Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Relationships then and now

Our grandparents’ relationships lasted through life’s ups and downs. What has happened in the years since then, asks Farah El-Akkad

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Al-Ahram Weekly

A question accompanying a picture of an elderly American couple on Facebook caught my eye and made me feel that we have changed a lot over the years and not necessarily always for the better. The question asked is “how is it that you stayed happily married for more than 50 years?” The answer was that “we come from a time that when something was broken we didn’t throw it away. We fixed it instead.”
Marriage has also changed a lot in Egypt over recent generations. Relationship counsellor and psychologist Nadine Fadel believes that relationships changed when envelopes sealed with kisses were replaced with texts, tweets and Facebook status updates. In the early decades of the last century, families would seek good brides for their sons based on family name, social status, virtue and good deeds. They wouldn’t give much thought to a girl’s looks or how rich she was.
“A girl’s looks would come into it, but they weren’t a priority,” Fadel said. The same things would apply to women: what they would seek in a man would be his virtue rather than his wealth. This is very unlike today, when many women would rather marry a rich man even if he has many character defects, and vice versa,” Fadel commented.
Fadel attributes some of the changes in marital relationships to changes in technology. Arguments that once could be kept a private matter are now turned into very public issues that can be discussed on Facebook, for example. In the past, the involvement of the families of both sides was limited. If a woman had a fight with her husband, she wouldn’t necessarily jump into her mother’s lap and ask her for help. This is unlike today, when some married couples tend to involve other parties in their arguments, no matter how small they may be.
Moreover, Fadel said, marriage in the past was often seen as a sacred bond and one that entailed loyalty, trust and privacy. Everything was designed to help make the relationship work and keep the marriage together. This attitude was shared by both parties, and it was thought of as natural in helping to keep up a healthy marital life.
While such attitudes still exist today, some couples now seek to prove each other to be in the wrong, rather than trying to reach a compromise or find common ground. “Of course, we are not dealing in stereotypes here: the idea is just to chart some of the pitfalls of today’s relationships,” Fadel said. For her, the reason why divorce rates are climbing today is arguments over sometimes ridiculous differences. “These days, it has become perfectly acceptable for married couples to fight over silly matters and even to get a divorce because of them, while in the past arguments were treated differently. Each member of a couple had faith in the goodwill of the other, even if they sometimes were tempted to believe otherwise.”
Somaya and Mustafa Al-Mahdi, a couple who have managed to live happily for almost 55 years, believe that the key is how to handle arguments. “We always saw fights as adding spice to our life. They helped us to understand each other better and to cope with differences. For instance, we never argued about food or clothes,” they said. Their arguments, when they came, were usually about bigger issues, such as money and the children’s future, and not about burnt cakes or cars with empty petrol tanks, they say.
According to Fadel, men and women are not different to how they were in the past. The difference is that they are now less interested in making each other happy. “This is not because life is harder nowadays,” she says.
The advice that psychiatrist Gamila Sherif was given by her grandparents on her wedding day was that “the hardest thing in marriage is to be patient and to overlook any differences that come along as a way of bringing you closer to each other and not the opposite.” Although her grandparents’ marriage was an arranged one, they were in love and led a successful and happy life for almost 60 years. “Even though women have a lot more freedom nowadays, some studies suggest that women were happier in their marriages in the past,” commented Fadel.
Another factor affecting the success of relationships is technology. In the past, people walked for miles and drove non-stop to reach their loved ones. There were no cell phones, and it could seem as if the mail took forever to be delivered. Nowadays, technology has ruined the idea of working hard to be together. Texts or tweets can be easily used instead, and face-to-face interaction is becoming rarer. For some people, it can seem as if we are living in a world of robots and not humans with facial expressions and physical reactions that once meant a lot.
“If someone says, ‘I love you’ online or via mobile, how do you know if it is the truth if you cannot see him or her in front of you?” asked Fadel.
Fadel said that our grandparents not only succeeded in building long-term marriages, they also paved the way for us to take over from them by building strong homes and raising respectable children without letting silly matters spoil relationships. “If we take the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) as an example of a family man, we will be astonished at the number of things we can look up to. For instance, he used to help his wife Al-Sayeda Aisha in cleaning the house and even cooking. He used to take her out, and they would go to watch musicians together twice a week,” Fadel said.
Relationship therapist Karim Murad believes that we should address the issues differently and ask ourselves if the problem is within us, or whether we are just blaming our surroundings. He blames some of the difficulties people have in forming long-term relationships on the movies, believing that the media plays an enormous role in shaping the way we perceive our relationships. “Many people live in a kind of fairytale, assuming that real relationships are like those in the movies. This is a big mistake,” said Murad.  
Films can make us believe that people easily become happy in their relationships, while in fact successful relationships need a lot of patience, hard work and mutual respect, he adds.
Murad said that men have become a lot more interested in how women look than in their career achievements or personal interests, which again proves that we should not only let our grandparents’ successful marriages lead the way, but that we should also stick to our values and achieve common ground of love and wisdom.

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