President Halimah talks of lessons from her marriage

President Halimah Yacob posing for a wefie with Youth Corps Singapore members yesterday at The Red Box. They were part of 60 young people the President had a dialogue with at an event organised by the National Youth Council. President Halimah urged c
President Halimah Yacob posing for a wefie with Youth Corps Singapore members yesterday at The Red Box. They were part of 60 young people the President had a dialogue with at an event organised by the National Youth Council. President Halimah urged couples to plan not just for their wedding but for their life ahead.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Before agreeing to marry her husband, President Halimah Yacob had one condition - he had to agree to her mother, whom she was very close to, living with them.

When he said "yes" without hesitation, she knew he truly embraced her family.

That, along with his caring and supportive nature, was what made her say "yes" to Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, she told young couples last night at a conference titled "Will you ever be ready for marriage?"

President Halimah, 63, shared this anecdote at the event organised by the Muslim Youth Forum Singapore, where she spoke about three lessons she learnt in 37 years of marriage and raising five children.

Addressing about 900 young people at the Shine Auditorium in Beach Road, she said: "No one can profess to be the guru of marriage and parenthood... which is why today, I will share by reflecting on my own experience."

Her first piece of advice: "Marry for the right reason and remember it."

This would help sustain couples when they face challenges and adjust to things like having children.

"Whenever we have any difference in opinion, as all couples do every now and then, I remember why I married him. I remember the sacrifices he made for me. And this makes it easier for us to work things out," she said of her 63-year-old husband, a retired businessman.

Another tip she had was to exercise good financial sense.

Quoting statistics from last year, Madam Halimah noted that financial problems was the third most cited reason for Muslim marriages ending in divorce.

She urged couples to plan not just for their wedding but for their life ahead, saying: "I suggest that we do not start our marriage in debt."

"Yes, I know it is important to make it a memorable day... but think a bit further, don't add stress and burden to your finances even before you start this journey together," she said. She added that government support is available to help defray housing costs.

Relating her own experience, she said she and her husband had started out in their marriage renting a room and living with relatives.

Only after saving up money did they buy a flat in Yishun.

They even "waited a bit more before we bought things such as a television and sofa", she said.

"This flat became our home for over 30 years. My children grew up there, and memories we accumulated over the years are what truly matter eventually, not the material goods," she added.

Finally, said Madam Halimah, it is important to be sensitive to the feelings of one's spouse, and to make it a habit to talk to each other daily even after having children.

She encouraged couples to have frank discussions about issues that may require compromise, and to have these talks "before the marriage, and not after".

Madam Halimah also urged young couples to take advantage of the many marriage preparation programmes available, such as the conference she was speaking at.

"When couples have strong relationships, they can better support each other, and provide a loving and supportive home for their children," she said.

Earlier in the day, she paid tribute to mothers for the sacrifices they make for their families, at an awards event by Muslim welfare organisation Jamiyah Singapore.

She also discussed the aspirations of young people with 60 of them, at a dialogue organised by the National Youth Council.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'President Halimah talks of lessons from her marriage'. Print Edition | Subscribe