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.




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