You’d be hard-pressed to find a couple who’ve walked down the aisle thinking “this won’t last forever”. Yet despite the good intentions, there are a fair few of us who won’t cross the finish line. Official figures revealed that Dubai had an average of around three divorces a day in 2012, with 1,129 in total being registered in that year alone*. Elsewhere the findings are also dismal with figures published in 2012 estimating that 42 per cent of UK marriages will end in divorce**. So what’s the secret to not ending up on the D-list? Read on to find out...
MAKE TIME TO TALK
This seems obvious, but according to a UK study carried out by insurance company Ensure, excluding time asleep, the average couple now spends just three hours and 45 minutes together during the week, of which 51 minutes is spent in front of the TV and 37 minutes taking care of chores. More than 27 per cent said they didn’t have a chance to have a proper chat until the weekend. “In our normal daily conversations and when things are good in a relationship, it can be quite easy to overlook minor issues in communication,” says Dr Lavina Ahuja a psychologist and consultant at LifeWorks Dubai (www.counsellingdubai.com). “Communication only becomes an issue when things are difficult.” If you are both committed to keeping your relationship intact Dr Ahuja recommends ‘reflexive listening’. “This is a wonderful exercise that can help highlight the assumptions we tend to make when listening to our partner. It is a simple exercise where you listen to your partner talk for two to five minutes and you paraphrase and repeat back what you thought they said. Your partner then has the opportunity to see if they are being heard and understood.”
PLAN FOR PARENTHOOD
It’s a natural step for most couples to take, but while children bring plenty of joy, they also bring added challenges – sleepless nights, dwindling libido and a muted social life – which can cause stress fractures within your relationship. According to a study carried out by relationship charity OnePlusOne, nearly a quarter of the 1,400 people surveyed went on to split from the partner with whom they had their first child. “A lot of people go into parenthood without discussing expectations,” says relationship coach Maria V Chatila, from BPA Coach (www.bpacoach.com). “Having these conversations helps the couple to establish how they want to be in the partnership during the next phase.”
Whether it’s discussing how you divvy up responsibilities, or how to deal with the arrival of a little cherub, Maria stresses the importance of open dialogue.
And after the arrival? “Life will throw curve balls at you but how you handle them is going to determine how your relationship will thrive. First, reflect on your behaviour. Are you giving your partner the space to share parenthood or are you expecting him to do everything your way? Women are guilty of this a lot. We expect our man to help out but when he does, we criticise his approach. Next, have a conversation with your spouse about your individual roles in parenthood and how you feel about the part you’re playing.”
AVOID FINANCIAL FIGHTS
As the saying goes, money can’t buy you happiness, but conversely, fights about how you spend it can send your marriage into meltdown. Research conducted at Kansas State University has revealed that rows about money are the biggest single predictor of divorce, because financial fights are more intense and generally take longer to get over than any other argument. “Money is a very hot topic,” says Maria. “Issues can be avoided if there is clarity in the relationship. Couples should sit down and talk honestly about their financial hopes and worries.”
And on a practical level it’s also worth meeting a financial adviser to discuss savings options for your future. “The earning potential and level of income for a couple will never be greater than whilst living in the UAE,” says Neil Stewart, senior financial planner at Acuma (www.acuma.ae). “Combine this with the eradication of income tax and a couple will never have a better chance of saving for their future. However, paying off any debt, ensuring you have a sufficient emergency fund in the bank, setting up a Sharia-compliant will and making sure your medical cover is as comprehensive as it needs to be, are all absolutely essential first steps for couples (and a big strain off your marriage).
“Next, compile a breakdown of your monthly outgoings to see exactly how much disposable income you have left over.” Once this is done you’re in a position to decide on a savings strategy. However, Neil stresses the importance of choosing your adviser wisely. “Many financial advisory companies in the UAE are lacking the regulatory licences and qualified staff. Ask advisers how long they’ve been doing the job and what their qualifications are.” After all, there’s nothing that places more strain on a marriage than playing the ‘blame game’ when things don’t work out the way they were supposed to.
SIZZLE, DON'T FIZZLE
While there is definitely an argument that physical intimacy shouldn’t take precedence over emotional, spiritual or family intimacy, the fact still remains that sexual problems or lack of sexuality has a knock-on effect in marriage. “All the evidence points to the fact that an active sex life keeps couples together,” says Dr Geoff Hackett, a leading expert in sexual medicine and former chairman of the British Society for Sexual Medicine. “It promotes intimacy, reassurance, the realisation that both parties are wanted and needed. It’s hard to find researched evidence, but most surveys point to the fact that a lack of sex is a leading factor in break-ups.”
Of course, that’s all very well, but it’s not always easy to maintain the spark. Can we really sustain the sex life we had as newly-weds? “We have this idea that we’ll marry the person we love deeply and the sex will always be hot,” says Nicole Daedone, author of Slow Sex: The Art and Craft of the Female Orgasm (www.amazon.com, Dh47). “But people’s sex lives change over the course of their lives and sexual connection with your partner needs to be tended to and cultivated in the same way you would other arenas of your life.”
Daedone recommends being open and honest about your sexual needs. “Start telling the truth more. There’s a saying that the truth hurts, but I don’t believe this. The truth creates sensation, and from that place deeper intimacy and passion arise because by hearing the truth from your partner about what they want, you gain deeper access to the whole of who they are.”
*Dubai courts annual report 2012. **UK Office of National statistics