Real-Life: Just the Two of Us

What is it that makes some relationship thrive and others dive? We ask three couples about their secrets for success
Thursday , 14 July 2011
Charlotte and Dean
Charlotte and Dean
Jane and Arash
Jane and Arash
Danielle and Jonathan
Danielle and Jonathan

Charlotte and Dean
Charlotte Hollands, 28, is a senior advertising manager from Sussex, UK. She has been with sales manager Dean McEnteggart, 30, for two years. Dean is from London, UK.

The make or break moment for us was right at the beginning of our relationship. We met in January 2009, just after the real estate crash in Dubai and Dean was facing the possibility of having to go back to the UK. He was ready to leave, but told me the only thing keeping him here was me. So we had to decide how serious we were going to be very early on in our relationship. This could’ve put a huge amount of pressure on us, but it actually went the other way. There was no dithering or playing around, we’d made a decision that we wanted to be together and we were going to do everything we could to make it work.

We thrash it out whenever we have arguments. As we both work in sales we’re quite confrontational, so we’ll always shout first, talk later. We’ll usually be so mad at each other for the first 15 minutes that one of us is ready to leave, but then someone will burst out laughing and make the other one realise how silly it all is. We also make sure our arguments never last too long. By the time dinner is ready to be served, we’re always ready to settle down and enjoy eating together rather than to continue shouting.
Dean is the first person I’ve ever met who knows how to handle me. I know I can be very stubborn sometimes and I tend to get stuck on things, but Dean has taken the time to learn what the best way of dealing with that is. I rarely back down when I think I’m right (which is always) so he’ll generally give in first, but he’ll always make me see how unimportant the thing that I’m stuck on is.

He comes first with me, and I do with him. We make sure we know that the other person is the priority no matter what and that’s probably because of where we live. Here in Dubai you’re not surrounded by your oldest and closest friends or family, so you have to make sure you have some kind of anchor and, for me, that’s Dean. If we were in the UK, maybe we wouldn’t have molded so quickly together, but I’m very grateful that we did because we’ve had to put all our trust in each other. Plus, we always make time for one another at least once a week. This can be anything from going to the cinema to a desert safari, just as long as we’re focusing solely on each other. At the same time, we still have our own space and independence. Dean goes to football at least once a week and I’m out with the girls on other nights, but we always make sure we see each other at least three or four times a week.

Whenever we plan things, it always goes wrong. This might not seem like a good thing, but it’s shown me that if I’m still having a good time with someone when things don’t turn out as planned, it must be right. Once, we were meant to go on a luxury holiday together and we ended up halfway up a mountain, freezing cold and in a tent that leaked! But we just laughed about it.

Dean says: One of the best things I love about Charlotte is her sense of humour. When we first met, we spent the whole night together just laughing at each other and it hasn’t changed. If it gets to midday and we haven’t spoken, one of us will always text the other because we just enjoy each other’s company. I also love that there is nothing I can’t talk to Charlotte about. We’re very honest all the time and that’s where the trust lies. There are no barriers, which some people might think is a bad thing, but it works for us.

Jane and Arash
Marketing exec, Jane Snape, 29, from the UK, has been married to Iranian Arash Aruf, 34, for over two years. Arash works for an oil company and they live together in Dubai.

The first time Arash told me he loved me, I thought he was crazy. It was only a month into our relationship and I wasn’t ready to take things further. At the same time, I didn’t want to stop seeing him. I felt comfortable and it was easy to be myself around him. We’d both just come out of relationships and definitely weren’t looking for anything new, but as time wore on, I knew what I had with Arash was special.

It took a while for his mum to warm up to me. Three years in fact. While we are from different cultures, because we both spent a lot of our childhoods growing up in Dubai, we’ve never felt our backgrounds have held much sway in our relationship. Here in the UAE I’m not English and Arash isn’t Iranian – we’re Dubaians, so we were keen to not let culture get in the way. I was also mindful to not take Arash’s mum’s coldness towards me personally, as I knew it wasn’t me she didn’t like, she was just wary of what I represented to her. But she loves me now. When I first visited Iran two years ago it was incredible to see where Arash grew up. We’re going again later this month as I want to understand as much about Arash’s family and history as possible.

If something bothers us, we leave it a day or two before bringing it up. We try to make sure we’re calm before raising a problem. This is one of the things Arash taught me – to be patient with one another – and because of this I don’t think there’s ever been a time where we’ve sworn at each other or he’s said something insulting towards me. When we were rowing one day he turned to me and said, ‘Jane, just because you scream and shout, it doesn’t mean you’ve won the argument’, and that really hit home for me. Now, whenever we have something to say, we’ll sit the other person down (normally over food and wine) and discuss it. We’ve also learned that not everything is worth arguing about, even when he leaves his coffee cups all over the house, I try not to nag him, but gently suggest he doesn’t need 10 half empty cups in every room!

We irritate each other all time. But when you live with each other, that’s natural. You could add up all those little irritations and make them one big thing, but you’ve got to let it go and realise they’re not important. Pick your battles.

We never go to bed without saying I love you. Even if we’re still in a mood with one another and we’re lying side by side in bed, we’ll give each other a goodnight kiss and say ‘I love you’ as you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Arash is also very affectionate, which took me a while to get used to. He’s always complimenting me and telling me he loves me, and I’ve learned to do the same. It makes you feel great when you get compliments, and it’s even better when you give them ‘cause you know you’re making the person you love feel happy.

Arash says: When I told Jane I loved her she demanded that I stop the car and she jumped out as soon as the car came to a stop! But I knew she was the one as I’d never felt so comfortable and natural with anyone else. She doesn’t expect anything from me, which makes me want to give her everything. She’s also a very calm person, which I like. I can tell when she’s mad at me or has something to say because she makes me my favourite food, which is pasta, for dinner. And if it’s served with the pricey Parmesan – that’s when I know she’s really mad! But I think it’s adorable that she’s at least tried to make me happy before going on the attack.

Danielle and Jonathan
Danielle Golding, 27, is a photo studio manager from the UK. She has been with her fiancé, mortgage broker Jonathan Oliver, 29, also from the UK, for 14 years. They plan to marry later this year.

To discover what we wanted, we needed to be apart. Jonathan and I first met when we were teenagers. At that age, getting married wasn’t an issue, but somehow, 14 years after we first met, we’re engaged. Admittedly, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. After high school we went to different universities, which meant doing the long distance thing and then, when we were in our early 20s, we split up for two years. There was no big drama, but to make sure that what we really wanted was one another, and to grow as individuals, we needed to create some space between us for a while.

We always give each other air to breathe. I don’t believe that couples need to do everything together, and Jonathan feels the same. While we love going out together, we often hit the town separately with our own friends. I like the fact that we can come together at the end of the night and talk about what we’ve been up to. It keeps things fresh and interesting.

Laughter is the best medicine. Being able to have fun with your other half is really important and I’m lucky because, whenever Jonathan and I are together, he always makes me laugh. He’s even able to make me smile early in the morning, when I’m in a stinking mood, which is saying something.

Suprises make all the difference. Jonathan proposed to me last October. We were at home and he’d just cooked me a romantic dinner. I had no idea it was coming and my jaw litterally hit the floor. People said, ‘You must have known’ and, while I always knew we’d get married, I was still shocked when he popped the question. There was never a doubt in my mind and when the shock had worn off, I said ‘yes’ straight away. That was typical of Jonathan as he’s often doing little things to surprise me, like weekends away or booking a table for dinner and not telling me until the evening. It keeps the spontaneity in our relationship, which is great.

Keep things in perspective. Nobody’s perfect and from time to time Jonathan does things that get on my nerves. My main bugbear is that I have to tidy up after him as he’s quite messy. It can be annoying, but he’s got so many other great qualities. I try not to dwell on the small things.

Don’t let arguments linger. If we have an argument about something, we always try to make up before one of us goes to work or goes out. We always say, ‘what if this was the last time we saw each other?’. Having that attitude means we never let arguments fester as someone always offers the olive branch. Although I must admit, Jonathan normally does it first!

It’s okay to be a bit soppy. When Jonathan first moved to Dubai, two and a half years ago, I decided to stay in the UK for six months first. Being apart was hard, but we made a real effort to keep the lines of communication open. We spoke every day on the phone and I came out to visit him as often as I could. Every night when I went to sleep, I kept a picture of Jonathan on my pillow. I know it sounds a bit soppy, but that way I felt as if we were together, even when we were apart.

Jonathan says: Danielle and I are best friends. I know that whatever we do, whether it’s going on holiday or just hanging out together, we’ll always have a great time. I guess it’s because we know each other so well. There is never any awkwardness in our conversation. But we’re also not one of those couples who have to do everything together. We have a big group of friends and, while we often go out as a big group, sometimes I’ll go out with my friends and Danielle will go out with hers. Having our own time means we really appreciate the time we have when it’s just the two of us.