x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Book and card game designed to strengthen marriages

An Emirati author who won international attention for her book of advice for young couples returns with a second guide, while a card game on relationships is also due for release.

Love Game was released four years ago and is now in its fifth printing.
Love Game was released four years ago and is now in its fifth printing.

DUBAI // Sometimes it is not the easiest issue for couples to discuss, but the subject of intimacy in the bedroom is being further uncovered through the help of two new ventures.

A book and a card game both aim to keep marriages strong, rekindle love that is dwindling and even save some relationships that may be on the brink.

Both marital aids are follow-ups to previous offerings but are being published separately.

Wedad Lootah, 47, the Emirati author who achieved international media attention in 2008 for her first book on sex and intimacy tips for couples, has published a second guide due to hit bookstores within weeks.

"This one involves the whole family and not just the relationship between the husband and wife," Ms Lootah said.

With a title composed of just four letters from the Arabic alphabet - Ein, Meem, Seen, Tha - the book explores infidelity, partners who suffer from mismatched temperaments, homes with multiple wives and a lack of connection between the different generations.

Ms Lootah's first book, Top Secret: Principles and Etiquette of an Intimate Marital Relationship, sold 20,000 copies and was translated into English earlier this year. In having it translated, she hoped to dispel some of the stereotypes the West has about Emirati marriages.

"I wanted them to see that Islam actually puts a lot of emphasis on romance in intimate relationships," said the mother of three.

"Prophet Mohammed always talked about his love for his wives in front of his companions, but men here never even mention their wife's name in front of their friends."

Ms Lootah spent 10 years working as a counsellor at the Family Guidance and Reconciliation section of the Dubai Courts, later spinning her experience into unusually frank talks to the public about the previously taboo topics of marital and family relationships.

Ms Lootah's husband supported her in her decision to publish her books, even encouraging her to write a second one.

"He wanted other families to benefit from our knowledge," she said.

Around the same time as Ms Lootah's book,the Al Farha Academy, a privately funded institute in Dubai that holds courses and seminars on marriage and family relationships, plans to release Bedroom Games. It is the academy's second couples game, offering challenges such as penalty foot massages. The card game follows a Monopoly style board game called Love Game, which came out four years ago and is now in its fifth printing.

"Emirati couples are now slowly opening up to the idea of talking about and addressing issues they are facing in their intimate relationships," said Sheikh Rashid al Mansoori, director of the academy and a religious scholar and researcher in marital relationships who is putting the game together. "There is a change. I have seen a dramatic shift in attitudes and views here, where 10 years ago it was unthinkable to seek outside help in a marriage."

As a relationship coach with more than 15 years of expertise in Islamic family science, Sheikh al Mansoori, from Sharjah, who has earned himself the title "Dr Love", called the games "a start". "They are in line with religious and cultural values, and at the same time help add a bit of fun and fire into the relationship," he said.

"The problem is that Emirati and Arab men in general are all romantic and poetic during the engagement stage," he said. "But then, once they get married, they stop putting any effort."

A recent study commissioned by the UAE Marriage Fund found that "misunderstandings" between spouses were the most common cause of divorce, followed by interference in the relationship by family members.

The UAE has one of the highest rates of divorce in the Arab world, with one in four marriages breaking down, particularly among couples in their 20s. Sheikh al Mansoori above all encourages couples to "communicate". "Honestly communicating your needs is not Ayb [shameful]," he said. "It is only natural."

Both experts agree, the country can benefit from continued openness towards the concept of intimacy.

"Just holding your wife's hand as you go shopping, or even opening the door for her, is sometimes enough to save a marriage," Mrs Lootah said.

Love Game opened the lines of communication for at least one UAE couple.

Fatima, who asked her last name to be withheld, was struggling in her marriage and having a hard time communicating with her husband until a female relative bought her the game.

"I wasn't sure how my husband would react or what he would say," said the Emirati mother of two. "But it actually broke the ice and made us laugh and do something together that didn't involve the children or errands."

The game also led her to Sheikh al Mansoori and she and her husband were able to properly address some of the issues in their marriage.

"My husband refused to come with me at first," she said. "But then, after hearing what was discussed with the Sheikh in the session, he came with me. He also needed someone to just talk to."