Love & Marriage in the UAE

25 Oct 2011

What does the modern-day Mr and Mrs Expat look like and how do they make relationships and relocation work? We meet some of the region's happy couples and discover the secrets of their success...

Laura & Tom

Laura, 30, an art curator and Tom Egerton, 30, an executive sous chef, have been married for just over a year.

 “Tom and I met when I was working for a catering company in the UK and travelled to Greece to work for the Olympics. Right from the start we were mad about one another. For the first year and a half I was living in Venice while he was still studying in London – we hardly saw each other but the distance and time spent apart didn't matter. When we moved to Dubai together it was a big leap of faith, but by then we’d been together for two and a half years and I couldn't imagine being with anyone else.

We’d been together for four and a half years when Tom proposed to me. It was during a surprise day out. We ended up in a sea plane over Dubai and just as we passed over Le Royal Meridien beach he asked me to look down. There I saw a row of blue beach towels spelling out 'Laura will you marry me?'! Suddenly Tom was beside me on one knee with a rather special ring in his hand. I cried for ages.

We got married on 28 August 2010 in London and it was a real city wedding; think Red Route Master buses, a service at St Bride's Fleet Street and the reception at Delfina on Bermondsey Street. Having all our favourite people together at once was what I loved most about the day and there was nothing more satisfying than hearing the buzz of conversation as we sat down to our delicious dinner of mackerel and dukkah-crusted lamb.

We married for love, commitment and tradition. Living in Dubai does encourage it, of course, but for me, with divorced parents, I wanted to make sure I was making the right choice. When you get married I think you naturally feel more 'together'. We have plenty of time apart which I think is healthy, but now even more than before we always check with each other over what our plans are. We live together well, sharing domestic chores, for example. I iron better than Tom so he does the loos and I do his shirts and the washing up – I'm happy with that! The most important part for us about being married is getting the balance right between being together, seeing friends and family, and spending time out separately. We also make more of a concerted effort to have quality time as a couple and go out for a special meal once a month. So far, I don’t think there is a ‘worst part’ about being married, although it is a bit annoying how people assume you’re going to have a baby straight away! The best part is knowing that you have a best friend who is there for you whatever happens. It’s me and Tom against the world.”

Top marriage tip: Enjoy the planning for your big day, but remember it is only one day of the rest of your lives together.

Melissa & Iain

Melissa Gilchrist Higgins, 36, is the founder and editor in chief of Frontline Fashion. She married Iain Higgins, 34, the Head of Conduct & Ethics International Cricket Council, on 8 August 2008.

“It was important for me to get married. I’m very traditional at heart and doing so means that Iain and I want to spend our lives together; that we are our own team and can face anything together. I understand that this approach isn’t for everyone and times have changed, but that was important for us.

We’d been together for six years before Iain proposed and as time went on, and we grew more in love, it just seemed like a natural progression. We really protect and offer strength to one another and being together just makes sense. We had the ceremony in Glasgow University Chapel and a full reception took place in nearby Mar Hall, a stately home. I wanted the whole event to have a very timeless feel so that in years to come, nothing will look dated and it will still look as fresh and new as it did on the day.

When it came to the overall feel of the day, I dislike it when everything looks really put together and prefer a few straggly edges, which helps add character and reality. My six bridesmaids were in purple, the room was decorated in elegant white lilies, we ate haggis, neeps and tatties and the six piece guitar band covered hits by Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys and Oasis.

Iain and I are lucky; we share the same fundamentals and morals about life and I know it sounds cheesy, but we are best friends and that’s what makes it easy – we encourage each other to be who we are and definitely have an ‘in it together’ approach. The only part I’ve found difficult to adjust to since getting wed is my new name. As a strong, independent woman who has worked hard to know that she doesn’t need a man to take care of her, being referred to as someone’s wife can be tough at times. Having said that, to know you have somebody who has your best interests at heart and encourages you to succeed each day is awesome. I’ve got Iain with me every step of the way. Marriage is not always easy, but if you’re with the right person it works.”

Top marriage tip: Be aware of one another. You have to grow along the same path or you may grow apart.

Yasmine & Tamer

Yasmine Albanna, 30, the co-owner of the events company, Dot the i’s ( married Tamer Odeh, 33, an account manager for Cisco Systems on 12 November 2010.

“I met Tamer in 2007 at my cousin’s engagement party and we clicked straight away. I am Palestinian-Egyptian and he is Palestinian- Armenian and maybe it was the mixture of nationalities? I don’t know, but whatever it was, I knew he was the one for me. We got married at the Intercontinental Ballroom in Dubai’s Festival City. The view, the weather, the atmosphere, the people – the whole day was a blessing and planned entirely by myself and my sister, Nivine.

I think that men in general are afraid of commitment, but when they find the right person at the right time, they go for it with full force. Tamer and I both had the same views about our wedding day as we both grew up in the same environment in terms of culture and traditions. We both believe that marriage should be forever and it is about love, support and having someone to grow with for the rest of your life.

At first it was hard to live together because we were both used to our own routines; we both wanted to be in our own comfort zones and it took some time for us to get used to the idea of sharing a bed, a toilet, doing everything together and splitting the responsibilities between us. At the start of our marriage we felt disconnected from our usual worlds and we were trying to figure it all out. We’ve both had to sacrifice certain aspects of our lives to please each other, but its all for the best in terms of making this relationship work.

Since we married, we’ve started following a certain traditional routine that we’d always ignored when we were single. Like seeing our families at the weekend, spending quality time with our grandparents, playing with our nieces and nephews, plus fitting in the ever-so-important ‘date nights’ for just the two of us every few weeks or so.

Getting married definitely changed our relationship for the better – our care and respect for one another has increased. And I love Tamer more every day. It’s funny, falling in love after being married has a different taste; it’s not only about hearts and butterflies in your tummy, but also about security, safety, longing and sharing every detail of your life with someone.”

Top Marriage Tip: Love your husband in the way you expect to be loved back.

Louise & Derek

Louise Heatley, 37, is the managing director of Exclusive Links Real Estate Brokers and Derek Grimley, 44 , is a regional manager for Fourquest Energy. They’ve been married for eleven years.

“Derek and I hadn’t talked about getting married. Neither of us had particularly strong feelings about it, even though we were committed and loved one another, so I was surprised to get the proposal. We’d been together for a year when Ian proposed at the Royal Mirage Hotel in Dubai over dinner. We got married on September 23 2000 at Linden Hall in Northumberland, UK. I wore a Victorian-style ivory skirt and a Vneck sleeveless embroidered bodice. Derek, being from Edinburgh, was in his traditional Pride of Scotland kilt and it was by far the best day of my life ever.

Marriage is a constant learning experience and you should never get too complacent and take it for granted. Many people say your relationship gets more difficult once you’re wed as the romantic ‘dating’ period is over, and if you expect the romance to continue you could be in for a fall. If Derek bought me flowers now I would think he had a guilty conscience!

We definitely do not have traditional roles. We’ve decided not to have any children and we are both very business and career minded. While I prefer doing house renovations and am better at the DIY, Derek prefers shopping and buys most the groceries.

Like everyone, we have our ups and downs and bad months and good years. How to make your marriage work depends on the couple. For Derek and I, our success would be our independence. We spend time together, but at other times we do our own thing – we don’t live in one another’s pockets. To know someone is always there for you and has seen you at your worst and it doesn’t change a thing is what marriage is all about.”

Top Marriage Tip: Don’t compare your relationship to anyone else’s. Enjoy what you have and don’t worry about what others are doing.

Sophie & Lucan

Sophie, 30, the founder of TOH Public Relations and Lucan Toh, 31, the CEO at Atlas Corporate Services married three years ago.

“I thought marriage was something that happened to other people, certainly never to me. I thought I’d be in my mid-thirties before anyone got around to asking me, but one night when I was 26, Lucan – my boyfriend of three and a half years – proposed to me totally out of the blue. It was very late at night and I remember that I was wearing an old M&S T-shirt! I said yes at once and as he didn’t have a ring, we went off the next day and bought one. It was all a bit surreal!

Lucan and I wanted to get married because it marked the beginning of our own adventure. We’re not particularly traditional, but I think it was important to both of us to become a team and to formally demonstrate that we’re in it for the long haul. I don’t think either of us expected or wanted marriage to be a safety net, but rather the first step out into the great wide world together.

We got married on 6 September 2008 in a small village in Hampshire, with a reception in the grounds of an elegant house nearby. It was a beautiful soft day in late summer, slightly cloudy but warm. I chose the village because it’s close to where my mother had recently moved to, and the church was where I used to do my carol concerts when I was small. The day was filled with white flowers, Irish voices and laughter. I wore a white dress from Pronovias that was like a cloud of silk, and my hair was scraped back into a high bun. I felt as if I was in another era – it was definitely the best day of my life to date. Since moving to Dubai, we’ve definitely become stronger as a unit, and more understanding of each other as we’ve had other support networks removed. Marriage is not easy though – it has to be worked on. I believe that everything good in life takes time and effort to create – marriages probably take more work than a relationship because you’ve invested more into the framework. We always make sure that we never go to bed angry. The moment you stop working to get back in step with each other is the moment you’ll move apart from each other.”

Top Marriage Tip: Keep communicating the good and the bad. Silence can be so damaging.