How we stay together: 'I think you need to be challenged'

Names: Sabir and Emmy Samtani
Years together: 17
Occupations: Co-founders of a parenting website

It was a classic sliding doors moment. Within two months, Sabir and Emmy Samtani had met, fallen in love and embarked on a trip across Europe together. But things weren’t going well. They argued constantly and, a few weeks into their trip, they’d had enough.

By the time they landed in Athens, they agreed to go their separate ways – he was going on to Ireland and she was off to France. But, as Emmy hopped on to a shuttle bus to catch her connecting flight, Sabir knew he had to do something. “It literally was the moment the door was shutting. I was like, ‘I’m going to get on this bus,’ because I just couldn’t let it end,” Sabir says. They spend the next few days sorting things out and then, after their solo trips, returning home together.

The Sydney couple have now been together for 17 years. They have three young children and run an online business together and, although things have been tempestuous at times, they remain committed to each other.

Sabir and Emmy Samtani
‘I realised there are so many times where we just get each other,’ Emmy says. Photograph: Sabir and Emmy Samtani

They met in 2004 at a Sydney nightclub. Emmy was 22 and in town from Newcastle with her friends, while 24-year-old Sabir was out with a mate. Emmy’s friends spotted Sabir but she was unimpressed. “I was like, ‘He’s got sunglasses inside … not my type’.” Sabir also noticed Emmy: “I think it was her smile,” he says. They danced and started talking. “We spoke for ages,” Emmy says.

They spent the day together, then spent the next few weeks talking on the phone or driving to see each other for weekends. Both had been planning trips to Europe so they decided to take that fateful trip together. And after they returned to Sydney, they agreed to move in together.

Right from the start, they had a strong connection. “One of his ex-girlfriends said, ‘You’re like the female version of him’,” Emmy says. “It took me by surprise … but then I realised there are so many times where we just get each other.”

They have a lot in common, Sabir says. “We loved to go out and dance [and] we were compatible from ethics and values. We both are really close to our family [and] to our mums, we value those relationships. [And] I think, over time, we always knew we were going to be together for a long time.”

Sabir and Emmy Samtani
‘Who doesn’t want a big Indian wedding? I think part of us got married because we wanted a party,’ Sabir says. Photograph: Sabir and Emmy Samtani

When things get difficult, they rely on their friendship. “We always liked each other as people. And I think ultimately, it came down to that,” Sabir says. “I’ve always looked at Emmy as someone who just brings the fun, [is] entertaining and keeps me on my toes. And that’s the main thing. I think you need to be challenged.”

He proposed to her spontaneously one day – when she was in the bathroom. They laugh about it now. “He’s very random like that.” Emmy says. “If something’s in his head, it just happens right there naturally. And he didn’t realise I was going in for a shower.”

Sabir and Emmy with their daughter
Sabir and Emmy with their daughter. Photograph: Sabir and Emmy Samtani

They had a lavish wedding in India, surrounded by friends and family. “Who doesn’t want a big Indian wedding? I think part of us got married because we wanted a party,” Sabir says. He’s serious for a moment: “I felt really good about marriage because it was just that extra commitment to go, ‘we’re life partners’.”

Although they come from different backgrounds – Emmy is Dutch and Sabir Indian – there haven’t been any cultural clashes. In fact, Emmy says she’s often told she must have been Indian in a previous life. “I turned up [in India] and it was this warm, familiar [but] bizarre feeling. And I think that’s where that’s stemmed from, from everyone [noticing I was] picking up Hindi and the music and the dancing.”

Sabir appreciated the efforts she made: “It wasn’t a test to our relationship because I live here and it’s not really [an issue] but I think just her fitting into the culture so easily made that much easier.”

For the next few years, they travelled the world together, making the most of their freedom. When Emmy was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries, they decided to try for children, and their daughter was born not long after that. Both relished the transition to parenthood: “We felt like we wanted to be at home more and we didn’t want to party that much. Having another person in the house was amazing,” Sabir says. “And having [someone] that we could look after.”

But when she was a year old, their daughter was diagnosed with the neurological disorder neurofibromatosis-1. Her symptoms are minor and there are still many unknowns, but Sabir says it was a difficult time, particularly for him. Their different approaches helped balance them. “He’s very emotional, I’m very practical,” Emmy says. “[You] can’t get upset about things you can’t change. We just need to roll with it.”

They had two more children in quick succession, a son and another daughter. Their youngest child has also had some developmental delays, which means she needs speech therapy and physio. Having three children puts plenty of pressure on the relationship, Sabir says. “We had two, which was working. I think the third one definitely pushed me to where I was like, ‘Shit, this is pretty full on.’”

In between the arrivals of their children, they started an online parenting website, Kiindred, together. They work well together, both passionate about working and building their business – whatever the hour. “The only time I have cut him off is at midnight [when he] says to me, ‘I’ve had this idea. Can we talk about this?’ I’m like, ‘I need to go to sleep because someone’s got to wake up in the morning,’” says Emmy says.

Sabir and Emmy Samtani
‘Her fitting into the culture so easily made that much easier,’ Sabir says of Emmy. Photograph: Sabir and Emmy Samtani

With so many demands on their time, they divide the responsibilities between them. For now, the majority of parenting responsibilities fall to Emmy while Sabir runs the business. Both feel guilty for letting the other one down but they try to adjust their expectations of themselves.

“[It’s] just in this phase of our life that we have to get through it together, get through it with supporting each other as best as we can,” Sabir says. “And then, we know on the other side, once the kids are a bit older, they can look after themselves… And then, hopefully [the pressure] will start to ease up.”

When they have downtime, they spend it at home together as a family. “It’s like we’ve replaced where we used to go out before kids to putting music on at home on a Friday night and dancing with our kids,” Emmy says. “And for us, that’s the most fun.”

Sabir agrees: “We don’t get FOMO, we just enjoy. And we only get a little time with each other.”

Emmy interjects: “I do miss lying on a beach and not having to worry about kids. Like, I’m sorry, but there are some things that you do miss,” she says with a laugh.

Although they still clash occasionally, they have gotten better at dealing with conflict.

“I think it’s giving each other some grace and knowing that when someone has flipped their lid or is emotional, they don’t want to hear you telling them, ‘You should be doing it this way [or] that way,’” Emmy says.

Sabir and Emmy Samtani
‘I think it’s giving each other some grace and knowing that when someone has flipped their lid or is emotional, they don’t want to hear you telling them, “You should be doing it this way [or] that way”,’ Emmy says. Photograph: Sabir and Emmy Samtani

They have also got better at seeing the other’s point of view, Sabir says. “We both don’t play our part at times. And as long as we look at it [as if] we’re equally responsible and equally let each other down, as long as it comes from a middle ground, then it’s fine to fight knowing that. As soon as it shifts the other way and one just thinks the other one is wrong in everything, then it’s never going to get resolved.”

Sabir attributes the longevity of their relationship to appreciating their differences. “What works for you may not work for me. And what works for me and how I do things may not work for you. You have to come to a compromise. But one person’s not going to change completely for the other. And if they do, then that relationship will not work long term.”

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