Tradition and stability is at the heart of marriage

Marriage is not just about love, couples tell Ayesha Al Khoori.

Pep Montserrat for The National
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Why do we get married? For love, of course, but in this part of the world the union between a man and woman is also a way of ensuring stability and following tradition.

And the family plays a big role in this most important decision, from choosing a spouse to the wedding preparations, and beyond, even in the marriage itself.

Some accept these traditions and are happy with them. Others decide they want to choose for themselves who they want to spend the rest of their lives with. Marriage between Emiratis fell by 7 per cent last year, with a slight rise of 1 per cent in Emiratis marrying expatriates. The Dubai Statistics Centre also recorded a 26 per cent increase in divorces, to 1,100 in 2012.

Behind those statistics are human stories, some happy, others painful.

Dr Roghy McCarthy, a clinical psychologist with the Counselling & Development Clinic in Dubai, said miscommunication is the cause of many failed marriages.

The sharing of thoughts and feelings is the most important, she said. "Ninety per cent our clients come to our clinic having a communication problem. We discuss and try to resolve the problem. Our evaluation is to help the couple understand why they are fighting instead of talking."

Some couples fear rejection, making them defensive, while others are shy and find it hard to express their thoughts. Some may try to control the relationship. All result in a lack of communication.

Couples must have a solid foundation in their relationship, and they must accept that arguments are healthy in a relationship - and they can be solved, Dr McCarthy said.

"The argument is part of the relationship. Couples need to spend time together to talk and listen to each other," she said.

As these following stories show, marriage is never simply a matter of finding true love - and that communication is the key to a solid relationship.

Family's choice

Sara met her husband for the first time at 9pm on their wedding day last June. That was the moment she realised her life would never be the same. At first Sara found it hard to adapt to her new life, but she got used to it quickly.

"I was engaged for four years, as we both completed our studies in university," Sara explained. "I was excited at first, but then again I didn't think about it very much. As the wedding got closer, and I had to get ready that was when I started getting nervous."

"Yes I was scared, but that was normal and we were still familiarising with each other. The fear didn't last long as we quickly got to know each other. Allah made it easier on me."

Her family had tried to explain to her what married life would be like, and how different it was from what she had been used to.

"It made me think: will I be able to handle this new life?" she recalled. "But I trusted my parents' choice."

To Sara, her husband's family was the reason she chose to be married to him. They were also the reason she found it hard to adjust to the new environment.

"He turned out to be just as I had expected, because I heard from family members that he had certain characteristics. I know his mother personally, and his whole family is nice. This made it easier for me to agree to marry him," she said.

Of the challenges that Sara faced as a bride, the hardest was knowing how to deal with her new husband. At first, she did not realise how hard it would be to talk to him. There always seemed to be a miscommunication, and Sara felt she had to be very patient with him. Her husband was more responsive now, she said, "Marriage in itself is a challenge, I am very patient now, and I let things go because they are not worth the arguments."

The biggest transition in Sara's life, though, was moving from her small, quiet family to his large one. She couldn't deal with the numerous gatherings, the people she had to meet and that, to them, it was just part of the daily routine.

"It was hard for me to adapt to his family. I was used to being alone, and I didn't mind it. Their family is huge and they have several gatherings throughout the day" she said. "At first I couldn't deal with it. Now I am loving this change and want to implement it in my parents' house."

She also missed her family, and her first Eid at her in-laws was harder than she expected. "I called my father and cried. He thought something was wrong, but I just missed them so much," she said.

Sara had her own hopes and dreams, which she shared with her husband - who in return argued against her ambitions.

"I expected to find a job as soon as I graduated from university, but I am now pregnant. He wants me to deliver our baby first and raise it, then start thinking about a job," she said. "His point was that I could get a job later, after our baby.

"After numerous arguments and discussions I was convinced he was right, being pregnant and having a new job would be hard."

Another challenge Sara had was the lack of knowledge about the physical side of their marriage, which she says her family failed to prepare her for.

It left her feeling "insecure, nervous and uncomfortable", she said. "These are issues that parents must talk about."

Even after she found intimacy with her husband difficult, she said her mother failed to provide her with any information. She spent days crying, unable to deal with the humiliation and pain. In the end, it was a friend who helped her.

But even though she met her husband only on her wedding day, Sara said her idea of marriage is based on mutual understanding and respect.

"A lot of married people end up divorced, it doesn't matter if the marriage is traditional or not, my husband is great, and he respects me. That is what is important."

Home dispute

Mansour was less fortunate, divorcing after a marriage of barely six months that fell apart over a misunderstanding. He had known his wife through his family, and after a short engagement they were married. Two months later, the couple started having problems over where they were living.

"She wanted her own villa, even though I spent more than half a million dirhams fixing the section in my family's villa for her. I would understand if the house was small or crowded, but she only wanted it because a friend of hers got one," he recalled. "The problems started when she asked for the villa and I refused. She gave me an ultimatum: either I give her a house or she will leave. And she did."

At first, his parents asked him to move out to please her, but he refused. Instead she moved to her parents' house, with Mansour and his family trying to persuade her to return for a month.

"She asked for divorce and I did all I could to prevent it, but she was stubborn and didn't want to compromise," he added. "My parents, and hers, tried just as I had, but when they saw she wasn't coming back they accepted the divorce."

In a future marriage, Mansour said he would look for a woman who will be more mature and who will treat him and his family properly. "My priorities are towards my parents and family, and if she was a proper lady she would have accepted that," he said. "My parents didn't raise me so I would neglect them later.

"We treated her like a queen, my family and I gave her all she wanted, and she still wasn't satisfied," Mansour added. "I regret marrying her before knowing how she was. I didn't expect her to be so materialistic."

Love match

Ameera married her husband out of love, but soon found she needed more to make her marriage work. They first met six years ago on an internet site. As the relationship developed, they fell in love.

"He introduced me to his older sister who in return got to know me and my family better. After that he approached my family to ask for my hand in marriage but my father took three months to approve," she said.

Part of her father's disapproval was because her future husband had a disability in one leg, but a bigger reason was that the young man was Shiite.

"It took a lot of talking, and I wrote a long letter to my father just to get him convinced," Ameera said. "I was trying to convince my family without trying to show them that I had known him for some time," she added. "In the letter, I added details about what marriage should be like and that convinced him a bit."

Even though Ameera in the end chose her husband, there were still challenges, especially the transition from her family's lifestyle to his.

"I had to move to Abu Dhabi, and my family was in Dubai. I didn't know anyone here and spent about a year and a half searching for a job," she said. "I was miserable at first and it took me years to adapt to his family and their lifestyle."

The difference in their backgrounds was a source of many conflicts. "Although living with his family was convenient, with less of a responsibility, it was difficult for me. I needed them to feel like I was an addition to their family," she said. "My husband and I decided it was a temporary situation to live in his family's house for two years. After we moved into our own villa, though, we felt more independent. We now talk more, and give ourselves a chance to understand each other's point of view, unlike when we were living his family."

Ameera now understands what keeps a marriage going. "The only thing that can save a marriage and truly make it successful is communication and compromise."