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'You never have time for me!'

Life is good. You're working hard to get that promotion and at the end of the day, you wind down to watch some great DVDs or to surf about your hobby. Unfortunately, this can set the tone for a jarring relationship loop. As your energy is spent improving your job, your relationship's on the backburner where it's brewing age-old relationship problems. In fact, your marriage is spiralling to become a divorce statistics faster than you can say ‘I got promoted!,' Ria Mendoza reports.

Technology has unquestionably lifted a huge burden of us. Mobile phones allow us to be reachable from any where and at any time, computers and the internet has made work easier. However, it has its downside too. Scenes depicting husbands not getting up from their computers or not getting off their mobile phones even when at home or women staying late in the office till the wee hours of the morning to meet a deadline, happen regularly enough that we've come to accept it as part of our modern lives.

It's a common enough picture that even Hollywood movies have already stereotyped it in plenty of movies. The sad thing is, almost everyone can easily find a resounding echo of this in their own lives – a mom who's not always at home, a husband who's always preoccupied with work or a sister who's always travelling. Could technology and modern life be the final bane to relationships?

“In recent years, the pattern of marriage and divorce has changed dramatically in many parts of Asia and since 60 percent of the world's population live in Asia, and people of Asian origin live throughout the rest of the world it is important to note that the various Asian interpretations of the institution of marriage are undergoing major transformation,” explains Dr Devika Singh a Psychologist and marriage counsellor from the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre. “This is primarily due to the rapid social, economic, cultural, and gender role changes. Thirty years ago, divorce was rare in most Asian countries, but this is not the case anymore.”

Technology has changed how men and women relate to each other. It has changed how courtships are done and most definitely affected communication. People are finding their true loves over the internet and on the opposite end, relationships are also ending through emails or text messages. Kevin Ferdeline was rumoured to have been texted by Britney Spears about their divorce and lately, the news of men sending text messages to divorce their wives exploded in the regional media. Malaysian and Singaporean religious leaders have labelled divorce by text messaging as irresponsible and unethical but in the UAE, it is an accepted practice if it is done under the Sharia law and confirmed by a Sharia court with both parties present.

“It's a bit too simple to say that modern life may ruin relationships. Indeed, modern life might save and enhance relationships just as well. Of course there are stresses that may not have been present a few generations ago, but those previous generations had their peculiar stresses and strains. Perhaps marriages didn't end in divorce as often as they do today but I think relationships were strained nonetheless,” Dr Kennon Rider, a Marriage and Family Therapist at the Dubai Community Health Centre. “Having said that, of course modern ‘conveniences' often detract from relationships. People can hide from each other even in the same house. With TV, internet and music, if they do not take care to make it a part of a balanced lifestyle, it can result in distance and isolation.”

Couples can grow apart and the classic statement that couples have been saying even before technology became this advanced is dragged out once more like a bad case of déjà vu, “He's not the man I married,” added to the fact that couples now, especially in the Western world, file for divorce as if they're simply dropping mail at the corner post office doesn't make a promising future for modern relationships. Statistics verify that the divorce rate has indeed gone up.

According to nationmaster.com, an online data compilation source, in the US 4.95 people out of a thousand are divorced. In the UK the figure is 3.08, in Qatar it's 0.97, Tunisia 0.82, Syria 0.67, Mauritius 0.47 and lower in Turkey with 0.37 people out of 1000. If the values are taken from all over the world, an average of 1.3 people out of a 1000 is divorced.

“One of the biggest problems I encounter in my practice is the struggle couples have to find the balance between work and attention to personal relationships. Work can be intoxicating, even addictive, especially in large urban, commercial centres,” shares Dr Rider. The balance is further skewed when the couple in question involves one who is working and one who is not. “The person who is not working outside the house often feels neglected and taken for granted or even used. Conflicts arise and lines are drawn.

But on the other side of the coin, the working half might feel trapped by the life he or she is living. They feel the pressure to perform well at their jobs and at the same time, they also feel the pressure from their partners so there is pressure from both sides.”

Because their livelihood depends on it, or maybe because society expects it, some people give everything they have to their work and will go home spent, with no energy to hold a decent conversation or even to work on the affairs waiting for them on the home front.

There's no energy for the spouse or for the kids. A classic example is the housewife who complains about a husband who does not help out at home. The usual tale goes that when the husband gets home, he plops in front of the TV and sits there till bedtime while the wife is scurrying around the house, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, looking after the children's homework and tucking them in.

“Fatigue is another enemy of good relationships and is also a result of these busy lives we lead,” Dr Rider agrees. “When people get to the end of their days, whether it is outside the home or tending to the home they often collapse in front of the TV or computer to unwind. Sometimes, it is the easier alternative because it's much easier than focusing on one's partner, listening, connecting and empathising. When the TV or computer becomes habitual to the exclusion of a good connection and open communication with your partner, and then expect that marital trouble is brewing.”

“The solution is simple, but not necessarily easy. People have to step back, examine their priorities, make some boundaries and determine to focus their energies, whatever energies they have left, on behaviours that are consistent with their values,” Dr Rider suggests. “I enjoy reminding my clients that no one gets to the end of their life and says, ‘I wish I'd worked more'. No, they say, ‘I wish I'd spent more time with people I cared about.'”

True, it is a lesson that we hear often enough from people who look back at their lives with regret and sorrow. Life is too short to spend it breaking your back and not enjoying the fruits of your labour. The key word is ‘balance' and ‘prioritisation' as the good doctor suggested. Balance your work, your other interests may it be music the internet or sport with your family life and your priorities. But it cannot be your only priority as an individual, it must be your priorities as a couple.

“Couples have to be proactive in keeping their relationship alive and vibrant. Sometimes that means doing something rather than nothing. It means engaging in an activity instead of being a couch potato. It means going out instead of staying in — sharing some experience beyond sitting silently in the same room watching a re-run of an old show. But whether you go out or stay in, some attention needs to be given everyday to connecting with your partner in some sort of meaningful way.” With so many distractions in today's life,it is easy to be distracted from what's the most important part of our lives – our loved ones. But we cannot just let ourselves be a victim to it.

“A marriage or any relationship for that matter can be broken down into love and commitment. Love consists of both intimacy and friendship. For these to exist, the couple must be willing to be vulnerable toward each other. This of course requires trust and respect. Commitment is present when the couple shares an understanding of each others' values, attitudes, customs, traditions, morals, and ethics. This doesn't imply that they have to be from the same religion, community or culture, but they should be as informed and accepting of these elements of commitment,” says Dr Singh.

At the end of the day, no matter how powerful your laptop is, how fast your mobile phone can download your emails or how high an increase you can get, its love and commitment that matters.

Having marital problems?
Here's a few tips from Marriage Counsellor Dr Devika Singh:

1) Rework your statements
If you have critical thoughts when discussing touchy topics, try to filter what you say first before saying it out loud.

2) Soften your ‘start up'
Arguments ‘start up' because a spouse sometimes escalates the conflict by making a critical or contemptuous remark in a confrontational tone. Instead, bring up problems gently and without blame.

3) Have great expectations
Happy couples have high standards for each other even as newlyweds. The most successful couples are those who, even as newlyweds, refused to accept hurtful behaviour from one another. The lower the level of tolerance for bad behaviour in the beginning of a relationship, the happier the couple is down the road.

4) Call it quits when
Successful couples know how to exit an argument. Successful repair attempts include changing the topic to something completely unrelated, using humour, stroking your partner with a caring remark (“I understand that this is hard for you”); making it clear you're on common ground (“This is our problem”); backing down (in marriage, as in the martial art Aikido, you have to yield to win); and, in general, offering signs of appreciation for your partner and his or her feelings along the way (“I really appreciate and want to thank you for...”). If an argument gets too heated, take a 20-minute break, and agree to approach the topic again when you are both calm.

5) Think positive
In a happy marriage, while discussing problems, make more positive statements about each other than negative ones.

6) Seek help early
Most couples live with marital distress for much longer than they need to. Couples should seek out a professional as soon as they notice a problem.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 26/06/2008


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