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My younger brother got married on the 6th of September, 2014. For about two weeks prior to the wedding, he had been trying, without success, to get me to sit down and have the usual “marriage tips for newlyweds” talk with him. His inability to get me to do so wasn't just because of my busy work schedule; in fact my busy work schedule had nothing to do with it at all. It was more of a matter of reluctance on my part and a feeling of not being worthy enough to discharge such a lofty responsibilityMy reluctance was based on the premise that having been married for only three years now, I felt I was still in my infancy as far as marriage was concerned to enable me offer any meaningful marriage tips.

After a lot of self persuasion and prodding, on the 3rd of September, 2014 we sat down to have the much anticipated talk about marriage. The title of this article is the first question he asked me. 

Contrary to popular belief among many young people, marriage is not a destination. It is a journey, and just as it is with every journey you need to pack luggage for your trip. From my humble experience, there isn't a single answer as to how one can make a marriage successful. As someone once told me "just do what works for you." However, there are certain basic elements we all should adopt and adhere to:

1. COMMUNICATION: This is very important, not just in marriage but in all other facets of human interaction. A marriage devoid of communication may not get far. If it does, there’s likely to be a lot of bitterness and frustration in the long run. Couples should always communicate so as to fully understand one another and forestall any conflicts before they arise. Lack of communication can stir up problems in a marriage on two fronts:

(i) It can lead to one or both couples making erroneous inferences regarding the motives of the other; and

(ii) It creates a feeling of disdain between couples as the lack of communication can lead to the belief that any errors or slights by one spouse against the other are being done on purpose.

As important as communication is, there is the need for it to be fluid, polite and unambiguous. Speak your minds clearly and concisely. Using parables or conjectures will distort whatever information you intend to pass on. 

Whenever you have a misunderstanding, do not go to sleep without resolving your issues. Some problems are not meant to be slept on as this will make them fester thereby becoming difficult to resolve.

2. UNDERSTANDING: Considering the fact that you both understand each other enough to want to settle down and start a family, it could be said that you can tick understanding off the to do list of successful marriage tips. However, understanding each other does not stop once you're married. Understanding one another is a lifelong process, which never ends and can take many forms depending on the various challenges couples may be faced with. There is the need to always understand one another’s needs, peculiarities and problems.

3. PATIENCE: No matter how many times you hear this, it is never enough because you’re going to need a lot of itTake this illustration: when two people, one of whom happens to be a vegetarian while the other is not, share a refrigerator, there are bound to be misunderstandings. With marriage, it can be even more complicated, as you are two individuals with different backgrounds, orientations, opinions and ways of doing things. 

I’ll be honest with you; you two are going to piss each other off occasionally. It happens in every marriage. The trick is to keep the lines of communication open, be understanding, be patient and resolve any issues. No doubt, this is easier said than done. Take myself as an example. I have a peculiar habit when it comes to watching television. Due to the wide array of channels and programmes available on DSTV, I sometimes get spoilt for choice when it comes to what channel to watch. So, I do what any television buff would do; I watch them all. This is not too difficult, for me at least. It involves flipping between one or more channels every forty to fifty seconds. My wife finds this annoying. However, she understands that this is my own kind of peculiarity and she has been patient with me. All hope is not lost though. My daughter seems to have discovered a way of rehabilitating me from this annoying habit; she constantly hides the remote control.

This illustration above is just a tip of the iceberg in terms of how peculiarities occur in a marriage. There are lots of issues that will no doubt test your patience far more than a simple channel flipping disorder will. Be patient with one another.

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4. PERSEVERANCE: A happy or successful marriage does not just happen. You have to work hard at it. You will face a lot of challenges of varying degrees and intensities. You will both have to be resilient and tough enough to face and stand up to them. From family disputes to financial challenges to health issues you may face them all. Your strength will be needed to withstand all the challenges that may come your way.

5. WORK AS A SINGLE UNIT: As Africans, it is usual for the man to make all the decisions that affect the home. Sometimes most men get carried away by this cultural fact and they take decisions unilaterally without consulting their wivesIt is important to consult with your wife and make her part of the decision making process as this will strengthen the bond between the two of you and it will make her opinion valued. Even if you do not intend to take her advice, the fact that she was at least consulted will be appreciated. 

6. SAVINGS: Most couples make the mistake of just winging it as far as finances are concerned. It is important to know what your income is in relation to your recurrent monthly expenditure. Granted, marriage is a ‘for better for worse’ deal and money or the lack of it should not be a hindrance to the survival of a marriage but the fact is it can affect its viability. Don't blow all those cash gifts away on a honeymoon and binge shopping. Save it!

7. DIPLOMACY: In a marriage you will have to interact with your spouse's relatives. As such it is wise to deal with them in a diplomatic manner. When you marry into a large family, diplomacy is an extremely essential tool. You need to treat your spouse's relatives in a respectful and diplomatic manner. Ignoring this rule is akin to walking into a minefield blindfolded. 

8. IGNORE GOSSIP: Before and during a marriage you'll hear a lot of gossip about your significant other. Most times it is what it is; gossip. Humans are mischievous in nature and it would be absolute folly for you to believe and act on everything you hear. 

9. SET BOUNDARIES: Parents or in-laws sometimes make the mistake of meddling in their childrens' marriages. This may start off with good intentions but could have very disastrous results. As such there is the need for couples to set boundaries and politely ask that their privacy and problems be respected.


11. ALWAYS BE HONEST: Without a doubt honesty is key in every marriage as a lack of it can erode trust which is a major ingredient of a marriage. Always tell your spouse the truth. Always. Even in unpleasant situations it is important to be honest, albeit in a diplomatic and thoughtful manner. Lies can damage the trust in a marriage, which if you're ever able to restore can take a lifetime to do so. 

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12. COMPLIMENTS: This right here, I'm guilty of not doing enough of. Most times we rarely compliment our spouses but are quick to complain about their faults. In as much as not complimenting your spouse and complaining only about faults may not directly sever marriage ties, it can make one feel unappreciated and could cause strains in the marriage. Compliment one another. It works wonders in a marriage. You don't have to wait till your spouse does something awe-inspiring to do so. You could pay your spouse a compliment for even the small and mundane things. You could compliment your husband for working hard to cater for the family. You could compliment your wife for the great job she does of keeping the house in order or taking care of the kids. No compliment is too small. 

13. NO 3RD PARTIES: One major reason for marital problems is the invitation or interference of 3rd or outside parties into disputes between couples. Keep your problems between you and your spouse. Do not fall for the temptation of sharing your marital problems with friends or relatives under the guise of seeking advice or assistance. Doing this could blow up in your face. Try by all means to settle disputes between yourselves. If despite your best efforts you are unsuccessful, then you can seek the intervention of a 3rd party. Preferably this should be a close relative. 

14. BE JUST AT ALL TIMES: There is hardly a married man or woman that hasn't been caught between taking the side of a spouse or a relative in a dispute. As difficult as this may be you need to be just when faced with such situations. He who is wrong should be told so, no matter how closely related he is. He who is right should be defended no matter who may be offended. This has to be done in a diplomatic manner so as not to plant a grudge between your spouse and relative. There is no doubt that taking sides unfairly and unjustly in disputes between your spouse and relative is a quick and bold step to marital discord. 

15. PRAYERS: The fact that this comes last does not in any way mean it is far less important than the rest. I am a firm believer in the power of prayers but my intention to leave this for last is to prove that no matter how hard you pray, if you do not communicate, understand one another, be patient with one another, persevere, work as a single unit, be diplomatic, ignore gossip, be honest, compliment one another, keep your private issues private and be just at all times, your marriage isn’t going anywhere. If all you do is pray  and you don’t apply the other elements, you might as well place a ship on dry land and expect it to sail.

The aforementioned tips are not exhaustive. There are tons of other tips that well-seasoned couples can offer. However, considering the fact that I’m not too far off from a rookie, this is the best I can do for now.

To Abba and Maryam, I wish you a happy married life. To others that got married over the weekend, I wish you all the same. To those intending to marry, I wish you all the best. To those of us already married, may we continue to reap the joys of marriage