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Somali Marriages Fall Apart


By Alikhadar Yusuf

Mar 26, 2014

It was a vivid snowy Monday morning at the community support center in Minneapolis, which dealt with marriage counselling issues, I thought.  Fadumo, twenty-seven-year-old mother came in, seeking help for herself and her four young children. Her kids were with her that snowy morning and her facial expressions were full of sorrow and dejection—she seems sad, anxious and pessimistic about the future. Based on my observation that fateful morning, Fatumo suffered from the pernicious blend of too much crying and too little sleep. Not surprisingly, she was in an answer—seeking mode, wondering what will happen to her and her four young kids, because according to may intuition, her husband left. By the way, I’m  not trying to picture for the reader a horrific and strange  world but her unspoken words echoed in my conscious mind to this day. In reality, it’s  a true fact that exists inside of many homes like Fadumo’s that made countless families dysfunctional. The mortality rate of marriage in those families is very short and it appears that no one in those families realized the magnitude of a dysfunctional marriage.

The reader might be surprised at what I’m about to say but the divorce rate among the Somali community  skyrocketed for the past few years– families are dysfunctional, parents are disjointed and children left in the wildly loneliness of public housing projects. The loving parents are now in the state of separation and frustration. At one point, they use to be a family—caring couples with love and affection. Now, the looming anxiety is hovering over them, not by accident but by choice. Well, let us be real for a minute—who among human families doesn’t want to feel loved? Who among human families doesn’t want to feel cherished, cared for, and protected—this has been the pursuit of all human family members—mother, father and children since the beginning of humanity. As human beings, we are social animals. We cannot live alone, we depend on one another and we need other people in our lives. However, families are in free fall and they are falling apart, what is the problem?

For instance, when we, Muslim families, find ourselves in the midst of darkness —divorce or separation, we all look for advice from parents, siblings, cousins or other family members. Some of us turn to friends or colleagues. Because of our strong Islamic faith, few of us turn to “drugs and alcohol” or other substances that temporarily make us feel alive, wanted, satisfied, relieved, or calmed. Nevertheless, others among our Muslim society turn to spiritual growth, turn to religion or even seek religious counselling from Imams. Some of us turn to our work or focus on hobbies to temporarily forget the nagging problems, especially in our marriages. One way or another—through wholesome, healthy or other means—we all seek our safe zone to restore hope and sense of belonging. For some of us who went through this pernicious journey of marriage dysfunctionality or divorce, it is hard to forget the laughter, hug and mixture of both from our ex or separated spouses. However, husbands and wives are departing from one another due to solvable or trivial issues, heading to different directions with anger and sense of being right.

If marriage is suppose to fulfill all our needs, why rushing for the exit? Let us examine which one is better—marriage or single. According to one Sociologist Linda Waite and journalist Maggie Gallagher summarize the research on marriage in their book, The Case for Marriage. “Married couples are better off than other adults in virtually any dimension of life. Benefits accrue to both husbands and wives”. She argues that married couples feel healthier than those who are divorced, separated, or widowed.

Married couples have more financial resources then single. According she study “Marriage provides the best environment for raising children”. Moreover, women are safer in marriage than in other types of relationships. However, one wonders why it is so difficult for couples to have a successful marriage, since that was the ultimate goal and is usually central to what we perceive to be the good life. To elaborate more, when I ask people about their number one personal goals, it is always at the top of the list—marriage, but it has been harsh reality to fulfill the marriage goal. Frankly, I am not saying that all Somali families are broken but the fact speaks for itself and there are a large segment of the Somali marriages that ultimately end or regularly go through unhappy co-existence.

To make an obvious example, twice-divorced Donald Trump said “marriage is a great institution—if you get it right”. Getting it right requires tremendous amount adjustment and patience from both individual. Here are three tips that can help you to have successful marriage.

Become Expert on One Another

One of most vital elements on having successful marriage simply means knowing each other well. When I see a couple maintained a successfully marriage for years, one thing that stands out is their ability to learn from, care for and feel real empathy for one another. Both husband and wife seem to have read and carefully studied the other’s natural behaviour and adjust accordingly in order to keep their relationship grow. Each of them is familiar with the other’s personality, traits and character, so that minimize potential disputes and feuds that can lead to divorce; they master the art of reconciliation. Furthermore, in essence, these reconciliatory couples know each other well to the extent that they can read each other’s mind. When one is feeling down, the other one immediately senses and responses with care. Not only that, they know how to de-escalate potentially problem-creating situations. More importantly, they know how to avoid incendiary language. They know how to heal and elevate tension and generate relieve and affection. In other words, according to one family counsellor, “these partners posses strong orbitofrontal cortices; well-balanced left and right brains; well-developed smart vagal systems; well-regulated breath and vocal control; and honed communication skills that keep love close and war at a far distance”.

Disagreement, Wave the White Flag

Sorry to disappoint you, but there will be a fight and disagreement in marriage,  and if a couple claim they have never fought, I can attest to you that is simply not a realistic statement. There will be always a squabble and a fight in marital relationships, but the most successful couples have figured out how to avoid all fights or resolve differences; they have undertaken the necessary steps to avoid disagreement. They have understood well how to agree to disagree. This may sound like a paradox, but I can honestly say that if you as spouses learn the good fight, which is making the marriage value a precious asset, you master the art of good marriage, you master how to protect the marriage, and you will have happier life together as husband and wife, and your relationship will feel more secure.

Think the Long Haul

Having a successful family is a lifetime commitment. There will be matters that can never be resolved, and may always be a source of potential disagreement and tension. Couples may agree most of the issues but because of genetic makeup, brains are not alike, so, the chance of agreeing on everything is slim. Therefore, it’s imperative to see the big picture and resolve minor issues. John Gottman, a researcher and marital expert, believes that couples don’t need to solve all their unresolved conflicts, but they do need to deal effectively with these issues. Honestly,  I  agree his analogy for one reason–marriage is a lifetime commitment and once you sign this contract, it is vital to see the long haul despite all the ups and downs— one must remain fearlessly confident in the resilience of their marriage—one must anticipate marital conflict but one must deal with it with care and think about the long haul.

To conclude my point, couples are falling apart, so are their families and the only way to survive this marriage turbulence is to be patient and put the marriage first before anything else because marriage are the glue holding the family together. If the marriage is severely damaged or completely destroyed, then that negatively impacts the health or the existence of the whole family.

Alikhadar Yusuf is a Somali current Blogger who lives and works in Twin Cities, Minnesota. He graduated from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor’s degree and he writes about social issues.