With divorce among Dubai’s expats on the rise, Benita Adesuyan speaks to Lavina Ahuja, personal development consultant at LifeWorks, to get some tips on how couples can build happy, long-lasting relationships.
Dubai may be bidding to be one of the happiest places on the planet, but recent figures from the Dubai Statistics Centre (DSC) suggest that behind closed doors, an increasing number of marriages are failing. Expat couples in particular seem to be affected – in the two years between 2011 and 2013, the DSC recorded a 61.57 percent increase in the number of expats getting divorced. So what is it that goes wrong when couples touch down in the city, and more importantly, how can you have a healthier relationship? We asked Lavina Ahuja, personal development consultant at LifeWorks, for some tips on how to sustain a happy, healthy marriage.
Expat marriages can suffer additional strain as a result of living away from extended networks, says Lavina. ‘Often when people come to Dubai, one half of the couple isn’t working and they can become codependent. This can be a strain on the partner that is working, and combined with a lack of time spent together and unrealistic expectations of your partner, can be damaging to couples adapting to new environments,’ she says.
Identify the problem
Lavina says that often couples get so wound up with each other they can start to lose sight of what they are actually arguing about. ‘Sit down and think about why you’re unhappy. What is it that you expect your partner to do? What are you actually arguing about? Think about those things because often we don’t see that our expectations are unrealistic.’
A better me makes for a better we
Want a better relationship? Then work on being the best version of yourself first. ‘Take charge of your own happiness – it’s one of the best ways to be happy in a relationship,’ Lavina advises. ‘Forming your own social network and becoming your own person is vital. An unhappy person does not make a happy mum, dad or partner.’
Show that you care
‘One of the most common complaints I see in my line of work is couples bickering a lot,’ says Lavina. ‘The way I perceive it is that they’re not feeling very loved or cared for in their relationships.’ Showing that you care may seem like a basic thing in relationships, but for some, affection and kindness may have already left the building. To put the spark back, Lavina advises couples to observe how their partner likes to be treated. ‘What gestures do they make for you out of love? Doing something similar is actually one of the best ways to reciprocate because often the way we express love is the way we like to receive it.’
Learn to listen
‘You never listen to me! Did you even hear what I said?’ Sound familiar? Then you and your significant other might need to address your listening skills. Lavina says that listening is something that can be worked on, like any other skill. ‘What we recommend is a reflective listening exercise whereby one partner says whatever they need to and the other repeats and paraphrases what they hear. It’s a good way to clarify communication in an argument, so before you get angry, you can make sure you’re getting angry about the right thing. Communication may not be the only problem, but once you eliminate it as an issue you can talk about other things,’ Lavina says.
Make more time for each other
Time is a precious commodity in today’s world and in a work-focused city such as Dubai, finding time to nurture or work on your relationship can be a struggle. But setting aside time that’s just for you as a couple can be time well invested. ‘Couples often only reconnect at dinner, but they don’t really communicate during that time. They might be watching TV or seeing to the kids. There’s no date night and no identification of them as a couple, but making time for that is really important.’
Don’t wait to seek professional advice
Living away from home and an established extended support network can mean some couples don’t know where to turn when their relationship gets rocky. Friends that were once around the corner may now be in different continents and time zones. But Lavina says don’t make seeking external advice the last resort. ‘It’s frustrating when couples leave it too late to seek help. Working on your relationship is not easy. If you come to a counsellor when your heart and mind are already out of the door then [a resolution] is not going to happen. You’re just setting up everybody in that situation to fail.’
Lavina Ahuja, personal development consultant at LifeWorks. 996, Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim 1, www.counsellingdubai.com (04 394 2464).
Support networks in the city
Counselling and Development Clinic
Psychologist Dr McCarthy is an expert in relationship issues and has written books on abuse. The clinic offers counselling for couples and individuals.
Villa 415A, Jumeirah Beach Road, www.drmccarthypsychologyclinic.com (04 394 6122).
This training centre runs a compassionate communication course that helps couples become more aware of their own, as well as other people’s, listening styles.
Dhs1,200 per couple. LifeWorks, 996, Al Wasl Road, Umm Suqeim 1, www.counsellingdubai.com (04 394 2464).
The LightHouse Arabia
Offering services in psychiatry and psychotherapy, this community psychology clinic provides one-on-one support as well as support to couples.
Villa 2, Jumeriah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim 2, www.lighthousearabia.com (04 380 9298).