President Halimah Yacob shares 3 lessons she learned in more than 30 years of marriage

President Halimah Yacob and her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee address supporters before leaving the nomination centre in Singapore on Sept 13, 2017.
President Halimah Yacob and her husband Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee address supporters before leaving the nomination centre in Singapore on Sept 13, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Before agreeing to marry her husband, President Halimah Yacob gave him 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 more than 30 years ago, she told young couples on Saturday (Sept 30) night at a conference entitled "will you ever be ready for marriage".

Madam Halimah, 63, gave this anecdote at the event organised by the Muslim Youth Forum Singapore, where she spoke about three lessons she learned in her 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, she said.

"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 husband, 63, a retired businessman.

Another tip she had was to exercise good financial sense.

Quoting statistics from 2016, Madam Halimah noted that financial problems were 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 debts."

"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 adding there would be many other financial commitments in a marriage.

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 staying 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 matters 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.

She thanked Muslim Youth Forum Singapore chief executive officer Ustaz Zahid Zin for organising the useful conference.

"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 children and families, at an awards event for mothers by Muslim welfare organisation Jamiyah Singapore.

She said at that event that more programmes, such as flexible work arrangements and professional conversion programmes, are in place to help women juggle their career and caregiving roles.

She also said it was heartening to see women taking on leadership roles in both corporate and community organisations, as they bring a different perspective and have important skills.