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The secret to marital bliss? It’s in your DNA

Ahlya Fateh

Published: Updated:

My niece is getting married next week. The same teeny tiny baby I looked after as a teenager is going to be a bride. Sadly, due to work schedules, school term times and a host of other annoying factors that dictate my life, I will not be there. In a world where families have to cross datelines to spend time with each other I am sure this will not be the first family occasion that I cannot be present for, but at least this time I will not miss out. Thanks to Face Time and Skype I expect to catch all the fun on my computer as various relations attempt to live stream from Karachi. In turn, all of the cousins, aunts etc. who are not going to be learning to Bollywood dance for the Henna parties were all asked to send short videos offering their words of wisdom on the state of marriage.

Amongst all the good advice given and all the years of experience recorded for the happy couple, there was one underlying truth. No one really knows what makes a good marriage, although a lot of people can tell you what made their marriages bad. Now, thanks to the clever folks at USC Berkeley and Northwestern University we know why; a good marriage is simply in your DNA. I don’t profess to be remotely adept at science; I blacked out during my first ever biology lesson, however this is how it goes: It all depends on the gene that regulates the production of serotonin, also known as the Happy Hormone and this links emotion to marital satisfaction. The gene variant (5-HTTLPR), let’s call them Genies, are inherited from each parent and it is your Genie’s length that determines how in tune you are with your partner’s needs. Those of us with long Genies are less bothered by the emotional landscape of their relationship while those blessed, or cursed, with a shorter Genie found it more difficult to cope with marital strife.

When I was single I remember a friend telling me that no one would ever want to be with a woman who was perpetually unhappy with her lot in life

Ahlya Fateh

I have been married for over a decade and without delving too close to home, I can see how this finding could affect many couples, at least now when you are accused of “not caring enough” you can claim that it is your DNA at fault. In the Middle East where arranged marriages are still in vogue will this lead to detailed screening of prospective partners – DNA screenings on top of scouring family trees for signs of mental illness?!

Relationship fulfilment is now the buzz word that is being bandied about – it’s not enough to be in a relationship for years on end but one must also derive emotional satisfaction from this state of affairs. In our part of the world many of us know couples who have been together for decades but if they were asked how happy this had made them, would their answers be overwhelmingly positive or simply that they were married and stayed that way through the good times and the bad. Divorce is now just as common in the East as it is in the West so are we all genetically damaged in some way that leaves us looking for emotional salvation in our other halves when perhaps we should be looking inwards for the answers.

My love story

For my part, I came to the state of marriage relatively late for a Pakistani woman of my generation; so for me my relationship satisfaction with myself has always been paramount, which may come across as selfish, but bear with me a moment. When I was single I remember a friend telling me that no one would ever want to be with a woman who was perpetually unhappy with her lot in life, and the best time to meet the man of your dreams was when you were having the best time on your own. It was sound advice and very true. If in the future we should find ourselves screening our DNA for gene variant compatibility rather like the personality quiz on Shaadi.com, the popular internet wedding site, will this deter us in the face of true love?

Your prospective groom has no emotional awareness; do you dump and run rather than follow your heart or your parent’s wishes? Decisions, decisions. I didn’t actually offer any words of wisdom to my beloved niece, I always believe it is better to borrow from those more erudite than myself so to the happy couple I offer these words by Andre Maurois: “A successful marriage is an edifice that must be rebuilt every day.” Just don’t take a wrecking ball to it every night!

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Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.


Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.