"Till death do us part." You'd be hard pushed to find a bride or groom on their wedding day who didn't intend to stick to this vow. But ask anyone filing for divorce and they will assure you that sticking together until death simply isn't an option anymore. So, what can couples do to prevent their relationship spiralling from forever to never?
It's a question that is becoming increasingly important in the UAE. While divorce used to be largely confined to the West, the number of divorces in Dubai among Emirati and expat marriages has risen by almost 25 per cent in the past three years and figures released by the United Nations show that the UAE has one of the highest rates of divorce in the Muslim world, at 46 per cent.
"I've been in the UAE for 15 years and when I first came here, marriages were very different from those in the West. Over time these differences have diminished," says Maria Chatila, a family relationship coach in Dubai (www.bpacoach.com). "In recent months, I've noticed a rising trend in couples with problematic relationships, coming to the UAE in the hope that life will be easier here and give them a chance to reconnect as a couple. But then husbands have to travel a lot and wives are left at home for long periods of time and spouses start to feel disconnected."
If you want don't want to become a divorce statistic, here are eight practical steps to keeping your marriage on track.
1. Spare 15 minutes a day
"Children, life commitments, emotions and past hurts can break down communication," says Cynthia Grguric, a counselling psychologist at Lifeworks, Dubai (www.counsellingdubai.com). "Keep communicating even when you are tempted to pull away. Make time for focused attention even if it is only 15 minutes a day. Be creative, have lunch over the phone together, or go on virtual internet outings."
2. Write a journal
Sit down every evening and write a journal about what you have brought to your relationship that day. "Ask yourself: What did I offer my marriage today? What could I do differently tomorrow?" suggests Chatila. "This will create a change in attitude; instead of thinking about what your spouse can do for you, it will shift your focus towards what you can do for your relationship."
3. Create memories
"Life is a bit crazy," admits Emma McBride, a wife, mother and teacher in Abu Dhabi. "My husband and I both have full time jobs, there's the kids to look after, packed lunches to make, after-school activities to get to and exercise to do. Every now and then I think, when all of this stuff isn't around, will we have enough to keep us laughing and talking? Sometimes I work on making happy memories. We'll go away for the weekend, explore all the exciting things there are to do in the UAE, or just simply go out for dinner, so that someday, when the kids grow up and our jobs are less demanding and we have more time together ... we'll actually have something to talk and laugh about."
4. Use 'I' statements, not 'you'
"Couples frequently communicate in attacking language, making the other person feel defensive and breaking down communication," says Grguric. "Take responsibility for your feelings and stick to: 'I feel ... when ... happens'."
5. Accept that some things get lost in translation
Multicultural marriages can increase stress. "If one person is a native English speaker and the other is not, the native speaker may sometimes find the tone and intonation of their partner misleading," says Chatila. "I often see this in couples' sessions and then we stop and say: 'When you said this, what did you mean?' Sometimes spouses might sound like they're upset when they're not and it is simply a translation issue."
6. Remember, love is a choice
"Westerners often rate marriage according to their levels of happiness, but it's dangerous to make decisions based entirely on our emotions," says Grguric. "In successful marriages, couples realise their commitment is about a choice to love each day. Similarly, our children do not always provoke loving thoughts but we consistently choose to love them even when their behaviour angers us."
7. Send a 'repair bid'
Many arguments happen over text messages where it's easy for miscommunication to occur. "At times like these, one person in the relationship needs to send a 'repair bid' to fix the damage that was done," advises Chatila. "This doesn't mean they're accepting blame, but by simply sending a text message saying: 'I know we've had a challenging day but I'm looking forward to having dinner with you tonight,' you will help to improve relations."
8. Actively appreciate
Before you go to sleep, sit face to face with your spouse and acknowledge something about them that you like. "It could be: 'I appreciate that you took the children to school today' or 'I appreciate that you had a 45-minute drive home in bad traffic and I didn't have to do that'," suggests Chatila. "This will create intimacy, prevent you from going to bed angry, and help you start the following day in a good place."
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