"Marriage is like a besieged fortress: those who are outside want to come in, and those already in want to be out.."-- Arab Proverb
"The secret to my happy marriage is...."
Over the past month, I collected about five broad points --that I dubbed as "rules" -- that were most often repeated by married couples in the UAE I perceive as "being happy" or content anyways. It is all subjective in the end, for no one really knows what happens in the privacy of someone's home.
However they all started off by first saying, there is "no fixed or one formula" for a happy marriage. There are tips and advices that sometimes work and sometimes don't work. It is a bit of luck, 'Qadar' or fate, and the right timing and place. We all know by now there are simply no guarantees in life of any kind.
So here are the five rules as they were told to me and my take on them.
1. *Respect* this is an obvious one, there should be mutual respect between the partners.
This might seem an obvious one; there should be mutual respect between partners for a relationship to survive. But I often notice how some ignore this central tenant.
Example: sitting with a couple ordering dinner, I saw the husband snap and dismiss the wife in public who was taking "too long" to make a decision over her meal. At another example, I saw the wife yell at her husband and call him "stupid" in front of his friends. It is the little things that compile and lead to bitterness.
2. *Compromise* There has to be some by both partners. It can't be one-sided, for that won't last and gets stored as grudges. One day it will just explode and then you see the other partner getting all surprised or even shocked at some of the accusations that probably never crossed his or her mind.
In my interviews couples told me they felt marriage must be entered "out of love", not driven by more materialistic reasoning. When you marry for money or status, you end up accepting a lot of uncomfortable situations as the foundation is weak.
"You have to pick your battles and decide what is worth fighting for," said a good friend whose husband has become her best friend over the years.
3. *Understanding* and being overall less judgmental. I can't tell you how often I see partners ticking off "an invisible list" in their minds of what they think a "perfect" partner should be doing. True, everyone has an idea of what they want and hope for in a partner. But expecting perfection all the time is a recipe for trouble.
"Before marriage, she was the perfect partner for me. But after marriage, it is like she changed and was acting the whole time during engagement," one friend of mine complained of his wife, not realising, she had the same exact compliant.
They both were probably only showing their best side or the side they felt the other partner was expecting or wanting in a partner. It is fine as long as it gets sorted and people become more realistic and accepting of others flaws and needs.
4. *Positive outlook* can really help in "keeping" a marriage happy. If couples are only pessimistic and negative about the obstacles life throws them, gloom will envelope them.
One couple I spoke with had nurtured just the right attitude to stay happy. When a couple fell on hard times, they both joked how "well, now we have to live in a small hut, but then we are forced to hug each other more often to keep warm."
That brings me to the last point: *Sense of humor.*
So many studies done on this, from how the males like a partner to "laugh" at their joke and make them feel special, to how women like men who make them laugh and forget their problems. It can be viewed as egocentric, where it is about being in the spotlight and liked, and it can be viewed as a social characteristic where generally funny people are more liked than the very serious ones.
There are many studies showing that men like a partner to "laugh" at their jokes and make them feel special. Women, meanwhile, like men who make them laugh and forget their problems.
Whatever the case, all the couples said it is good to have laughter in their relationship, particularly when the jokes are about the relationship. An argument can be diverted by poking fun at it. This is a way to bring out a problem, but in a gentle or light way.
Are these all obvious points? Yes they are, but you would be surprised how neglected obvious points can be in marriages.
In the end, what works and why, can't be defined in broad strokes. But I just wish more people, when they look for partners or are in marriages of same or mixed nationalities, would remember the wise words from the last sermon spoken by the Prophet Mohammed.
He said: "All mankind is descended from Adam and Eve, an Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab; a white person is not better than a black person, nor is a black person better than a white person except by piety and good actions. Learn that every Muslim is the brother of every other Muslim and that Muslims form one brotherhood."
And maybe that's the most important "rule" there is.
Rym Tina Ghazal is a senior feature writer and columnist for the National Newspaper. She is working on her second book, Single in the City.