THIS week, Wellness Wednesday focuses on marital matters, particularly issues surrounding high divorce rates among Malaysians.

The latest available statistics from JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development, Malaysia) show that 77 Muslim couples dissolve their marriages daily. The National Registration Department also recorded a rising divorce trend between non-Muslim couples from 2008-2012 (from 6,573 to 9,020 cases).

The Rakyat Post speaks to psychiatrist Dr Sumeet Kaur on divorce trends in Malaysia which includes partner’s family, finances and unhealthy differences of opinion.

Q: Which contributes to higher divorce scenarios, arranged or love marriages?

A: There aren’t much differences. Arranged marriages are done after taking into consideration socio-economic status, religion, culture and compatibility between families. Love marriages focus more on the emotional connection and passion between two individuals and it does require, to a certain extent, cumbersome adjustments after marriage.

Studies have shown that the peak of happiness only happens five years into marriage. (JAKIM had reported in 2011 that 21% out of 651,851 Muslim couples who got married between 2005 and 2010 had already ended their marriages within 5 years.). But in love marriages, couples are used to idea of instant gratification so when they don’t receive the same feel after marriage, things can turn sour.

Q: What are the common causes for divorce?

A: The No.1 cause is financial. Couples find themselves fighting over money matters when they realise that their partners have different spending or saving habits. Second is infidelity. This doesn’t only refer to physical cheating. There has been a rise in emotional infidelity on social media. It’s easy to be emotionally connected to avoid pain on social media. Online flirting for instance, can lead to breakdown of relationships.

Third is children, especially when couples have different views in ways to raise a child. It becomes more challenging when there are differences of culture and religion and finally, there’s also family conflict where partners have problem relating to each other’s’ families or are forced to deal with interference from their families.

Q: Should couples with troubled marriages stay on using children as an excuse?

A: It’s common for marriages to run into trouble. It becomes absolutely unhealthy when one partner feels emotionally, sexually and physically abused. In that situation, its best to part because children will grow up learning that these (abuses) are normal. We term it as ‘modelling’. If it’s workable, reconciliation is necessary

Q: What are the effects of divorce on children?

Younger children will grow up with a sense of lost trust. We learn the virtue of trust from parents and when that crumbles, children will not have much to hold on to. At the same time, I would like to stress that there are children raised by single parents who are very mature and balanced. It depends on healthy upbringing.

Older children appear to full of uncertainty and anger. They’d resort to activities that grab the attention of their favourite parent. Divorces generally have longer lasting psychological effects on children. There are ways parents can help ease the difficult transition process by reassuring and listening to their children’s fears. Having a working relationship with the former spouse can do wonders as they still function as a parental ‘team’.

Q: How important is marriage counselling or couples therapy after marriage?

A: Actually couples should go for counselling even before marriage but there aren’t many avenues for pre-marriage counselling (except maybe for the Muslims). Occasionally, there’s also this Asian mindset that wants to retain marital issues behind closed doors. People generally don’t want to air dirty laundry. Partners (even if one of them) feel frustrated, should try and seek for therapy together.

Q: Where can couples go to get help?

A: Most qualified marriage counsellors and therapists have private practices that can be found online for non Muslims while the State Islamic Affairs Department provides free counselling.

Dr Sumeet Kaur specialises in clinical psychiatry and is currenctly attached with the Health Ministry

Wellness Wednesday is a column that focuses on health, wellness, lifestyle, and environment matters. Write to us at contribute@therakyatpost.com for feedback or suggestions.

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