The Burning Man Sculpture - Courtesy of Collective Evolution The Burning Man Sculpture - Courtesy of Collective Evolution

INTERVIEW: Int. renowned Ken Page LCSW takes on most common marital issues

Tue, Feb. 12, 2019
CAIRO – 12 February 2019: Marriage and other forms of long-term relationships tend to be the stem from which social systems and social contracts develop. In Egypt, there are just under one million marriages a year, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). At the same time, 200,000 married couples get a divorce every year, and according to President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, research suggests that 40 percent of marriages end within the first five years.

In similar vein, Deputy Minister of Health and the General Supervisor of the Councils of Population, and Childhood and Motherhood, Maysa Shawky, holds that as of 2017, the divorce rates in Egyptian cities skyrocketed to 60.7 percent, while some villages reported 39.3 percent, and some reported less. When asked hold old divorcees usually are, Shawky pointed out that they mostly fall in the 25- to 30-year-old age group.

Whether one blames this one economic conditions, as Egypt's Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Wali did during a session with Members of Parliament in late November 2018, or whether you attribute it to emotion stress due or arranged marriages, the fact of the matter remains the same: Divorce rates are increasing in Egypt.

To understand the most common reasons for divorce and the best ways for conflict resolution, Egypt Today spoke to Ken Page, LCSW, psychotherapist, author of “Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy” and host of “The Deeper Dating” podcast, when asked about love and fear of intimacy.

Ken Page
Ken Page LCSW

ET: Tell us about your experience when it comes to conflict, intimacy and relationships. What are the issues that you see couples suffering from most?

Ken Page: I would say that there are certain issues that are again and again are the absolute keys and those are: A lack of honesty, a lack of listening and a lack of kindness and understanding. When those things are present, couples can be almost like superheroes in terms of the things they can get through.

Most marriages tend to degrade in terms of the quality of loving, kindness, intimate physical connection and romance; they just tend to degrade it. It is a downward scope for most couples because they do not have the skillset to do what needs to be done to heal the problems that always come up. What they say is that a good relationship, a healthy relationship, needs to be continuously going through the process of intimacy. The process of intimacy is a process of rupture and repair. Big ruptures, small ruptures; big repairs, small repairs. As you go along, there are little misunderstandings that happen, and those need to be acknowledged and dealt with. Ruptures come naturally, repair takes work, and we have not been taught how to do the repair work and if you do not know how to do that, you can assume that your relationship will only get worse and that it will begin to degrade.

ET: How can couples get out of the viscous cycle of detachment? And how can couples move from the viscous cycle, through the ‘good conflict’ idea and towards a great relationship?

Ken Page: There are a few things that I want to talk about here. One this is that John Gottman talks about emotional bids. What he says is that constantly, couples turn towards each other for connection. Something joyful happens and you want to tell your partner; something hard happens and you want to share it with you partner; you notice something that interests you and you want to share it with your partner; or, there is a difficulty with your partner and you want to work through it. He calls those little actions bids; they are bids for attention.

Happy couples turn towards their partners 20 times more than couples in distress during everyday discussions, and he actually can forecast the relationships where people are going to get divorces. What he says is that couples who only turn towards each other, because they have just given up, 33 percent of the time that they want to say something will end up divorced within the next six years. The couples who turn to each other 86 percent of the time, stay married six years later.

So, one thing is the listening and the appreciation in the day-to-day life. When your partner reaches out with something that may seem silly or minuscule and you just drop what you are doing and you focus on them and give them attention, they light up. It actually begins to heal and soothe the relationship.

That is one point: Notice the bids that your partner is giving you. Put those dishes down and really listen and reflect back that you are listening and caring. That is actually an aphrodisiac; deep listening is one of the strongest aphrodisiacs there is.

The other thing is that if something is hurting, you need to talk about it. And the rule is this: Say what you mean, mean what you say, but do not say it mean. Say it with kindness and understanding.

When you start in a relationship with someone, you have a lifelong journey ahead of the two of you and it is to learn a new language. It is the language of your partner—things that he or she cares about and it is things that are meaningful to him and her. You are going to learn a whole new language and it is your partner’s language. When you go into a marriage, you think that you are speaking the same language, whatever it is, but you are not, because when I face you—always—my right side will be your left side. We are two different people and we see the world differently, even if we use the same words to describe something, it might have greatly different meaning.

So, anyone who enters into a relationship, they should know that they will spend their entire marriage learning a new language and it is the language of your partner’s heart.

ET: You talk extensively about embracing one’s fear of intimacy, how can do this in a relationship that has its conflicts and not be scared?

Ken Page: We all get taught that fear of intimacy is a bad thing, and we get taught that a good relationship is meant to be good but the liberating truth is this: Your relationship is meant to have failure, it is meant to have ruptures. This is not the issue; the issue is whether you and your partner take the time to fix those ruptures. We all get taught about fear of intimacy like it is pathology but that is wrong; if you are breathing, then you have fear of intimacy. Love demands incredible vulnerability and incredible sacrifice and it touches our places of deepest need, and there is no way that a human would not be afraid of that. So, the issue is not whether you have fear of intimacy—assume you have fear of intimacy, assume your partner has fear of intimacy, the question is: Are you both building bridges to get past of your fear of intimacy and meet each other?

That is the only question, not whether there is conflict—there will be conflict, whether there is rupture—there will be rupture, whether there will be fear of intimacy—there is fear of intimacy. The question is: Are you and your partner practicing the skills of bridge building? When you do, your relationship becomes stronger than ever before.

Harville Hendrix said something really beautiful and really important, he said, there comes a point in every intimate relationship where the thing that you most need from your partner is the thing that your partner is least able to give you and that is when couples feel that it is the beginning of the end of their relationship, but it is not: It is the beginning of an adult relationship.

You are meant to hit this point. You have the honeymoon phase and then after that, you have to do the work. So, you will reach a point when the thing that you want most from your partner is the hardest thing for him or her to give you, and that is where you are supposed to be, and then if the two of you care enough to do the work, to learn how to give your partner what they need, which will ultimately make you into a better person—into the person that you are meant to be, then you are entering the phase of a real, healthy adult relationship.

Unfortunately, without that knowledge and without that work, then that is when you move towards divorce, if you do not do that work.

Conflict resolution is one of the most delicate issues that couples face. How can couples face conflict without leaving stains in their relationship or running away?

I have developed a process called the “AHA Process”; it is a three-step process and it is very powerful.

The first step is awareness and in that step you try to become aware of what it is that you are feeling. Instead of stepping over your feelings and just saying I am too sensitive or that I should not be hurt by this, you actually take the time and you listen. You also do the same thing with joyful things because you are going to have wonderful moments with your partner and instead stepping away quickly because you have grocery shopping to do, you take an extra minute to express appreciation. Whatever it is that you are feeling, the first step is that you do not run from it; you take time to become aware of it.

The second step is that you actually honour what you are feeling; you assum that it has worth instead of just pushing it away. If you are hurt by something, instead of just pushing it aside, you ask yourself, why am I feeling this hurt. If there is something that you feel that you need, instead of just condemning yourself for it, you need to ask yourself, why does it make sense that I need this. You need to start by honouring anything that you are feeling, whatever it is. Now, you do not know if it is true or not when you are making assumptions about your partner; feelings are not facts, but they do not go away because of rational thought.

The third step is to take action with kindness and understanding. You need to ask for what you need. Too many relationships fail because we are too afraid to ask for what we need in a kind and understanding way. So many arguments can be fixed by just asking for what you really want from the heart. But we do not know how to ask and so we either silence ourselves or we blame our partner. The act of asking is actually an act of heeling; when we ask, we start to dialogue with our partner.

Now, all those steps you need to do with partner as well: You need to gain awareness of what it is that they are feeling; you need to take the time to honour what they are feeling, even if it does not make sense to you; you need to take the time to take action and that means both of you sitting down and sharing from the heart what your feelings are and what your needs are.

You mention ‘good conflicts’ and good fights, how is this the case?

This is something that people do not teach us; in every relationship, there is one or more good fights, good conflicts. If we go back to [the idea that] the thing you most need is the thing that is most difficult for your partner to give you and is also the thing that they need to learn to give the most to become a better human being and to deepen the closeness between you.

It is like bending steel, it is not an easy thing and that is why monogamy is so important in a relationship. It is very difficult to create characterological change—our character is hard-wired into us and that is a good thing in some ways and in other ways, it is not such a good thing. And in every relationship, there are going to be things that you need from your spouse that are difficult for them to give you, even though it should be easy for them to give it to you, and there are things that your spouse will need for you that is difficult for you to give them. They may have told you already—maybe you didn’t hear it—but they have told you many times the things that they need that are so hard for you to give. But when you listen and you give them what they need, you will become more the person that you want to be, more the person who you will love yourself for becoming and more the person that your partner will love you for becoming.

It is hard work but it needs to be done.

So, if you give up on telling your partner about the things that you need, then you are giving up on the good fight. Saying what you mean, always meaning what you say, but not saying it mean, saying it as an ask, as a request, sharing the way in which it may hurt you that this need is not being met and the joy that it would give you if this need is being met. You will probably have to do it lots of times, in lots of different way and you will need to do it again and again because this is a language that your partner has not learnt; it is the language of your heart.

This is the work of a truly great relationship.

There is something that I is really important: Everything I am saying now will not work if one or both partners have an addiction—a substance abuse addiction, a sex addiction, a gambling addiction, a serious addiction. I am not talking about a small addiction like compulsive eating, I am talking about serious addictions, particularly substance abuse addictions. If either, or both, partners have that, nothing will work. The relationship will not get better. Nothing will get better until they get rid of that addiction.

The same thing holds true for untreated, not stabilized serious psychiatric conditions. If either partner has serious depression, mood disorder manic depression, or any serious psychiatric condition that is not stabilized, this will not work. In fact, the divorce rate [in the United States] for people in a relationship where one partner has depression is in the high nineties—mid to high nineties.

What is the Egyptian government doing about the high divorce rates?

According to recent statements by the Egyptian Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali, the Egyptian government is currently finalizing the development of a comprehensive program that aims to deal with the issue of high divorce rates in Egypt, with particular focus on cities, as they have higher divorce rates.

Commenting on the program, Wali revealed that the program, which will be reviewed by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi personally, has been developed by looking at exampled from three Muslim countries, where divorce rates are low, according to the minister, namely, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman. Wali went even further to point out that Malaysia has seen their divorce rates drop 25 percent from 35 percent to 10 percent in just one year.

“They took legislative measures there [Malaysia] that led to stemming the tide in this respect. In Malaysia, laws stipulate that only judges conduct divorce procedures, and that a divorce goes into effect after six months. […] In the UAE and Oman, the focus was on media campaigns and awareness programmes that helped a lot in this respect,” Wali explained.

The program, titled “Married to Live Together”, and funded by the UN Family and Population Organisation, is currently being discussed with Al-Azhar, Dar AL-Ifta, the Coptic Orthodox Church and the National Council for Women (NCW), with the aim of rolling it out soon.

“A number of professors from Egyptian universities will implement this program in rural areas where divorce rates are high, and this will be in the form of launching awareness campaigns and giving training to young graduates to spread a message against divorce there,” stated Wali.

This program, as Wali explained, comes as part of the directions given to the ministry by President Sisi, who has asked the ministry multiple times to find a solution to the issue of high divorce rates; an issue that he has repeatedly verbally criticized and said that it baffled him. Sisi has also repeatedly criticised verbal divorce, citing it as one of the key catalysts to divorce and one of the major reasons behind the staggering divorce rates.

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