From dating apps to reality TV to social media to the real world, there are plenty of ways to find love.
However it’s in maintaining those connections that things usually fall apart. Since experience is the best teacher, we reached out to long-established couples in the UAE for their best relationship advice — a task that proved quite difficult. Couples like this are guarded; they protect the sanctity of their relationships by maintaining privacy. Many were flattered to be asked for comment but ultimately declined the “limelight”. Those that did respond, unanimously point to mutual respect as the secret to a solid relationship.
Legacy of love
MM and Thankamma Mathew, who just celebrated their 60th anniversary, are the product of an arranged marriage in Mumbai. “If you stick to secrets and formulas it is bound to fail,” says MM. “Just adjust to the emerging situation.” The pair, who has raised four daughters, even made it through getting sick with Covid. As Rhea Mathew, one of their eight grandchildren, sees it: “They’ve been each other’s support through thick and thin”.
Setting an example
The Mathews have passed on their winning recipe. Daughter Elizabeth has been married to her husband Mathew Thomas for 30 years. As for their secret, the couple cite a practice of family prayer as well as open, respectful communication: “It’s important to talk about what’s on your mind, and if something is bothering you or needs to be fixed. Conquering it together is always better than tackling the problem area alone. The secret to a long-lasting marriage is respect for your partner, in terms of treating them with respect and talking to them with respect. Always think about the tone of what you say, so that you are considerate of the other person. Put them at the center of your decisions.”
Marriage promises a lifetime of togetherness that can sometimes be eclipsed and Fawzia Ahmed Ali knows that all too well. She recalls life with her husband, Mohammed Eid Babekir, whom she met as a young girl in their hometown of Khartoum, Sudan.
“We got closer when he volunteered to tutor me in maths after school. I was 12 at the time and he was a few years older. We fell in love and I eventually got better at the subject but purposely played dumb so that he could tutor me for longer. My parents were strict and I wasn’t allowed to date. He carried on tutoring me for five years until we were both old enough to declare the love we had for each other. That’s when we got married. We went to Ajman for our honeymoon. Back then Ajman Beach Hotel had the spotlight and we never left the UAE. We settled in Abu Dhabi where we raised four beautiful children.”
Sadly, after 34 years of marriage, Mohammed passed away in 2014.
“Losing my husband was the most painful feeling I’ve ever encountered,” Fawzia says. “I lost him to Mantel Cell Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. He was a warrior, battled it for 20 years. In those 20 years, not once did he ever fail to be there for us. He spoiled us silly, even though he was suffering. I could search the whole world and would never find another man like him, so I don’t wish to marry again because I feel complete. Having my children beside me, which are part of him, is all I need.”
Live in peace
When one of Fawzia’s daughters recently married, she had one wish for her.
“I want her to live in peace, the kind you feel when you’re on holiday on a tropical island with a light breeze and the sound of the ocean,” she says. Her advice for the couple?
“Respect each other. Accept each other with all the flaws and love each other with no hidden agenda.”