Marriage is no longer for life in today’s world, as an increased divorce rate in Oman proves. Y Team assesses what causes matrimonial misery and why today’s young people view this time-honoured tradition rather differently than their parents do.
A sparking diamond or a dowdy chunk of carbon wrapped around gold: the true value of a wedding ring can only be perceived by those in love.
But the heartbreaking transition from “till death do us part” to “you and I will now have a new and beautiful life away from each other” is a juxtaposition of sentences that translates to more than just a fight. It’s the baseline for divorce, and one that Oman-born Zareena*, knows all too well.
Just a year ago, she was standing by her fiancé in a ballroom, draped in the finest Omani attire and gold, envisioning a life together with her man-to-be.
“It’s the moment I had waited for since I was a little child,” says the secretary of a leading financial institution.
“His eyes, they sparkled and I could see our future in them. For the first time ever, I was in love. And it was the most beautiful feeling I had ever had.”
But 11 months and 13 days is all it took for everything to fall out of place and the marriage to end in divorce.
The reason? Her husband’s Asian girlfriend.
“It’s not hard to recall why our marriage didn’t work out. We found out that we were never compatible by the end of the first month – but things only went downhill after I found out that he had bought a car for his lover.
“Let’s just say that you don’t take a loan to buy a car for your girlfriend from the bank your wife works in,” she says.
The wit in her tone is evident but is soon masked by what the divorced Omani says next.
“Everyone blamed me for the separation. I was told that I did not ‘satisfy’ my husband, and that I should have quit my job and worked from home. There was a lot of prejudice involved in what people were saying – and I felt like I was at fault.”
Today, Zareena has moved on but got closure only after months of counselling and therapy at the hands of professionals.
Still, she raises a valid point: “What is love and, really, who can you trust?”
It’s a question several Omanis are now asking – not just because they fail to find love but also because they fail in it. Divorce, it seems, is becoming commonplace for Omani couples forced to call it quits.
In fact, divorce rates have skyrocketed since the early 2000s, with the numbers touching almost 3,867 in 2017, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).
This, coupled with a steady drop in the number of marriage registrations – with just 22,284 tying the knot – in 2017, shows that roughly 1.03 divorces are registered for every 1,000 marriage registrations.
Accurate data showing the overall divorce rate haven’t been revealed by the government body but in 2015, it was known that Oman showed a divorce rate of 12 per cent.
The numbers are significantly higher now, says Anis Mohammed (name changed), a divorce lawyer working with a law firm in Oman.
He explains: “While we’re aware that the divorce rate stood low when compared with other GCC countries a few years ago, that’s not the case today. The numbers of divorce cases and those that finally proceed with the documents may seem low on paper, but that’s because of the lower number of married couples and the general size of the population.
“The accurate statistics for 2018 are yet to come but if the past is anything to go by, we estimate that the divorce rate will shoot up by one or two per cent.
That, the lawyer says, has been the trend over the past five years or so. Oman’s divorce rate isn’t as high as in some western countries – but the numbers are slowly edging towards it.
Stats further reveal that Oman sees as many as 10 to 12 divorce cases a day, and that the marital stability rate stands at a paltry 17.35 per cent; meaning, only 82.65 per cent of marriages in Oman will stand the test of time.
Anis adds: “Of the total divorces, we [the law firm] handle at least two per day.
“Don’t believe me? Then simply head to the Ministry of Justice offices during working hours.”
In the Sultanate, a marriage can only be registered or annulled with the permission of the Ministry of Justice – though speculation that several couples who are now using social media – specifically WhatsApp – to annul marriages are making waves.
This came to light earlier last week when a newlywed 30-year-old Indian woman was given ‘talaq’ (divorce) over WhatsApp by her 63-year-old Omani husband. The case is ongoing and no further details have been revealed but in such a scenario, the marriage wouldn’t be legally annulled.
The Civil Status Record in the Directorate General of Civil Status records the events of marriage and divorce of Omanis and expats residing in Oman when one of the couple is an Omani national.
Anis adds: “There’s no doubt, it’s those who have been married for fewer than three years that mostly file for divorce. Here in Oman, we call the initial five years the ‘compatibility period’. This is when the couple gets to know each other and their flaws. If you get over this hump, then it’s a joyful journey.”
Figures may suggest that a lot of Omani couples don’t last the ‘compatibility period’ – but for some, it’s about taking back control of their lives and moving on.
This was the case of an Omani woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) who divorced her husband on the pretext of physical abuse.
Her ordeal, her translator says, began a week after her wedding: “In the three encounters I had with his (her husband’s) family, everything was smooth. But, since we were struggling financially, his family paid for the wedding as well as a dowry – both of which amounted to RO6,000.
“But what I didn’t realise is the burden that it brought along. I entered the wedding in debt – and he used that against me.
“He’d hit me if I didn’t prepare the food on time, didn’t lay the bed properly, or if I would ask to go home to meet my parents. I wasn’t even allowed to speak to my father who I’m very close to. I became his servant.”
She lasted six years in the marriage before making the brave call to run from the clutches of her violent husband.
“The support I received from my parents was what kept me sane. I wanted to harm myself but then I thought that Allah had gifted me a new life – and it was up to me to keep going.”
The Omani has since started her own boutique, repaid her ex-husband the borrowed amount, and also cut off his alimony (a husband’s [or wife’s] provision for a spouse after separation or divorce; maintenance as decided by the local court).
“Women and men stay in marriages despite there being no love. That isn’t a marriage – it’s just a couple staying together to sustain themselves and their families,” she adds.
To understand why the separation rate stands high and before we question why more individuals are resorting to divorce, we need to ask the question: why did the couple marry in the first place?
“That’s a very important question,” says Mahira al Zadjali, a certified marriage guidance counsellor who helps couples resolve their marital problems.
“A legal licence such as a marriage is something that’s quickly losing its status and its significance, if I may say, in today’s ‘modern’ society. But modernisation doesn’t dictate the way people live in Oman; family and religious values do.
“And sometimes, we see the youth fulfill their families’ desires by taking a bride or groom at the parents’ or relatives’ request.
“In short, adults are pressurised by their cohorts to marry based on their likes. They’re forced to fall in love with someone they just met. And that depends on whether the two are compatible or, more importantly, if they’re open to adjusting to their spouse’s tastes.”
This, she tells us, is quite simply irresponsible behaviour by families.
That said, arranged marriages – which are marriages predetermined by the family – have existed in this part of the world for several decades, and Mahira and her husband too were themselves introduced by their families. The two are happy in marriage.
“Why would you put someone’s life in the palm of your hands and play with it,” she asks. “If you don’t want to marry them, or if you’re in love with someone else, it’s best to stay away from the marriage.”
The concept of arranged marriages is slowly running out of steam in the Middle East, and more Omanis are now resorting to finding their own partners – some of whom are not even from Oman (!)
According to the NCSI stats, the number of Omanis marrying foreigners (non-Omanis) rose by a staggering 47 per cent. And that’s even after the government has imposed strict rules for those marrying expats.
For instance, the Ministry of Interior dictates that an Omani man should be at least 45 to marry a foreign woman. Moreover, he must also apply through his wali’s office for a permit. This will then be studied by the Ministry of Interior, Royal Oman Police (ROP), and Ministry of Social Development, and the Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, Omani women must be aged 30 or above to be eligible for marriage to a foreign national. She is also required to have a letter of consent from her father, and all the paperwork will be processed by the aforementioned ministries.
Even so, cultural differences and social challenges pose threats to mixed marriages in the Sultanate. The concerns only rise when you realise that an astonishing 35 per cent of all mixed marriages end in divorce.
The rates are different for Omani couples, but love marriages pose their own shortcomings.
Mahira tells us: “Love is a concept that is lost on many. In fact, there’s a fine line between love and lust, and not many can comprehend that; especially if they’re young. A typical Omani couple can date anywhere between two to five years before they take it up with their families.
“It can sit a bit sour with them initially but as we progress into the western age, more parents are now ready to accept these changes. It’s a blessing, really. Still, a lot of Omanis – like everyone else in the world – struggle to keep their relationships afloat because they fail to make sacrifices for their partner.
“Before you decide to make the drastic decision, I advise everyone to sit down with a marriage counsellor. They can definitely help you realise where you can improve yourself and how you can salvage the marriage.
Recollecting some of her past cases, she says: “Marriage counselling is a tough job – you must understand what the couple is going through. You can’t weigh in your points with everyone.
“Some couples that come to me talk about how they’re fighting about who will feed their baby at night, or whose turn it is to buy groceries. These can be fixed by understanding the circumstances at which these issues have risen.
“At times, a simple ‘sorry’ will suffice.”
“But more grave ones could be when couples cannot stand each other’s’ voices or when they’re involved in deeper troubles, such as infidelity, and disconnect. Such cases are more likely to end up in divorce.
“People fall out of love faster than they fall into it – that’s just human nature.
“I’ve counselled more than 200 couples, and from my experience, I can tell you that in a relationship there’s always one person who has invested more than the other. And often, it’s that person who gets hurt beyond repair.
“I’ve heard stories of people wanting to take up a knife and harm themselves, or worse, harm the spouse.”
This was literally the case when an Omani woman, in her 40s, was found guilty of premeditated murder of her husband. The act was plotted and carried out in the Wilayat of Barka with the help of her lover, another Omani.
The lovers have since been sentenced to death for the gruesome act. But, as per the details revealed by the ROP, the act was conspired in 2016 when the duo procured ammunition to shoot the husband.
And on the fateful night, when no one was aware, the partner made his move, shooting the husband in the neck.
The newspaper, Gulf News, further reveals: “They (the couple) took advantage as the adjacent house where the victim’s sons live was empty.
“Then the woman guided her lover to the place of her husband inside the house to shoot her husband. He jumped over the wall late at night and shot him in his neck with one bullet”.
It is said that the woman watched as her husband took his last breath.
After committing the crime, the two threw the body in one of the wadis – but a forensic trail was traced back to the couple. Today, they languish in jail, awaiting execution.
Whether this real-life killer Omani couple story disheartens your desire to find a spouse or not, it’s a growing reality that fewer Omanis are opting to tie the knot in the first place – rather opting for short-term relationships, or not involving themselves in one at all.
NCSI reports that the number of registered marriages fell from 25,659 in 2015 to 24,014 in 2016 and 22,284 in 2017.
The reasons for the same are abundant. To answer whether there really is a reluctance towards marriage, we speak to the youth from universities in Muscat.
One humanities student, Tariq, 24, from Sultan Qaboos University, says: “I would love to get married someday – but it will be to a woman of my choice. I’m not a believer of arranged marriages, as my brother and his wife got divorced in 2013. Since then, I made up my mind that I would only take home a girl I knew.
“Also, I would only prefer marrying after I’ve settled down with a job. This would take at least eight more years – and I must stabilise myself and my family before I can bring home another member to the family.”
Twenty-year-old student, Khuloof, has a similar outlook, but with different spin. She explains: “I think the reason fewer Omanis are marrying is because young people are more focused on their futures. They’re not going to take a decision to get married at an age when they can enjoy their lives.
“So, you’ll see more of us getting married when we’re 30. I’ve already talked about this to my mother – and she completely understands. The youth needs their space, and getting married at a young age is like shooting yourself in the foot,” she jokes.
Be that as it may, statistics validate Khuloof’s and Tariq’s points: on average an Omani girl is 26.1 years old while a man is 28.4 years old at the time of marriage; showing how more citizens are opting for late marriages.
Mahira steps in to say: “They say that age is the price of wisdom and maturity. So, people marrying at a later stage in their lives isn’t necessarily a concern.
What you’ll inevitably end up with is more responsible adults who can take care of a family – and if everything fails – themselves as well.
“You and I can force someone into a marriage tomorrow – but it takes a lot to make one work. It’s not an answer to loneliness or the need for company.
“Marriage is an almost divine association between a man and a woman. And if there’s no love to create that spark, there’s no reason to stay together.
“So, you want to know what it’s like to remain in a loveless marriage? The look in their eyes says it all.”