Love, marriage and expert tips for working through the hard times

It is almost impossible for a couple not to fight. (Shutterstock)
Updated 04 October 2017
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Love, marriage and expert tips for working through the hard times

JEDDAH: Although marriage can be beautiful and fulfilling, many couples face pitfalls when it comes to resolving the more stressful issues in marital life. In light of the Gulf region’s soaring divorce rates and headline-grabbing, bizarre tales of marital break down, Arab News spoke to a relationship therapist to understand how to attain marital bliss and work with your partner toward a healthy relationship.
In August, a bizarre divorce case reported by Al Watan newspaper saw a Saudi man allegedly separate from his wife because she forgot to add a sheep’s head to a dish served to dinner guests. The woman, who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity, said that her husband had been angry at the slip up as he believed serving a sheep’s head was a sign of generosity.
It is not the only eyebrow-raising reason given for a divorce. From a WhatsApp status that seemed to paint the husband in a bad light to a man whose wife supposedly ate her peas in a manner that irritated him, there have been some strange divorce cases across the Gulf region.
According to a July 2016 report by Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Statistics, divorce in the Kingdom happens at the rate of 127 cases per day, or about five cases every hour.
According to the report, more than 157,000 marriages were recorded in the courts between the summer of 2015-2016, while over 46,000 divorce cases were recorded during the same period.
The report stated, however, that the number of divorces recorded a decline from the year before, which saw more than 54,000 cases of divorce.
Arab News spoke to Dr. Nisreen Yacoub, associate professor at King Abdulaziz University and founder of the Dr. Nisreen office For Counselling and Psychotherapy, to learn more about practical tips married couples can follow to work through difficult situations.
It takes two to build a successful, happy marriage, she told Arab News, adding that young couples should not enter a marriage believing it will be free from stress, fights and other marital woes. There are key things to remember when it comes to marriage, Yacoub believes.
Be realistic
Getting into a marriage under false assumptions fosters high expectations. Living a meaningful life is the goal couples should strive toward, Yacoub believes. Any person who is ready to get into a marriage needs to understand that it is going to be tough and they should be prepared to dive in and work it out. There will be growing pains and tough times when you least expect it, but giving up is the last resort. Flaws should be accepted, idealism should be forgotten and acceptance is always the best way forward, but only if it is mutual.
Take other people’s opinions with a pinch of salt
Yacoub maintains that “outside influencers” are not the right people to turn to for advice. These may include friends and family and sidelining their opinions can be difficult for many due to how close-knit Middle Eastern societies typically are. Each person will base their opinion on their personal experiences, making for advice that may not be relatable to one’s own experience. Yacoub advises that it is not wrong to seek help, but it is best to reach out to a professional family counselor or therapist. These professionals will give their unbiased opinions and help to clear any misgivings in the marriage where possible.
“We can’t fix a society, we can only help the mindset of the individual. When he or she is willing to listen, that change happens. This happens when the individual comes to a realization that there is a problem that needs to be solved. Society plays a major role in all divorce cases and the change will happen gradually,” Yacoub said.
When you fight, fight fair
It is almost impossible for a couple not to fight, but when you do there are various tips you can use to ensure there is no lasting emotional damage and that the argument is resolved in a calm, kind manner.
The key to any disagreement is knowing when to make an exit, even if you have not resolved the issue. Taking a deep breath and leaving the room can go a long way in creating a foundation for resolution. It is also crucial to agree with your partner that neither of you should “win” or “lose” a fight. Both parties to the marriage should understand that the concept of winning and losing will build resentment and, ultimately, hurt the relationship. While negotiation and compromise are essential, it is also important to understand that the process cannot be rushed — sometimes you may need to cool off before you can handle the situation and that is perfectly fine. However, walking away from an argument should not be seen as a ticket to better times. Couples should pin down a time and place to ensure that the issue is discussed and resolved, seeking professional help if necessary.
Share quality time together
Every moment of disclosure — being real, fragile, kind and passionate — can further a couple’s understanding of each other and, therefore, help the marriage succeed. That is why spending time together is so important. Couples can get weighed down in the day-to-day hubbub of life, but setting aside time to spend with your partner alone, doing something you both enjoy, is important for a happy marriage. Sharing a hobby or volunteering together will go a long way in ensuring you remain friends as well as husband and wife or mother and father.


Saudi artist Ajlan Gharem gains global recognition for his thought-provoking work

On June 19, the Saudi Arabian artist traveled to Canada to present his life-sized conceptual piece “Paradise Has Many Gates” at the Vancouver Biennale. (Photo supplied)
Updated 17 July 2018
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Saudi artist Ajlan Gharem gains global recognition for his thought-provoking work

  • Ajlan Gharem traveled to Canada to present his life-sized conceptual piece “Paradise Has Many Gates” at the Vancouver Biennale
  • Probing issues of religious orthodoxy, education and Islamophobia, the wall-less structure presents a paradoxical sanctuary

DENVER: Places of worship fill many roles in society — and an art installation in the shape of a mosque can invoke polarizing reactions in different lands, as Ajlan Gharem has discovered.
On June 19, the Saudi Arabian artist traveled to Canada to present his life-sized conceptual piece “Paradise Has Many Gates” at the Vancouver Biennale. An interactive installation which renders the unmistakable outline of a mosque in a skeleton cage of cold steel, the work will stand at the city’s Vanier Park — a high-profile public space also home to many museums and music festivals — for two years, during which it will host workshops, talks and performances.
“It’s not just something to show — it’s going to be a new space for ideas, for dialogue, for a new kind of conversation,” Gharem told Arab News.
It is a significant platform for a Saudi artist to exhibit at the noted open-air sculpture and performance festival, which has previously commissioned large-scale public works from Chinese A-lister Ai Weiwei, and this year will welcome Yoko Ono to accept its Distinguished Artist Award.
And it will hopefully offer a happier chapter in the work’s stormy story. “Paradise Has Many Gates” has, in the past, been suddenly pulled from two public appearances, and sparked a violent, viral, social-media debate.
Probing issues of religious orthodoxy, education and Islamophobia, the wall-less structure presents a paradoxical sanctuary. A comfy traditional rug lines the floor, yet there is threatening intent to the glaring fluorescent lights that switch on at sundown. The structure is made from the severe steel fencing normally reserved for cages and border disputes — attracting comparisons to both US military prison compound Guantanamo Bay and the fortifications used to stem the flow of refugees into Europe. The dual imagery perhaps shouts loudest at the five times of the day when the call to prayers emerges, recorded in voices drawn from a variety of Muslim-majority countries.
The installation is one of the first major works from 32-year-old Gharem — younger brother of leading Saudi conceptual artist Abdulnasser Gharem. Inspiration struck when the artist found himself approaching 30, astride a growing generational divide between the Kingdom’s elders and established traditions, and the swelling ranks of youthful voices — with estimates placing around 70 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population under 30 years of age. His website states: “The mosque is a conduit for the symbolic power wielded by all those above the unwitting individual… The mosque is the public square reincarnate but with attendance mandatory, at least socially.”
Aware of the charged nature of his subject, Gharem first erected “Paradise Has Many Gates” in the desert, an hour’s drive outside of Riyadh, conceiving the temporary structure as the subject of a four-minute short film to be presented at galleries overseas. He also shot a series of photographs before disassembling his work the following day without attracting attention. However, when he later shared an image of the piece on social media, it ignited a heated reaction he had not anticipated.
“People started saying ‘This is a mosque made of fences. It’s like a cage,’” the artist recalled. “It was posted on everyone’s account, everywhere — when I opened my timeline all I could see were pictures of the mosque with people saying something bad, or something good. That’s why I was afraid.”
That fear led Gharem to pull the photographs from their planned debut at “Ricochet,” a group show at London’s Asia House, in 2015. He eventually “had the courage” to share the images for the first time at a later exhibition, entitled “In Search of Lost Time,” at London’s Brunei Gallery, SOAS, in early 2016.
The structure itself has proved equally divisive. Later that same year, “Paradise Has Many Gates” was erected in the parking lot of Houston’s Station Museum of Contemporary Art; its first physical appearance since its brief stint in the desert. It was part of another group Saudi showcase entitled “Parallel Kingdom,” and was quickly embraced by the community as everything from a place of worship to a quiet yoga spot. After several weeks, it was all set to be packed up and shipped for exhibition in Aspen, Colorado — but organizers mysteriously pulled the plug at the last minute. Gharem’s mosque stayed in Texas all summer.
And in December, the piece’s projected four-month appearance in Bahrain was cut short after just 24 hours, when people began to use the installation as an actual mosque, and prayed inside.
Such setbacks, Gharem said, only confirmed his belief in the strength of the concept behind “Paradise Has Many Gates.”
“They couldn’t make any reason for why they’re going to take it out — they couldn’t understand… (didn’t) realize what was happening,” he said. “This is good, when you have an idea that brings people together, and you see people you are just afraid of this idea.”
The work’s two-year appearance at Vancouver will undoubtedly raise Gharem’s profile considerably, positioning him at the forefront of the emerging wave of Saudi Arabian artists finding success abroad. However, art is just a part-time calling — Gharem also serves as an elementary school mathematics teacher, a position he is in no hurry to abandon.
“For me the teaching thing is good, it gives me a chance to be among the people, among the society — the revolution is in the kids,” he said. “So, I’m a math teacher by day, and an artist by night.”
Gharem’s first significant solo work was “Mount of Mercy,” an evolving series of heartfelt photographs left by pilgrims visiting the religious site also known as Mount Arafat. Gharem drew from more than 10,000 images he has collected during repeated visits to Makkah over the past six years.
He was encouraged to find his own voice after a decade spent “helping” his famous older brother: Inspired by the lack of institutional support the younger artist encountered, the pair co-founded Gharem Studio, a nourishing, not-for-profit organization offering studio space, training, careers guidance and resources to Riyadh’s growing rank of young artists.
“The scene has really picked up in the last five years,” Gharem said. “Even just three, four years ago, you could only find 10 or 15 artists representing Saudi. Since then everyone has tried to be an artist and gone with the wave. I think now is the time for us, because everything is moving so quickly — at this time we start to see our problems, our issues… Everything is starting to reveal in front of us.
“Now the role of art is to start doing something,” he continued. “It’s the most important time to be an artist.”