Sabeen and Alaa are a couple in their late 20’s from Syria, and they have a three-year old daughter named Mais. For many years, Alaa worked as an office manager at a local hospital. However, when the increasing conflict led to deaths of many neighbors, the couple fled together to Jordan. In the refugee camp, the family lived alongside many other families in very cramped quarters. Alaa tried to get food and water for the family daily, but resources were limited and he often came home feeling both inadequate and frustrated. One night when he was especially hungry, Mais began acting defiant. Alaa turned to Sabeen and angrily asked why she couldn’t manage their daughter anymore, slapping her across the face. Sabeen was shocked – this had never happened before. Alaa looked sad, and they both got quiet for a minute. They each wished they could go somewhere to just think and be alone, but there was nowhere in the camp to go. They already knew their neighbors must have heard the fight.
As pressures in the camp mounted and resources became scarcer, Alaa more frequently hit Sabeen. They both talked about how they looked forward to when they could be relocated, when life would be calmer, and their relationship would be better. When they were given refugee status and arrived in the United States, things were better – for a while. But after a few months, Sabeen had found work cleaning homes, but there was less work available for men. With nothing to do and few people to talk to, Alaa began to drink. As he became more and more aggressive, Sabeen became more and more depressed, not knowing how to respond. She once tried to call for help from a neighbor, but the neighbor either did not understand her English or did not respond. She decided it was better to try to manage the home well in order to try to avoid any outbursts, but her energy sagged lower and lower. In their small one-bedroom apartment, Mais would always manage to hide under blankets when her dad started yelling.
One day, Sabeen decided to talk to a fellow refugee about their family situation. It felt good to talk about it, and the friend said Sabeen could always come over to their apartment if she needed to get away for an evening. Sabeen started leaving the house with Mais right after an outburst started, before things could escalate too far. Around this time, Alaa found a job. He started to become less violent, and the outbursts grew less and less frequent.
Context for case study taken from Leigh, 2014