{And among His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind. So that you might find contentment (sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect (think!)} (Sura Rum: 21)

As I am sure you are aware, marriage in Islam is a legal contract. It is a contract between two people in the presence of witnesses the Best of whom is Allaah (s) Himself before whom this contract is made and to whom the ones making the contract will be accountable. It is therefore essential that they understand what they are contracting to do. I recited before you an Aayah (a verse) from the Qur'an where Allaah (s) speaks about the institution of marriage, calls it one of His signs and mentions specifically three special features about this institution. He uses three critical words in this ayah:

The first word Allaah (s) used is the word Sukoon.

Allaah (s) said: {And among his signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind so that you may find Sukoon with them.}

LenticularCloudsSo what is Sukoon? It is a word that we use in Urdu as well so I am sure all my friends who understand Urdu have an idea about its meaning. In Arabic Sukoon is the opposite of Al–Harakah (movement). In Arabic grammar the equivalent of the vowel on the letter is called Al-Harakah which tells us how the letter "moves" meaning, how it is to be pronounced. When there is a Sukoon on the letter it means that the letter remains as it is and will not move and will be pronounced in its original form.

Allaah (s) has used the term Sukoon as the first purpose of the marriage. He said that He creates mates for us so that we may find Sukoon with them. So that we may find contentment with them. The first condition of the contract is that the spouses are undertaking to promise that they will henceforth lead their lives in such a way that they will make their companionship, their home, their being together and their support for one another a source of contentment and Sukoon for each other. They are making Allaah (s) a witness that henceforth they will not look elsewhere other than towards each other for all the requirements of marriage.

That their eyes, ears, hearts, hands, feet will not stray away from their spouse. That there will be no Harakah, no movement away from the spouse. I ask Allaah (s) to give them and all those who are here in this gathering, Sukoon with their spouses. It also means that both will make an effort to create a home which is a place of Sukoon which they look forward to returning to after having been away from it for various reasons.

The second word that Allaah (s) has used in this ayah is 'Al-Mawaddah', He said: {Wa ja'ala bainakum mawaddah: And He puts love between you}. This refers to the love that the spouses feel for one another. This love is both physical and emotional. Love is an outcome of respect. We can't love someone for whom we feel no respect. It is essential therefore for the spouses to pay attention to the good from each other and to forgive the mistakes. The spouses are like mirrors to each other. They reflect what they see but they have selective memory. When a new image comes before the mirror it is reflected with reference to the good from earlier images, whatever it was. Someone sent me a story which talked about writing the good about our friends in stone and writing their mistakes in the dust. One remains for a long time while the other is blown away by the first breeze that comes.

I believe this is the single most important secret of a good marriage. To have this selective memory for the good and selective amnesia for the bad. Unfortunately many people have the opposite which is the root cause of all problems. The good is taken for granted as one's right. While any mistake is seen as a premeditated crime and treated accordingly. Islam advises the opposite. To forgive not once but 70 times, without reservation.

For the spouse, his or her companion is their best friend. The marriage is a contract where the spouses are undertaking to make each other, their best friends from this day on. It is important to remember however that friendship is only as good as the amount of investment you make in it. It is not magic. It is not automatic. It does not happen. It is made. Consciously. With effort. And the results are directly proportional to the investment.

It is necessary to spend time with your spouse, not with your other friends in some club.

It is necessary to develop common interests.

It is necessary to take pleasure in each other's work and activity.

It is necessary to support each other in all that is good.

It is necessary to ensure that you give feedback with care and concern and never in public.

It is essential to remember that between spouses there are no defenses because there is trust. And for that reason it is essential for the spouses to exercise special care in dealing with each other's emotions.

It is necessary to build a language together, a language of looks, words, signs. A language that over time becomes almost magical in how it enables one spouse to know what the other is feeling without explanation. A language which is a joy to see when you look at those who have been happily married for many years.

It is necessary to consciously remember the good that one spouse does for the other, especially when they are having a bad day and are acting strange.

This is the love that Allaah (s) talks about when He says that He has put it between the spouses. Like all potential wealth, it has to be accessed or it will remain buried under the sand.

The last word that Allaah (s) used in the Ayah is Rahmah: Mercy; when He said: {Wa ja'ala bainakum mawadaatawn wa Rahmah}. Rahmah is a special quality of Allaah (s) Himself. It is the mercy that He shows to His creation even when they don't deserve it.

He used this word to describe the relationship between the spouses in the marriage. We are merciful to those who we feel responsible for. We are merciful to our children whereas we may not exercise the same mercy for strange children. However when you are the teacher in a school the same children become your wards and you are merciful to them. The word Rahmah in the context of marriage draws our attention to the responsibility that the spouses have for one another. It also draws attention to the fact that over the years each has made a lifetime's investment in the other. To show Rahmah – to be merciful – is to honor that investment and to thank the other for making it. Not to take this for granted. Rahmah is also the quality when for reasons of life and destiny, when one of the spouses is unable to look after the other or to satisfy them, the other still treats him or her with love and respect and mercy. Rahmah is to give without asking for return. To give because there is a pleasure in the giving itself.

Marriage in Islam is therefore a commitment made to each other, of integrity, love, respect and mercy that the spouses are undertaking to make to each other in the presence of Allaah (s) who is Witness to all our thoughts, intentions and actions.

Marriage - Living it.: How to keep the marriage happy

Now that you are married, let us look at how to make your marriage happy. Someone asked me 20 questions about it. Here are the answers, which I hope cover all aspects of this matter.

1. What are the characteristics of a happy marriage?

Truth, Caring, Mutual respect are what I call my three Cardinal Principles of happy marriages. Please notice that I am not using the word 'love'. Love comes out of these three things. What is called love is usually physical desire. The shape or size of someone's body is not the inspiration for love; it can be the inspiration for infatuation and lust but not love. For love to happen, the lasting kind that is, the kind that grows with age and the longer you spend time together, you need truthfulness, caring and concern for one another – putting the needs of the other before your own; and mutual respect. Without respect there can't be any love. One needs to respect one's spouse, appreciate their strengths, make them your role model, icon and be proud of them and proud that they are your spouse. That kindles love in the heart which grows with time because the reasons for respect also grow with time. Physical attraction reduces with age. It is programmed to do so. Nobody grows more beautiful with age. You mature with age, grow wiser, more mellow, more patient and forbearing and more worthy of respect. The love that comes out of that also grows with age.

Truth is to express feelings as they are and not to have any pretensions.

Caring is to treat the other with concern because you know that with you s/he has no barriers or safety nets.

Respect is to acknowledge the value of the trust that is placed in you in allowing you into that inner most of places in the heart in which nobody else has been allowed before. To treat that privilege with the respect it deserves and never to abuse it for any reason.

2. Is there a formula to be happy in a marriage?

To be forgiving. We need to forgive one another. What tends to happen in many marriages is that we expect the other person to forgive us but we hold them to standards that we are ourselves unable to live up to and become curiously blind to this unreasonable stance. That doesn't work. Good to remember the saying, 'Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.'

Share in each other's lives. Take interest in what the other does. Don't be nosey but learn and add value. Conversation is both the key to a happy marriage and a metre to judge its health. Marriages that are getting sick start to lose conversation. When there is nothing left to talk about after 10 minutes and when your idea of spending time with your spouse is to sit in front of the TV or to read the newspaper in the same room, then you can safely say that your marriage is falling sick. In happy marriages there is a desire for the company of the other. Not for the company of others. You hurry home because your spouse is there. You don't hit home and bounce off to the club to sit with your cronies or to some other place to be with other friends. You want to spend time with your spouse not because otherwise s/he will complain but because you genuinely want to do it.

3. How do you make a marriage work?

By working at it. We use this term, 'Make a marriage work', but we forget that a lot of it is actually 'work'. It takes effort, time and energy, is measurable and produces results. Making breakfast for your spouse is work. Offering to do her errands is work. Taking the trouble to look nice when your husband comes home instead of like animated laundry is work. Going to the airport to meet his flight is work. You get the drift? Doing what does not come naturally or doing something that is important for the other even if you don't like doing it, is work. And all of it produces results in terms of appreciation and love.

Never complain if your spouse is not spending time with you.

Firstly it is pathetic and undignified to do so.

Secondly I have a rule: never tell someone to do for duty what they won't do for love.

And thirdly, that they seek someone else's company is a message for you; so act and examine yourself and see why this is happening and correct yourself and things will change.

People seek what is enjoyable. So if your company is more a pain rather than enjoyment, naturally they will go elsewhere.

As I say, 'If I wanted to marry a nag, I would have married a horse. At least it would have carried me from place to place.' Nag is a gender neutral term. There are male and female nags and both are equally painful. As I've said earlier conversation is a good indicator about what is happening to the marriage. Giving instructions, complaining, informing and gossiping is not conversation. Sharing of thoughts, hopes, aspirations, fears; good listening, compassion, understanding, laughing and crying together about issues that are shared; that is what I mean.

Finally companionable silence is also an indicator of a good marriage. You don't have to be talking all the time. It is the quality of the companionship, the quality of the silence. You will know it without anyone having to explain, let me assure you. But pay attention to it even if there is tension or boredom in it.

The key is to want to share, time, thoughts, aspirations, fears and to want to listen to each other with caring and respect.

Playing

Couples that play together, stay together – says the proverb. Whatever fun-thing you enjoy doing together, do it. And do it regularly. If you play a competitive sport together – say golf – remember to lose regularly. It is not for the competition that you are playing and to make it a competition is to defeat its very purpose. Remember that sometimes you may not be enjoying it equally but that is worth the pleasure of seeing the smile on the face of your spouse. It's all about that smile anyway. Be genuine. A cosmetic smile is detectable a mile away. Performance is not the key everywhere and one place where it is not, is in a marriage. The 'Performance Appraisal' for a marriage is a joint statement which spells the success of the marriage, not of your personal performance. Otherwise it will be like saying, 'Operation successful but the patient died.' In our fast paced lives today, we don't seem to have the time to simply, 'be'. We are conditioned to look for 'results' for everything. This is highly stressful and detrimental to a marriage. A marriage is for Sukoon, tranquility, harmony, peace and many times that translates to – just being together without any 'result'.

4. How can you try and make an unhappy marriage a happy one?

This is a tough one because there is a pre-clause to it. Once you satisfy that pre-clause then it is very easy. The pre-clause is, 'DO YOU REALLY WANT IT TO HAPPEN?' Now that may sound like a strange thing to ask but I have seen in many years of counseling that all the failures that I saw were because the partners did not really want to make it work. They were not sincere and were merely going through the moves with the idea of satisfying themselves or others that 'they made the effort'. Now that is a lie because they never made an effort. They acted a drama with a precluded ending.

Once you are sincere about turning things around then you need to sit down and write down all that you like about your spouse. After all there were things about them that you liked enough to marry them. What were they? Then when you have that list, you write down the problem areas. Usually that works like magic. Marriages go bad most often because we don't appreciate the good enough and are not thankful for what they have. I often ask couples, 'How many times a day do you thank your wife/husband? How many times a day do you hug or kiss them? How many times a day do you tell them that you love them?' It is amazing how much we take appreciation for granted. For most people not criticizing is equal to appreciating. It is not. Expressing genuine appreciation is all about being thankful to the other person for all that they have done for you. Rasoolullah [p] said, 'The one who has not thanked the person has not thanked Allaah (s).' Thankfulness clearly expressed and often is the lifeblood of a good marriage. And remember, to do it often is the key. After all when things are not going badly, we don't hesitate to make it known. So why not when they are going well?

5. Is the idea of a soul mate just a myth – or is it simple communication between people?

Soul mates are made, not born. And they are made over time. Sometimes a fairly long time. Then you see them sitting together and smiling at things that only they understand. Or looks that have meaning only for each other. Or speaking in a language that only the other understands. Phrases that they use only for each other and which may even be gibberish to others but which touch their hearts. This is the stage when every time you look at her you fall in love all over again, 30 years into your marriage. And laughing. Laughing is important. Laughing together at the same things. Showing each other things so as to add to the joy by sharing.

6. What kind of initiatives and actions dictate a happy marriage?

Back to the basics: Truth, caring, mutual respect. Every action or initiative must pass this test. Are you being truthful? Is her need coming before your own? And are you showing the respect you feel? I remember that my grandmother used to serve my grandfather his meals. Every meal. She would put food on his plate, refill it, offer him the choicest pieces of meat, watch to see what he needed and give it to him before he asked for it. She would eat every meal with him, without exception in a house that was a mansion with several servants. But no servant was ever allowed to give my grandfather anything directly. They brought the tray to my grandmother and she served him. All this she did with such a look of love and devotion on her face that I can see clearly in my mind even today 40 years later and more than 25 years since both of them died. Why did she do this? Just because she liked to do it. It really is that simple.

He reciprocated this to the fullest extent. He never did anything without asking for her advice. He never went anywhere without her. He wore what she gave him. She had complete control of his money. He never touched it. He never asked her for any account with a level of trust seldom seen today, even though it was his money, so to speak. He never raised his voice to her for anything. He never even looked at her except with love. She was his whole life in every sense of the word.

He loved her and she loved him and it showed.

She died first. He died three months later of a broken heart. But they left memories for their children and grandchildren about how to be married and how to treat your spouse.

7. How much involvement should parents and in laws have in a marriage?

The key is to realize that these are independent relationships and need to be managed. The same is true of children when they come along. I have seen spouses becoming strangers to each other because the children take up the time and energy of both to such an extent. Maturity is to be able to manage these multiple relationships in the marriage.

8. How does one make compromises?

They are not called 'compromises'. They are called 'adjustments'. It is not the semantics of it but the attitudes that language indicates and dictates. We make compromises when forced to do so. We make adjustments to things so that we can enjoy them more. One of the things that most young couples don't bargain for is the aspects of sharing ownership, time and privacy that marriage brings with it. Nobody told them about it and they didn't think about it when they had stars in their eyes. Honeymoons are in hotels and sharing a hotel room is different from sharing your own bedroom and your own cupboard. Changing from 'I' to 'We' is often a difficult process. Small things can become the cause of friction, sometimes degenerating to serious conflict.

Some people are neat and orderly by nature. To others any form of 'order' is an 'attack' on their freedom, individuality and free spirit. Some people are early risers and early sleepers. Others like to stay up late and wake up when the sun is well up in the sky. Some eat breakfast, others don't. Some are more stylish and fashion conscious than others. Others carry their what-the-dog-left-on-the-doorstep look as a mark of their individuality much to the disgust of their spouse. Some people like surprises, others hate them. Some like to take decisions, even bad ones. Others like to leave options open for as long as they can get away with. For some the idea of relaxation is to be alone or with the one they love, all by themselves, sitting often in companionable silence. For others relaxation is to have at least five other people in the fray while managing or two others on the phone. Some people love parties, especially where they are likely to meet new people. Others hate parties, especially where they are likely to meet new people. Some focus on the rules, regulations, systems of things. Others see the same things in terms of feelings and emotion. All this would have been fine if difference was seen as merely different. But it isn't it is seen as 'right' (my way) and 'wrong' (any other way). This conditioning is culturally universal and ingrained. We all have it.

Many of these are temperament traits, which those who are familiar with 'Myers-Briggs Type Theory' will recognize. Irrespective of your familiarity with the theory I am sure you will recognize yourselves, your spouses, family and friends in these descriptions. The question is, what should you do about the fact that you may discover after marrying someone that you married someone very different from yourself. We seem to know instinctively that difference means problems and so we unconsciously play down our differences before marriage. We try to be very accommodative, forgiving and adjust to almost anything. Unfortunately this lasts for all of two weeks into the marriage. Then the reality of difference kicks in. And 'kicks' is the right way to describe it. Difference in a marriage is far from intellectual. It is real, in the face and with you every day. You have to deal with it or it will create trouble. It is interesting to note that in many cases people actually marry others because the different temperament seems so attractive from the outside. For the one who leaves things open as long as they can, the strong decisive nature of the spouse is the essence of manhood. For the one who is sedate, orderly and structured, the spontaneous, effervescent spirit of the spouse is like a breath of fresh air. Sadly in both and all similar cases, this does not last long. Then the difference becomes a source of irritation, aggravation and conflict.

Happily there is a solution and that is to understand difference to be difference and to consciously refuse to see it as good and bad. Then to ensure that you don't criticize your spouse's different way of being or doing as long as it is not illegal, immoral or likely to drag your good name in the mud. As long as it will not land you or her/him in jail, leave it alone. Let them live the way they like to. Learn to ignore and learn not to engage or comment on or react to everything.

Having said that, decide on what is important to you. Don't make compromises on issues of principle. Explain to your spouse why you won't compromise and wise partners will respect that. But issues which are important to the other and which you can live with changing, change. Remember the point about concern for the other? It is good to remember that everything is not a test of your masculinity or femininity. By 'giving in' to something you don't lose face; you win hearts. So do it unless it is something that goes against your fundamental values. At this point let me remind you that marrying someone with a different 'Aqeedah, religious perspective or religion is almost always a recipe for disaster except for people who are not committed to their own religion. If you are committed to your faith then ensure that you marry someone who is equally committed and has the same perspective about it as you do.

It is a very good idea to have some frank sharing of thoughts on what is important to you. When this is happening, simply listen. Don't justify, agree, disagree or argue. Just listen respectfully and then decide what you love, what you can live with, what you can change in yourself and what you need to talk to the other person about. Most couples, in the courtship stage are too busy on appearing their best and get into a pretense mode that has no relation to what they are really like. Acting can't be sustained and the mask comes off sooner than later with predictable results. So speak to each other frankly and then decide if you want to get married. During this conversation speak clearly and tell them what are the non-negotiables for you. Don't try to be politically correct or polite or whatever and hide or play down things that you really feel strongly about.

Maybe it is something to do with practicing your religious beliefs, or about family values or that your Mom will live with you or that the cat shares your bed or whatever. No matter what it is, if it is important, then say it. That is far more positive and far less painful than having your spouse discover it later. Some things may seem 'silly' to you but if they are important enough for the other person then they will cause you serious trouble if you don't respect them.

9. When does one know that a marriage is not working? And when should people do something about it?

A marriage is ultimately an agreement between two people to live together for mutual benefit. When you find that there is no mutual benefit and that the living together is causing more grief than joy then you know that it is not working. Then you must ask yourself the questions:

Am I willing to make it work?
What will it take to make it work?
Am I willing to do what it takes?

If the answer to all of them is in the affirmative, then get on with it and work. If not then it is time to call it a day. The important thing to do even if you decide to divorce is to remember the first three rules: Truthfulness, concern for the other and mutual respect. Ensure that you don't do anything that is not scrupulously honest and completely above board. Show concern that the other person should not leave with bad feeling. The divorce is bad enough. Don't add negative baggage to it. And show respect for each other. You deserve it and your marriage deserves it. Part company if you have to but do it in a way that is respectful and honorable.

10. In my view it is the Core Responsibility of the man to work and earn a living and take care of the financial responsibilities of the family. It is Core Responsibility of the woman to make the home a place of beauty, grace and harmony and to focus on the upbringing of the children.

I know this may sound old fashioned to some but just take a look at what the result of the Yuppie and Puppy culture is and you will come back to the basics soon enough. Having taken care of the Core Responsibility, naturally the man must help around the home, take care of children, water the garden, wash the car, mow the lawn, take out the garbage and not sit in front of the TV with his feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn at his elbow – or whatever passes as its equivalent in your culture.

Similarly once the Mom has taken care of her Core Responsibility then it is good if she waters the garden, washes the car, mows the lawn, takes out the garbage and does not sit in front of the TV with her feet propped up and a bowl of popcorn at her elbow – or whatever passes as its equivalent in your culture. I am sure you understand what I mean. Dividing responsibilities is a very good idea. Do it whichever way you like but do it. Role clarity is essential in a happy marriage and role conflict causes the maximum stress on it. It is essential for one of the spouses to be dedicated to the upbringing of children; teaching them life skills, manners, tools of thinking, decision making and teaching them core values of life. Today in the Yuppie and Puppy cultures the idea of bringing up children is to feed them, ensure that they are washed and dried and entertained. This thinking is the root of all evil. Food, a dry bed and toys is what your dog needs, not your child.

Children need a jolly sight more than food, clothing and shelter if you want to develop a human being who will be your legacy to the world. I believe you need to dedicate yourself to that because it is important. I've met many parents who struggled very hard in the early stages of their lives and who say to themselves (and to everyone else) with great feeling and tears in their eyes, "I will never allow my children to face the hardship that I had to go through." When I hear this statement I say to them, "Please change the wording. Say, 'I will never allow my children to build resilience, character and strength. I will never allow them to have the power that I have, to succeed.' Say this because in effect that is what you are really saying." For many of them this statement of mine is a shock. They had never thought about their view on upbringing of children in that light.

If you protect your child and don't allow him to enter the fray of life and compete, to get his nose bloody in the struggle, to cry with frustration in the night at his failure and then learn to dry his tears and work out new alternatives; if you allow him or her to come running to you and lend him your shoulder and box of tissues for his tears, then remember you are the worst enemy of the child. You are programming him for failure.

You are writing the script to destroy his life and to make a parasite out of him who will never have the respect of the world and will forever live in a state of mediocrity laboring under a battered sense of self-worth which in many cases comes out in the form of aggression and overpowering control on the spouse who is the only one on whom he can vent his spleen. Struggle builds strength. Opposition teaches how to fight in the struggle of life. Difficulty teaches how to win. If there was no Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy. Many parents don't understand this and are the architects of their children's destruction, tragically with the best of intentions.

Many parents equate expense with quality. They give their children the most expensive education which insulates them from the realities of life and so they never learn to fight the real battles. They give them the most expensive toys which in reality teach them to define human value in terms of material worth (the 'best' kids are those who have the best toys). They insulate them from poverty, deprivation, lack of resources and thereby they 'protect' them from being exposed to the power of drive, ambition, single minded focus on achieving big, ambitious, scary goals. They build walls between their children and the people who they must in the end, deal with. People who will one day, work in their organizations and decide their fate. People who need to be inspired, led, cared for and supported. And therefore people who must be understood. Not simply in order to do good and be charitable but because the success of the business and family depends on the development of these people; the great multitude. The fond parents forget or ignore the fact that one day the time will come for the soft little molly coddled pussy cat to enter the jungle of the real world without any of the tools it needs to survive, much less to lead others.

They must be supported but not protected.

They must be advised but not told what to do.

They must be allowed to take their own decisions but not without the benefit of the frame of reference of the value of honor, fairness, responsibility, accountability, nurturing and trusteeship.

They must be allowed to feel, to cry in the night for the hardships that others undergo, to build friendships and relationships that span the boundaries of color, race, religion, nationality and much more difficult, social order and prejudice.

They must learn that to be poor and to be honorable are not mutually exclusive; just as to be rich and to be honorable are not the same thing and don't happen automatically.

They must learn that virtue is a state of mind. A stance, a decision, a position that one takes, not because someone is watching but because of one's own sense of one's identity.

They must be taught the value of learning and to value those who provide it.

Children who are not taught respect for their teachers are deprived of the blessing of knowledge. Today this is a prevalent disease with many of the young and ignorant. Remaining ignorant is a choice; a life threatening choice.

I do because of who I am. And I become, because I do. They must learn that our actions define us. They must learn that people will define them on the basis of both what they owned and what they contributed. But they will honor them only for what they contributed. Because we are remembered, not for what we had but for what we gave.

Only when they are taught to focus on contribution from their earliest childhood will they be able to fight the force of consumerism that is focused on consumption. Blind, self-centered consumption that in the end will consume us all, if it is allowed to proliferate unchallenged. If you don't agree, use condoms. That is far better than producing children who are a nuisance at best and a painful reality in the lives of others, as long as they live.

11. Naturally it is the responsibility of both people -  like in any agreement. It is important to recognize and accept this responsibility so that you will then do what it takes to fulfill it. As I mentioned above, I advocate actually sitting down and having a dialogue about what each one is supposed to do. Say it to each other and agree on it. Don't leave it to guesswork and discovery. That leads to misunderstanding and disappointment. A good marriage is a dream.

To make it come true you have to wake up and work. If you expect your wife to cook for your friends who you will bring home from time to time, say it. And also say what time to time means. If you expect your husband to pick up the food on the way home with his friends from the restaurant, say so. If you expect your wife to make breakfast for you and sit with you watching you get outside the eggs and toast, say so. If you expect your husband to bring the eggs and toast to you in bed (never really liked the idea of eating without first brushing your teeth), say so. What I mean is that in marriages, it is often the so-called 'silly things' that lead to trouble. So silly or not, say it if it is important to you.

My second Cardinal Principle – Concern, is what is most important to remember. If you apply the Golden Rule – Do unto them as you would have them do unto you – you can't go wrong. The virus that kills marriage is a two letter word – ME. To get you have to give. What you have in your hand is your harvest. What you sow is your seed. To get a harvest you have to first sow the seed. Remember that the harvest is always more than the seed. So give and give with grace, with love, with joy. And you will get much more than you bargained for.

Show consideration for your spouse. Do things without being asked. Be aware of what they like the most and do it. Try to please them. Don't play power games. The marriage is not a contest to get the better of the other. You are not in a race or in a WWF wrestling match or in a competition to see who is more powerful. Remember that every time you 'win' the other person loses. And losing is something that nobody enjoys. So at some point they will get tired of losing and you have no marriage. And that is the biggest loss that you brought on to yourself. A marriage is a relay race – long term, passing the baton to the other at each stage and the team – in this case the two of you – wins.

12. Today we live in a world where selfishness is not a sin anymore. However changing your mind about an evil does not make it good. You will get sick even if you fall in love with the virus. People wanting to get married have to learn to think about the other and to consciously give him or her precedence and preference. If you can't do this, your marriage will break down sooner or later. Our lifestyles, the internet, social networking and talking to people across the world from other cultures, the TV with its unreal, fantasy world of soap operas, many of which are designed to destroy marriages. They promote ideas that are either directly destructive or lead to the killing fields of marriage. These serials glorify disrespect for elders, extramarital affairs, destructive competition, ostentatious consumption and generally behavior that is destructive and negative for all concerned except for those who make the serials. A good marriage is about living in the real world, not in a world that is neither bold nor beautiful.

13. 7 year itches, I don't think there is any such thing. Looking outside your marriage for companionship which can then lead to a breakup, is a sign of intrinsic unhappiness. If you feel it, the thing to do is to deal with it. Not look outside. The problem with 7 year itches is that every 7 years you are older and less desirable. Then where will you go?

14. I don't think children either make a marriage happy or unhappy. It is more their upbringing that makes the home happy or not. Children give the parents a common interest but for a marriage if the only thing in common is the children then something is wrong. On the converse side children take a lot of time and attention and energy and this can be difficult to handle for many people. But if the spouses share in the work of bringing up children and take the trouble to bring them up well, with good manners, values and attitudes, then they can be a huge asset for the marriage.

15. Appreciate each other and express this appreciation on a daily basis. Catch each other doing right. Do things for one another only to see the smile on the face. Invent your own language which only the two of you understand. We used to keep a book on a table in the house in which we would write things we liked about each other or something nice we wanted to say to one another. We did say it as well but sometimes writing is easier.. Second most important rule: Don't react to everything that the other says. Take 10 deep breaths. Then forget it. Reactions produce reactions and in the end it is taken out of your hands.

Finally never go to bed mad at each other. Always make up before you go to bed. Cuddle up together and sleep. Never quarrel in the bedroom. Never in bed. Make this a rule. If you have a problem, deal with it in the morning. Usually by the morning it would have solved itself.

16. Is fighting healthy? Well, depends on what is meant by 'fighting'. If it means trying to get the better of each other in an argument and using all kinds of means to do so then it is definitely not healthy. If it means arguing as in a friendly fencing match between equal intellects that leads to good feeling, then it is good. Avoid power games like the plague. Many marriages turn into daily competitions between the spouses to see who can control the other. This takes many apparently benign and legitimate forms. But they are all illegitimate, subversive and destructive to the marriage.

Some people use religion as a means of control and invoke religious rulings and promise the other brimstone and hellfire for disobeying some whim or fancy of yours. 'Should' is the most useless word in the language. If people did what they should then the world would have been a different place. Both need to look at the real drivers behind their apparent religious orientation because it has nothing to do with the Almighty. Power games come in many packages. Spouses use children as pawns in their games at getting the better of each other. Others use health concerns, eat more, eat less, joint family rules, cultural taboos and many other things. All are power games and all are destructive.

17. Both financial hardship and plenty can be a source of bonding or a source of drifting apart. It is mutual respect and concern for one another that counts. And that is a result of character, piety, learning, nobility of conduct and deportment, confidence, trustworthiness, dignity and grace, genuine desire to please one another and to place the need of the other before and above one's own. None of these are things that money can buy or that we need money for. Marriages are happy or break up for reasons other than money. Money problems are not money problems even when there are money problems; if you see what I mean.

18. Lie, betray trust, cheat, play power games. Also making fun of one another as in mocking. Showing disrespect in the name of humor. Humor is to laugh with someone, not to laugh at them. Lastly but by no means the least, by being overly self-focused and showing disregard and no concern for the other. Honesty is still the best policy in 2010 and will still be the best policy in 3010 if the world lasts that long.

19. There's a difference between telling lies and not divulging all the details. Not divulging all the details, for example about your friendships before marriage, is not wrong and is a very wise thing to do. The spouse has no need to know and it is something that does no good to the marriage no matter how 'broadminded' the spouse may be. But to tell a lie is wrong and goes against the grain of all that I have said above. Incidentally 'white lies' is a racially color biased term, like 'black sheep', 'nightmare', 'black heart' and so on; the legacy of English which is originally the white man's language. Knight in shining armor can be all black too – black shines even more than white if you notice.

Having said that, telling 'the truth' inappropriately or in a harsh manner does no good either. Being silent is an option that is worth exploring. For example if the toast is burnt or the food has no salt or something is not to your liking there are many ways of saying it. But you also have the option of remaining silent in honor of all the times that it was delicious. If the husband comes home cranky it is irritating but you have the option to remind yourself that a nice cup of tea and talking about something else is probably more productive than saying, 'Don't bring your office home'.' You would be justified in saying so if you did, but sometimes it is better to be kind than to be justified. Diplomacy and wisdom are great virtues and most useful in a marriage. Not rubbing their nose in it is wise. Turn away gracefully. Don't watch their discomfiture. Spouses realize that they are wrong but may not necessarily grovel at your feet and beg forgiveness. It is wise to leave them alone and not demand groveling. People's dignity is important to maintain. Be it a management – union negotiation or a domestic disagreement, it is important to allow the one who is wrong to 'save face'. To insist on humiliating them is to burn bridges to future relationship. Remember that you are also human and will surely be wrong one day. Don't create a situation where the other is waiting for that day to return your favor.

20. It is helpful for couples to talk about their problems to someone they respect and whose advice they are willing to listen to. Usually it is better to talk to strangers as they are perceived to be fairer and more objective, as they don't know either party but really it doesn't matter as long as it is someone you respect and who you have decided to listen to, meaning to obey his or her advice. As I have said earlier, before you go to talk to anyone, decide if you are going to listen to what they say even if they don't agree with you. If you are going to someone with the expectation that they must agree with you and support your stance no matter what it is, then don't waste your and their time. No self-respecting, honest arbitrator with any dignity will agree to be biased in favor of one party or the other. If they do, then they are not fit for the position.

In conclusion I would like to say that a marriage can be as good or as bad as you would like to make it.

It is literally in your own hands.