27 May 2019

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 counsellor.

A marriage counsellor will advise couples with emotional or other personal difficulties. Counsellors will help you to work out your problems by encouraging you to discuss and think about the problems you are facing. 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 counsellor who does not have an Islamic orientation, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

Dr Aisha Ali is a psychologist and founder of the Eeman Therapy Clinic in Harley Street, London.

In an interview with Dr Ali, she gave a general account of what happens in marriage counselling in the mainstream social services structure.

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

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

During a session, if the counsellor sees the couple?s marriage as salvageable, and both the husband and the wife want to commit to making it work, the counsellor will continue the counselling, 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 counsellor will drop the case and will make no further attempt at counselling. If the couple both agree, counselling starts.

The stages of marriage counselling

There are three main stages in marriage counselling.

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

Dr Ali notes that this can be shocking for one or both partners since they never realized the other felt 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 counselling.

3. If the couple survives the second stage and remains in counselling, the counsellor 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 counselling in the mainstream

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

Dr Aisha notes though that a counsellor 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 counselling from non-Muslim marriage counsellors or even Muslim counsellors trained in the mainstream counselling 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 Dr Ali who has more than 15 years experience in counselling Muslim couples.

Most Muslim couples seek marriage counselling, it is 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 counselling 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.

I will try my best to take whatever silver lining there is in the cloud 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 said Dr Ali.

“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.

Dr Aisha Ali
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BY: Dr Aisha Ali

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