25 September 2017Last updated

Features | People

Secrets to a happy marriage

A good sense of humour, the ability to tolerate one another, plenty of date nights and promising never to sleep on an argument, discovers Roxanne Kavarana Vakharia

Roxanne Kavarana Vakharia
5 Feb 2016 | 12:00 am
  • Source:Anas Thacharpadikkal/ANM

Married for one year

‘We don’t stay angry for long’

Graphic designer Wilbert, 37, and beautician Leah Abaigar, 35, live in Satwa in Dubai

We first met at a friend’s house in Dubai two years ago, and even though he was with a bunch of people, I noticed him – but we hardly spoke. We bumped into each other a lot after that as we lived in the same villa compound in Satwa and became friends first. Slowly, the attraction grew and then last February, he popped the question at dinner.

I was taken by surprise because we hadn’t been together that long. I cried when he put a gold engagement ring on my finger, because I didn’t expect it so soon. A month later, on March 12, we married in a simple ceremony at the Philippines Consulate in Dubai. We didn’t have enough savings to go off on a honeymoon, but we are planning one now.

We live with Wilbert’s brother’s family and work very long hours. So even though we’re still in the honeymoon phase, we argue – mostly about housework or if I criticise him for playing games on his mobile. We don’t stay angry for long though. Wilbert stays quiet now to avoid a row.

We don’t have much time by ourselves, but we speak as often as we can on the phone during the day. We usually only get one day in a week because we have different days off, so we try to make the most of every moment.

I saved up to buy him a gold chain last Christmas, which he proudly wears. He didn’t get me anything but that’s OK. Maybe, he’ll stun me with a fully furnished house in the Philippines one day. That would be a big surprise for me. It’s our dream that one day we’ll have our own house and business back home. We want a family too.

Right now we’ve only just started out together. There are no roses, chocolates and candlelit dinners; no long drives or romantic getaways. But the important thing is we love each other and we are glad to be together.

Wilbert says: I admit I spend some time playing video games, but I love helping her in the kitchen. Some day I hope to make her big dream come true.


Married for eight years

‘We share a fantastic chemistry’

Martin Peel, 43, aircraft engineer with Emirates Airline in Dubai, and Narissara Peel Sumcharoen, 35, training to be a hatha yoga instructor. They live in Al Safa, Dubai

When I was younger, I was backpacking through Asia and wondered then if I would marry an Asian. Some time later, I was at a party on the island of Ko Samet, two hours from Bangkok, on holiday from my airline maintenance work in Singapore, and saw Narissara – and it was love at first sight. She worked at the New Zealand embassy in the Thai capital and was on a weekend away.

It was April Fool’s Day, 2005. I was 33, single and although I’d had a few girlfriends, the chemistry I experienced with Narissara was truly different. After chatting with her, 
I was certain she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

She returned to work in Bangkok and I stayed back for a few days. She lied to me, saying she was sharing her apartment with her brother. I’d wait for her and take her to dinner after work. Over the next two years, she would visit me in Singapore.

One day, I took her to a French restaurant in Singapore. It was beautiful – we were on a private beach overlooking Marina Bay, there were beautiful roses everywhere and we had a candlelight dinner. I’d ordered a diamond from the US and designed a ring myself. I told Narissara to dress up because we were going dancing so she had no idea. When I went down on one knee and proposed, she cried and said yes! It was very special.

We married in Dubai on November 16, 2007. Now, over eight years down the line, we have a six-year-old daughter Natthika and 22-month-old son Jackrin, and we’re even more in love. We try to do things together, just the two of us, once a week. We pretend we are on a date. We go to the gym, do yoga, dine out, watch a movie, catch a band at a club or go dancing.

We are so good together because we come from completely different cultures. There are no common connections, friends, friends of friends, or family. But we are both happy-go-lucky, fun-loving, and enjoy good food, music and dancing.

As a team we split our work. Life is all about delegation. Everybody’s got strong and weak points. I read to my daughter Natthika every night I’m home. I also help her with maths, whereas Narissara gives her a hand with her artwork. I walk the dog when I’m free; she takes over when I’m at work. I bake bread and make coffee, while she cooks Thai food. The kids have to see us as one unit. If they see a divide, they’ll feed on it. If we differ, we keep our mouths shut in front of them.

In the future we want to settle in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where we would like to open a restaurant or a coffee shop. Narissara says: I really, really liked him a lot that first evening. It was the comfort factor that did the trick. I could – and still can – say anything to him.

His culture teaches everybody, even kids, to be independent and argue. My Buddhist faith says to keep the peace and walk away, forget and move on. So, I try not to argue.


Married for 28 years

‘Being romantic is crucial for a lasting relationship’

Harish, 51, and Rania Nihalani, 46, are joint CEOs of Victory Venture, a business start-up services and real estate company 
in Dubai. They live in Oud Metha

Our romance is like something from a Bollywood movie and we have been living our happy ending for the past 28 years.

We met when I went to visit my aunt in Devlali, a popular hill station, about 250km from my home in Mumbai. Harish was her neighbour. He was 17 and I was just 13, but we fell in love. Neither of us told anyone as 
it wouldn’t have been allowed. It was our secret. Love blossomed and when Harish was 22 and left for Dubai to join his family business, and we were forced to rely on letters and phone calls. Our families still didn’t know, and being traditionalists, they would have frowned upon it.

One day, my father found a love letter from Harish and I was severely reprimanded, grounded and banned from speaking to him. My dad said I was too young and should concentrate on my studies. I didn’t listen and secretly spoke to Harish, running up a Dh5,000 phone bill – a huge amount at the time. His uncle demanded to know who he was calling and once he understood, he contacted my father to help us be together.

A few months later we married. I was just 17, when I moved here to be with Harish. Now, 28 years later, our bond is even stronger. We have two daughters Heena, 27, and Neha, 17, and are also grandparents to Heena’s two daughters.

We may be parents, but we are also husband and wife and I feel a couple should remember that they need to have a life of their own. Many couples forget that and hardly spend time with each other.

Of course we argue – all couples do – but we never go to bed without solving our problems, however late it is.

I’m lucky. My husband is the most romantic guy in the world. He says I love you every day and makes me laugh. I think being romantic and having a great sense of humour are crucial in order to have a long-lasting relationship.

Harish says: I believe that love grows as you get to know the other person more deeply. If I didn’t know where she is for even one day, I’d get really upset and worried. I wouldn’t know what to do.

One of the things we used to do regularly – and still do – to ensure that our marriage doesn’t fall into a rut and end up being boring is to take regular vacations without the kids. I think this is very important to strengthen the bond of love and marriage.


Married for 50 years

‘We are very tolerant’

Jahangir Aga, 76, a retired Navy officer and a restaurateur, and homemaker Najoo Aga, 79, live in Mumbai, India

I met my husband because I took the bus to a dinner party and got talking to an elderly woman who, at the end of the journey, said: ‘I think you are perfect for my son Jahangir. He works for the Indian Navy.’

I didn’t think anything more about it, but then my mother said the woman had called with a proposal. I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to marry a guy in the armed forces.

A couple of weeks later, I had to go to a travel agency that was next to Jahangir’s mother’s café and so I called in to say hello. By then, I was feeling guilty for refusing to meet her son – and I finally agreed. I was glad I did. It was the uniform that perhaps did the trick! That white naval outfit is very impressive.

Less than six months later, we married on December 7, 1965. He was 26, I was 29. We celebrated our golden wedding anniversary last year and we’re still happy together because we are so different. I am feisty, he is chilled. I like to go out and he prefers the company of James Michener, Arthur Hailey and Jeffrey Archer.

He still holds my hand when we go out. It makes us feel young again.

Jahangir says: The secret of our long married life? Not arguing with my wife and a sense of toleration, which I know I have. We may argue in the day, sleep on it, but we forget it the next morning. We will fight but we still can’t live without each other. 
We have got to be friends, there’s just no other alternative.


Dr Tara Wyne, clinical Psychologist & Clinical Director, The Lighthouse Arabia

They say love is blind. I would agree, but perhaps only for the first two years.

The love we feel to begin with is hormonal and unconditional, and makes us blind to our partners’ faults. Our need for emotional and physical intimacy is urgent. We delight in pleasing our partner and being liked in return. We basically can’t get enough of them.

Gradually, love begins to evolve into a more grounded thing. We base our regard more on what our partner did and said, we begin to measure how good we’re together and this can often be a time where couples derail.

As the years pass, it’s less about common interests and more about common beliefs. Responsibilities mount and the fun can fade. It’s during this phase that love has to dig deep. We have to work at counting the blessings our partner brings. We have to learn how to be partners. This is really where the old adage that ‘marriage takes work’ is born.

We have to leave behind our individualistic perspective on life and happiness, we have to sacrifice the ‘me’ in order to strengthen the ‘us’. This doesn’t come easily, but one of the motivations is that our sense of isolation is diminished – that someone shares our existence in a tender, appreciative way.

As marriage and love mature, it becomes about friendship and companionship, where comfort defines the success of the relationship. Mature love is deeply challenged by the evolution and often divergent paths of two people. We have to work extremely hard to make sure we remain like the constantly parallel lines of the railway.

We may find that our values and priorities change and we have to almost recommit to the long haul. While the instant magic may have faded, a wise, secure, and compassionate love replaces it.

We may reach a love where our partner delights in us not because of what we do to please them, but just because of who we are. There is ultimate sweetness in sharing your life with someone who has learnt how to love you well, where there is acceptance.

Roxanne Kavarana Vakharia

Roxanne Kavarana Vakharia