ld find out,i told him and he s paying my bill bt i need to save my life and childrens life.reported to his elder sister before her,he sprayed an insecticide on my face and asked me to live his house at 11.30pm.i left for my parents hse in other state living the kids but he came and pleaded and they asked me to go.I ve been thru alot and am considering straighthout divorce and no counselling cos he s a psycho.He severed my relationship with my friends will always check d mileage of the car to knw my movement.i cant receive cl when he s around for fear of destoying my phone.will only allow me to watch t.v programmes that he deems fit.says i should not wear jeans trousers.now i wear low cut hair cos of injuries i sustained frm our fight.i dont go out.Am just his prisoner but now am planning to raise money from friends and run away before i loose my life.This morning he threatened to deal ruthlessly with me.I dont ve money but my friends have been assisting.So u see in some cases divorce is the option.I called my mum to tell her am leaving but she is saying that what are people going to say.Does she prefer i die in violence?i dont understand cos my body cnt take the beating anymre.


Kristin Lloyd-Moussa, Seattle, WA - wrote on 8/18/2010 6:47:46 PM
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Comment: Hello All, I am a Counselor and a Muslim, Alhamdullilah. I became Muslim in 2005. I have actually had a hard time in promoting my practice because I've heard that so many Muslim-Americans would prefer to see their Imam than to go to a counselor. I am in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle) and I am not a religious scholar by any means, so please don't misunderstand me, but I clearly understand Islam and the focus on the family. Furthermore, I specialize in working with couples as well. The work I do involves helping with communication, resolving conflict, promoting healthy relationships. I do not promote divorce at all, and I work with clients on resolving their issues as marriage is for life. Of course there are clients that are resistant to change but that is all part of the therapeutic process, and I work with them to work through that struggle. As part of my training I've worked with Domestic Violence cases as well. I don't even know if it is appropriate to post my information here but I'll do it anyway. Inshallah it will be well received. www.kristinlloydcounseling.com So in response to the article, not only is it difficult for clients to find good counselors, it is also difficult for us to promote our practice because we are not sure if the community will receive us well, because as a counselor, I am not an Imam. Furthermore, the article promotes good points in the differences between counselors that have knowledge of Islam and mainstream counselors that do not. Ramadan Kareem to all!


mayeesha, kandy - wrote on 8/18/2010 10:42:57 AM
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Comment: how can i contact a muslim counsellor?i need some details of them..


Karima, Pacific NW - wrote on 6/15/2010 2:19:44 AM
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Comment: ASA: As a sister trying to even FIND a Muslim counselor in my community (not a single Imam, or other community leader is willing to lift a FINGER to help Muslims with marital problems!) I found this article to be very "light" on suggestions for those of us who are facing divorce with NO resources within the community, married to men who wouldn't DREAM of seeing a "marriage counselor" because of a cultural background where "family issues" are not discussed with "outsiders", even though we are living thousands of miles away from ANY family members who could help us resolve our issues. I find it difficult to find a Non-Muslim counselor that doesn't have an automatic bias against Western women marrying Eastern men... All of them assume that domestic violence is the issue.. It's VERY frustrating... On the other hand if I WAS a victim of domestic violence and I was told that I should "be patient with the brother"... as I've heard so many sisters being told by Muslim "counselors" I would feel that this type of counseling is even more dangerous, because it could cost a Sister her LIFE to follow such advice. Not an easy subject, but definately one that needs MUCH MORE discussion and collaboration for added resources.


fathia, london - wrote on 5/4/2010 12:37:13 PM
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Comment: salam how can i get in contact with a counsellor


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