Secrets to a successful marriage

Alan Khan, 34, radio presenter and Mariam Khan, 35, academic

Married: 8 March 1997

Children: Nasser, 6, and Ameer, 3.

Live: Durban

Alan met Mariam, who headed an organization on street children, when he interviewed her on radio in September 1996. ‘I was taken aback by her intelligence and her ability to engage with me on air. And she had this South African/Canadian accent that really got to me.’ After a second interview on air – a coincidence – I said to my producer, “I’m going to marry that girl!” We just clicked – we’re both Sagittarians with birthdays two days apart – I don’t know what but something just happened. It was a quick romance and the first year was an adjustment. We have our challenges but it’s how you deal with those that count. You have to take problems in your stride and put your relationship first. We never let the kids take over, we always take care of our marriage.  I think a good marriage is about trust. I travel a lot and am photographed for social pages and never once has Mariam got insecure or jealous – we’re too comfortable in our relationship. You can connect spiritually and be lovers, but mostly, I think, we’re about being friends. I can always rely on Mariam for advice and support.  We don’t let outsiders get into our immediate circle of love.’

Mariam says she got to know Alan over their first lunch date, which ‘went on for hours’.  He had compassion and a social conscience. He stimulated me intellectually. I knew he’d never bore me. I also fell head over heels in love with him… Alan respects my profession – often the man’s career takes first place – and supported me when I decided to make changes to spend more time with the children. I believe the best way of keep a relationship good is by being accommodating and respecting your partner. When things go wrong, you have to be understanding and supportive. We lead hard, hectic lives but we never go to bed angry. That’s an unspoken promise.’

Sophie Ndaba, 30-something, actress on Generations and wedding planner and Themba Ndaba, 41, Creative Director

Married: 25 October, 1997

Children: Shallon, 17, Rudo, 15 and Lwandle, 5

Live: Johannesburg

‘I met Themba when he came for an audition for Generations,’ says Sophie. ‘I thought, “wow, he’s beautiful looking – and he can talk too!” A couple of weeks later when he was on-set, he surprised me by asking, “what did you dream about last night?”. I’d dreamt about him – all night!’

Themba says he knew she was The One when Sophie invited him home for dinner. ‘She gave me such a good, hot meal – you know what they say about the way to a man’s heart! She’s also very warm and giving’ Sophie says the marriage works because they meet each other half way. We talk a lot – I say exactly what I feel even if I think he’s not going to like it – nothing is hidden. We are both full-on Christians and praying helps us. I think people in a marriage have to learn to share – whether it’s their time or themselves. It’s not just about “me, me, me”, it’s about “us”. I think communication is key to a good marriage, whether it’s communication about sexual aspects of the marriage or how you’d like things done. It’s all in the balance.’

Themba says the secret of their success is he’s just very ‘patient’ – ‘and I’ve learnt how to keep quiet,’ he jokes.  ‘The first year of marriage meant some rough seas but we soon learnt to understand each other. We had to work out our needs – and that means non-stop communication and lots of compromise. Mainly from me’, he laughs. There has been no 7-year itch. I think religion helps. I know I have a duty towards this person. If I say, I love her, I realise I must show it. I also give Sophie room to be herself and we always help each other out. If I had to give one piece of advice to newly-weds, it would be “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to speak. Listening is key”.’

Kerry Costa, 32, Sales Executive and Calwyn Costa, 35 Product Development

Married: 13 December, 1998

Children: Logan, 11 months

Live: West Rand, Johannesburg

Kerry and Calwyn started dating in 1996 after being friends for two years. They met through Kerry’s ex-boyfriend. ‘The three of us would go out together but

I’d always end up talking to Calwyn. When me and the ex broke up. I was terrified of doing anything to lose the friendship and I blocked any advances he made. Finally, he said again, “Lets take this to another level…” and then he added the words, “trust me”. I haven’t looked back. He’s still my best friend – we can talk about anything – but I’m also passionate about him. We hardly ever fight. I think people should really get to know each other before they get married. You need to get to know the good and the bad bits, and if you’re still prepared to be their friend knowing the bad, then it’s likely to work. Also, we take things with a pinch of salt, don’t stress about the small stuff or the big stuff either.

‘Our first year of marriage – and we lived together beforehand – was the hardest. We’d bought a new house, started new jobs and a new life – it was difficult but not unbearable. We talked throughout and developed an understanding of where we were both coming from.

‘It helps that we have three very involved grandparents. It feels like a very supportive extended family – but with boundaries. I love that above anyone else, he always puts me first. Oh, and he doesn’t like watching sport. I choose the channel!’

Calwyn says they ‘see life the same way’.

‘We can rely on each other. I do believe couples shouldn’t rush to have children – I think that leads to the 7-year itch. They have children in the first two years and by the time the child is five or six, they start playing parents off against each other. If couples haven’t had time to strengthen their relationship on their own, that can break the bonds.’

Alain Rogers, 34, accounts and Victoria  Rogers, 34, administration for import company

Married: date

Children: Nicholas, 7, Emily, 3.

Live: Cape Town

Says Victoria, ‘We dated for five years before we got married, but it was only after a break-up we realized we were serious. We went overseas and that cemented our relationship. I fell for his honesty, his looks and his sense of humour. He’s dependable and consistent and I know I can trust him. If he’s going out with the guys on a piss, he’ll tell me he’ll be home very late. He doesn’t say he’ll be back in an hour and leave me waiting. We work things out straight away – nothing is allowed to fester. We argue, but never in front of the kids. If it’s a particularly disagreeable fight, I’ll walk away to diffuse the situation but then come back later to sort it out properly. None of us sulk – or at least we try not to. We always tell each other how we feel – our communication is very good. It’s only by talking you’ll know what the other person is thinking. Communication along with honesty and trust – I believe those are the ingredients of a good marriage. Anyway, being married means you think twice about your actions. You realise you must solve disputes and if you love a person, you’ll stick it out. Life experiences also bind you together. We had Nicholas in the UK with no support but each other. We respect each other and make mutual decisions.

Alain doesn’t believe the clique relationships are about hard work: ‘If you’re working too hard, you’re not enjoying your marriage. That’s a job. But marriage is about acceptance and honesty – I know what it is to be without her after our break up before we got married – oh, and good sex too. We get on well. We never let things reach blow-up point. When we fight, we fight until it’s over – there are no comebacks. We resolve things there and then.

‘She accepts me for who I am and I  love her more now than ever. ‘

The experts speak

Liz Dooley, Director, Family Life Centre, Johannesburg

‘There are three vital ingredients to a good marriage. Acceptance, trust and respect. Trust is about trusting yourself and the other so you can share your inner worlds.

All marriages will have their ups and downs but a successful couple will have learned after the first few years how to acknowledge each other’s differences and stop trying to change each other. It’s about recognizing that there is no wrong or right and seeing differences as bringing wealth into the relationship rather than negating it.

The power balance in a relationship must be equal even if it’s the power shifting from one to the other. It must never feel like a master-slave relationship. At some point, you may have to ask yourself, whether you can save the marriage without selling your soul?

You can’t always change someone else’s core values. But that’s ok – we need to be independent and have an interdependent path where we consult and have joint goals.

Major marriage wreckers include:

  • Disappointment. (This could be about having unrealistic expectation)
  • Individual not feeling good enough in themselves, envy, jealousy, nit-picking.
  • Inability to solve conflict constructively.
  • The inability to read each other properly. When you have to ask, “What planet do you come from?”
  • Massive power struggles

Often problems are a re-play of childish issues.

The time couples come to therapy is vital. If couples allow problems to become a way of life, too many bad patterns can become entrenched. Patterns of hurt and anger can erode a relationship until there’s nothing left.

How to help your marriage:

  • Get professional help early.
  • Learn to understand each other.
  • Correctly read feelings in yourself and your partner.
  • Be committed to making it work.

Clinical psychologist Leonard Carr:

Common marriage wreckers and solutions:

  • ‘Me, me, me!”

The problem with marriages in a baby-boomer narcissist age is that individuals place all the emphasis on their needs and what they can get out of a relationship. It’s all about a subjective sense of fulfillment – what about “me, me, me!” Very few ask themselves, “What are my responsibilities?” On the other hand, some cultures insist on preserving the institution of marriage for the sake of it. But that’s about holding the marriage together not making it work. You need a balance of the two.

  • Power games

To make a marriage work, couples must stop playing power games. It’s not easy to avoid that in intimate, intense relationships. Couples must try and move into a realm of cooperation instead and work together towards a common good.

  • Disloyalty

Don’t let out what belongs in the marriage – having an affair, for example, and let in what belongs out, like gossip.

  • Wishing someone would change

You can’t force the other to change. You can only work on yourself to help your relationship work. Take responsibility. An analogy is a kaleidoscope – turn it and everything will shift accordingly:

  • Being too concerned with the subjective aspects of a relationship.

Make a mission statement. Just like starting a business, a couple define their relationship by making guidelines on what they need to do to protect what has been created.

  • Bad communication.

Relationships are about how you make the other person feel. You need to know what to do to make the other feel the way they’d like. You could hear from or tell your partner, “I want to feel loved.” But your partner may express their love in ways that doesn’t say ‘love’ to you.  It’s no good a partner saying, “But look what I do for you”, when you’re not feeling it. You have to explain what constitutes care, loyalty or affection for you.

  • Disrespect.

If you don’t have behaviours governed by a common value system, feelings will be eroded. If you’re treated with disrespect, interrupted, put down, you will start getting the seven-year itch. Treat your relationship like a place of worship. When you enter a place of worship you behave in a certain way. You are reverent and that creates and sustains context. In a relationship, you also need to create context and then define your behaviour to keep that context.

  • Not enough giving

Make regular deposits in the emotional bank account. Enough deposits means there’s space for withdrawals. When there’s a competition for resources, people go into survival mode. If the focus is on giving, there is a natural need to reciprocate.


Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor

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