Mixed Marriages in Saudi Arabia

It seems that marriages between a foreign national and a Saudi citizen are always of interest and especially so when the couple is living in the Kingdom.  True, living and working and adjusting to life in the Kingdom for someone from another culture and lifestyle can be a major transition and even more so if a couple is newly married and beginning their married life in the Kingdom.  However mixed marriages in general are not really that rare and happen each and every day worldwide.


So why is there the special emphasis, interest and attention on mixed marriages to Saudi nationals?  Is it because a Saudi national is muslim and the other spouse may not be?  Is it because women cannot drive in the Kingdom and a fear that this may impact on the success of a marriage?  Is it because a Saudi national is an Arab where the language, customs and culture can be quite different from the spouse?  Is it because a Saudi national is an Arab muslim and if male may have up to four wives?


With the above questions in mind, what does this mean for a mixed marriage between a Saudi national and someone from another country?  To begin with, whether the foreign spouse is male or female, good communication and understanding always remain key – in any relationship.  In my view I believe there are more adjustments for the foreign female spouse married to a Saudi man rather than the foreign male who has a Saudi female as his wife.


If the foreign female spouse and Saudi husband choose to have their life in the Kingdom chances are she has decided to follow him to a country where she has no blood relatives of her own living or working.  As a result she will rely more on her husband than when living outside of Saudi Arabia.  She was probably able to drive beforehand, have more independence, a network of supporting friends and family and the ability to understand the language and the culture.  On moving to the Kingdom she may find herself feeling isolated, alone and perhaps in some circles viewed as someone “who stole a good Saudi man from a Saudi woman deserving of a husband.”  The Saudi husband needs to be not only aware that these issues can drastically impact on the wife’s state of mind and ability to adjust but he must also be proactive in supporting her and meeting her needs.


Due to the segregation in the Kingdom the husband and wife may not spend the same amount or quality of time together as couples who marry and live in the West.  The traditional Saudi wife will continue to spend a significant amount of time with her family and the traditional Saudi husband will continue to spend a lot of time with his family.  The traditional Saudi wife may not ask as much of her Saudi husband as she will continue to interact and have many activities with her own extended family.  Therefore a Saudi husband may not be prepared or fully aware of how much a foreign wife will rely upon him until they are in the Kingdom and the impact of the loss of independence and freedom starts to set in.  Hopefully, ideally, the husband will be compassionate, understanding and support his foreign wife.


It is also typical for a Saudi man who may have appeared very open and Westernized while living outside the Kingdom will revert back to a more traditional conservative Saudi on his return.  Family pride, honor and face-saving is important and he is unlikely to take any actions that may be viewed as questionable on him and by default, his extended family as well.  This may include insisting that his foreign wife wear a traditional hijjab or niqab even if she did not do so prior to the marriage.  While he may have worn blue jeans and other typical western dress while outside of the Kingdom he will revert to primarily wearing the traditional Saudi thobe.


The foreign male who has married a Saudi national will have his own set of challenges as well.  While approval for foreign marriages to Saudi nationals is never an easy process, from what I have learned, I believe it is even more difficult for the Saudi woman who has chosen a foreign spouse and especially if the man is from a Western country.  The foreign husband probably has more challenges to overcome in a sense of gaining approval and acceptance from the Saudi family than does the foreign woman who marries a Saudi male.


Speaking in general, the Saudi woman who has chosen to marry a non-Saudi male (and particularly from a Western country) is likely more open and from an open family.  Chances are if her husband is not a Saudi national it was unlikely that the marriage was arranged by families as is the tradition in the Kingdom.  She likely met her foreign husband while outside of the Kingdom or through mutual friends within the Kingdom.  But again, for the Saudi woman and foreign male to get to know one another well enough to lead to marriage indicates a large degree of open-mindedness as compared to traditional Saudi culture and customs.


The divorce rate in the Kingdom continues to escalate each year.  The reasons for divorce are varied.  Mixed marriages likely fall into the higher percentage of divorce rates.  I believe this can be attributed with a couple in a mixed marriage with a Saudi do not necessarily have their eyes fully open on the realities of the life, culture, customs and traditions of Saudi Arabia.  Most of us naturally will lead and follow the heart which can in turn lead to intense heartache and heartbreak later when the realities start to surface.  I’m not by any means discouraging a mixed marriage with a Saudi but advising anyone who is involved with a Saudi to ensure there is open clear communications as well as doing the necessary research and homework.  Don’t try and delude yourself in “I’ll change this later or I’ll change that after we are married.”  Chances are, after the marriage, there could very well be even more issues come up which one will have to question and work through.

  So in closing this post I won’t say that a mixed marriage between a Saudi national and a foreigner is necessarily unique but there are unique factors which need to be taken into consideration and addressed to having a successful relationship particularly if the couple choose to make their life in the Kingdom.  When one finds their life partner and you know that you are compatible, have similar values, goals and objectives in life, the ability to communicate, have fun together, enjoy each others company and can easily envision being with this partner in the good times and bad times and taking care of one another if ill, then it truly does not matter where one is from as the foundation for a successful and long-lasting relationship exists.


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