The truth on mixed marriages: only the strong will survive

Why are Emirati men choosing to marry foreigners over their own countrywomen? Both options have their pitfalls.

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The divorce rate in the UAE is on the rise and, as much as we would like to blame the Turkish soap operas as some newspapers have suggested, the truth is a lot more complex. Many factors are contributing to the destruction of that sacred bond that in most cultures is meant to last a lifetime.

Some say it is because of changing lifestyles, with the ever-increasing amount of time spent at work keeping couples apart. Others blame the economic independence of women who no longer hesitate to file for divorce, knowing that they can easily continue their lives without the support of their husbands. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the number of broken marriages continues to grow.

While divorce rates in general are on the rise, a recent article in The National showed that Emirati-expatriate cross-cultural marriages are failing in far greater numbers than those unions where both people are Emiratis. This has been the case for many years. Before analysing the reasons behind the failure of these marriages, it is important to explain why so many Emiratis are often choosing to marry expatriates rather than other Emiratis.

The majority of mixed marriages are between Emirati men and expatriate women. But since there are many eligible, attractive Emirati women, why do many Emirati men choose to marry women who come from different cultures?

Anyone who has been in the UAE for more than a day can testify that the beauty of many Emirati women could bring down empires. I have heard many expatriate women express respectful admiration about the grace and elegance of Emirati women.

Another common admirable quality is their strength and conviction in what they believe in. Many Emirati women have the commendable ability to stand taller than mountains while simultaneously being as delicate as a rose petal. The list of reasons why Emirati men should marry Emirati women seems endless. So the question is not why men are not marrying Emirati women, but rather: how could they not?

It all starts with the wedding. Depending on the size of the tribe or the social position of the family, weddings can cost anywhere from Dh100,000 to many millions. To encourage Emirati men and women to get married, the government rewards newlywed couples with a lump-sum payment that may seem exceptional but, in most cases, it doesn't even pay for half of the wedding.

Then, there is the dowry. According to Islamic law, the dowry should be a minimal amount but unfortunately in many cases, outrageous dowries are requested, also sometimes reaching into the millions.

With most marriages involving expatriate women, not only does the man not need to worry about the financial burden, but there are many tribal and family obligations that are no longer a concern.

In many cases, the in-laws are mercifully thousands of kilometres away, only a factor during holidays, over the phone or via Skype, which can dramatically improve the husband's general quality of life. A marriage with distant in-laws, fewer financial obligations and a wedding that can be conducted in the courts in less than an hour is simply irresistible to many Emirati men.

Yet, what these same men fail to see are the difficulties and hardships that come hand-in-hand with cross-cultural marriages. At first, it may seem like a win-win situation, but later in the relationship there has to be a continuous effort to avoid the pitfalls that could lead to the sad result of a divorce.

Parents or family members are often the primary factor involved in failed cross-cultural marriages. No matter how accommodating parents are, they are bound to be unhappy at some point in time with their son or daughter's spouse, and the differences of culture will be blamed. Even if the parents accept the cross-cultural marriage in the first place, time will undoubtedly reveal family members who are not so tolerant, which will lead to difficulties upon difficulties.

If a spouse is not accepted in the new culture, then feelings of unworthiness sometimes develop. Depression, rejection, denial and culture shock all play major roles in bringing down many a union that once seemed like a fairy tale.

In truth, to make a cross-culture marriage succeed is an unbelievably complicated task, only for the strong of heart. Those brave few who have managed to overcome the many obstacles along the way will tell you that the amount of effort to keep the marriage alive is double, if not more than that, compared to a marriage between people of the same culture.

It is the children who suffer the most from failed cross-cultural marriages, either losing a parent, or living between two households and denied the more stable lives of their schoolmates.

To ensure that Emirati men make the right decision and are aware of the challenges that accompany cross-cultural marriages, a course could be offered before they make such a life-changing decision, intended to educate both people about the reality and the obstacles that lay ahead of them.

Not only could a course be offered before the wedding, but also during the term of the marriage and when problems begin to arise. A culture of marital support needs to be freely offered and better promoted to ensure that couples are educated and have a place to turn when all else fails.

Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati social and political commentator specialising in corporate communications

On Twitter: @TaryamAlSubaihi