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Afghan Couples, the West, and a Shift in Status

Esmael Darman 

As soon as I posted some questions on the Facebook page of Rawan Online the other day, asking the members whether or not they found the website and its contents useful, one of the readers suggested there should be more articles on marital conflicts, particularly among the Afghan couples who immigrate to the West. In fact, there have been dozens of articles as well as a number of video shows on this subject on Rawan Online; however, I also agree that more information needs to be shared with our readers.

There are of course many factors behind marital conflicts. Some of these factors get resolved as time passes by and the husband and wife become more mature in dealing with their differences and emotions. Some of them result in separation and divorce, and some of them cause long-lasting unhappiness, misery, discontent, emotional blackmailing, and even violence.

It appears that one of the most visible and significant factors of marital conflict among Afghan couples is a shift in status. Afghans have a patriarchal society. Particularly those who are brought up in Afghanistan, or among families that hold a stronger traditional value system, men get better education and employment opportunities. Therefore, they have a stronger and upper social status. Women, however, are usually expected and encouraged to bring up children. These traditional roles are of course changing, but the process is very sluggish.

Once these couples immigrate to the West, their status may obviously change. Usually husbands can no longer get equal opportunities they used to have in Afghanistan. That can be discouraging. It can also make them increasingly inflexible, leading to a growing disappointment at the system.

The situation, however, can be different for wives. Not having competitive jobs back home or being overly concerned about status, they can be more open to change, thus getting more opportunities. As a result, a shift in status soon happens and the power struggle can give rise to conflict and violence in the household. Of course this doesn’t usually happen to every single couple.

The important thing here is to understand what is happening in the process of change and help these couples deal with the challenge in an effective manner. If the problem is not very serious, a simple intervention and raising awareness might be helpful. Nevertheless, professional intervention in the form of family and cultural counseling is often needed. Once the couple, particularly the husband, realizes that the main goal of living together is to enjoy the company and prosper together as two equal human beings, he would become more open to the concept of change in the family dynamic. It is easier said than done, but it is worth the effort!


Esmael Darman is the founder and editor-in-chief at Rawan Online.

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Rawan Online is the first website on psychology and mental health for Afghans covering a wide range of topics related to health and relationships.

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