With my special thanks to the couples who helped in this article, whose identities have been changed.
I firmly believe that striving for equality between men and women is the right thing to do, in the midst of chauvinism, discrimination and abuse. Despite this, I have never had any feminist reservations about marriage, although I understand that some people think differently.
So, nearly 12 years ago, in Brazil, I was taken by my father down the aisle of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, where he gave me away to an Englishman, before a bilingual vicar. On the happiest day of my life, I was wearing a romantic ivory wedding dress and carrying an unforgettable rose bouquet, when I made public my decision about that marriage, saying very proudly, “I do.”
After the ceremony, one friend amusingly said to me: “I couldn’t believe my eyes; a career woman like you, Silvia, getting married in the most traditional way possible.” She had a point. Marriage nowadays is no longer compulsory, as the times are long gone when women used to marry out of duty or social pressure and therefore an unmarried woman was seen by society as someone with a serious disease or a physical disability. Actually, these days about one in four women in the UK are single by the time they hit 40 and modern men seem fed up of being blamed for everything that goes wrong in a marriage. So today, there are other options available to couples, ranging from full time cohabitation to virtually remaining single with every option in between.
According to relationship experts, many people in our current society are no longer comfortable with the concept of long-term marriage, as greater choice and personal ambition are seen as equally important. It is even being suggested that long commitments are incompatible with everyday life, as people grow, make choices and changes for a new lifestyle or career every 10 years or so. So, you may be deciding at this moment to tie the knot for the rest of your days, but can you be sure about what change the future will bring and in doing so, will you resolve to continue to be married to that person?
Our changing society accepts behaviours which were once regarded as examples of arrogance, selfishness and self-regard. Today, many young people marry for different reasons; maybe to move out of their parent’s house or because they have been dating a long time and marriage is easier than breaking up.
UK statistics show that marriages are at their lowest rate for more than 100 years, whilst the number of couples living together outside of marriage is on the increase. On top of that, each year an equivalent of half the number of people getting married end up getting divorced, with the divorce rate among 25-29 year-olds being twice the average across all age groups. Couples have been spending less time trying to mend their relationships before turning to the divorce courts than they used to, reinforcing our grandmas’ opinions that “people are marrying and getting divorced as easily as changing clothes.”
But things develop dramatically when children are involved, as many families are becoming fatherless, which brings consequences for the little ones. Even without the protection of a marriage, women are very capable of bringing up kids on their own, as they are braver than they think. But, when all goes wrong, they often become the financially weaker party, facing more emotional and schooling problems for their offspring than the ones who can count on the support of a partner.
Having less stability in their relationships, lots of people do go on to have more than one marriage these days, even though it is quite distressing for many. The concept of the “starter marriage” came out at the same time as some celebrities’ breakups, including those of Nicolas Cage and Lisa Marie Presley (married for 107 days), Drew Barrymore and Tom Green (married for 163 days) and Jennifer Lopez and Cris Judd (married for 218 days). This helped it garner attention in modern society, describing first marriages that end within five years, usually for couples in their 20s and often before the birth of children.
I surveyed four long-term married English couples, willing to pass on their experience, demonstrating their passion to help people to come to terms with their union and make it last for life. After all, getting married and raising a family is still considered the most normal thing to do in the UK and, in the long run, the ones who pay the highest price of divorce are the kids. So, as a divorce often hits hard and for the sake of children, here comes the happily ever after couples:
1 – Claire and Henry, married for 25 years, three children:
Both are doctors and believe that young people these days are prouder, more independent, strong-willed and sophisticated than in previous generations. They have been forced to enter our world, which has become highly untrusting, long before they were mature. Having had less time for innocence in their childhood, there is now more trouble for them, as they are exposed to things that were unimaginable a few decades ago, such as computers, cellular phones, the entire planet accessible through television, whilst their working parents have little time to spend with them.
On top of this, we have been glorifying competition in our society, becoming obsessed with getting ahead, so it is no surprise that life-time commitments and families are getting lost. With modern messages of choice, freedom and ambition, a lot of people don’t want to settle, as our values are turning upside down. Our outside jobs are coming first and our families are being left behind. This enchantment of power is the cause of many premature marriages. As these people become older and wiser, eventually realising that the only one important power is the power of love, will they continue married?
But we can mend it if we succeed in bringing up our children showing them the importance of generosity and kindness, rather than getting ahead. Having more spiritual values, we will have stronger families, as with better guidance, we can help them to find their vocation for a commitment and to raise a family. Vocation is key for a marriage, with two free wills coming together in a union. If people are not able to find such a vocation, which involves respect, tolerance and altruism, it is better to consider the option of remaining single.
2 – Chloe and Thomas, married for 40 years, one child:
She is an artistic designer and he is a teacher and according to them, there is no formula that can make a marriage last, as everything depends on your love for each other. But they also believe that laughter plays an essential role in building strong and healthy relationships, as it brings people closer together, creating intimacy, keeping things exciting, fresh, vibrant and also resolving rough spots that afflict every relationship from time to time.
Being the key to resilience, humour can help a couple, as long as both partners are in on the joke and it is free from hurtful sarcasm and ridicule. If your partner doesn’t think your joking or teasing is funny, it is better to stop immediately and apologise. Also, humour should never be used as a cover for painful emotions.
Besides, Thomas warns us about a modern habit that many young couples have been adopting; going out with their own friends, for drinks and chat, without setting a time to come back home. According to him, this habit is not only bad, but actually it is “a marriage-killer”, being extremely selfish and contrary to what is expected in a marriage. A healthy relationship involves love and selflessness, which are free, but cause some loss of our personal freedom, so any behaviour which places those values at risk, could make a couple split up.
3 – Lucy and Aaron, married for 50 years, four children:
She is a housewife and he is a retired GP and they emphasise the importance of being mature enough to face it when there is a problem in a marriage and that both partners should take some blame. When we truly love and are balanced people, we are able to keep control over our emotions and stop ourselves saying or doing hurtful and insulting things to our partners, which can build up over time and wreck even the strongest of relationships. So, it is crucial that a couple sets boundaries of what is acceptable behaviour in their marriage and feel in control.
Actually, most of us lack the manners to live in a family. If we did to a friend half things we normally do to spouses and relatives, we would lose that friend and if we did them in our jobs we would certainly lose those too. It is important to self-edit and be self-disciplined when a disagreement is arising between you and your partner, as out-of-control emotions can lead to out-of-control behaviours. But stopping and taking control of our emotions in a situation can be hard work.
Considering the negative consequences your actions may be about to cause, you can stop in time and do different things, such as choose music to change your mood, self-dialogue, listing things alphabetically and so on. The most important thing is to go back to a calmer state of mind and to forgiveness mode, as maturity and self-discipline are key. Once feeling calmer, you will be able to criticise something you find irritating about your partner gently and supportively rather than aggressively.
It is important to know when it is time to give in, occasionally even negotiating thin ice, as together a couple can learn to respect their differences and live with them. Also, they need to agree about the upbringing of their children.
4 – Daisy and Michael, married for 54 years, five children:
Both are retired. She was a teacher and he was a GP. They agree that everybody wants to be happy in a marriage, but we can’t buy happiness, as love is a feeling that is learned every day and the course of true love never runs smoothly.
If you want to improve your relationship, the best way is with open dialogue from both sides. When things bother you, it is wiser to speak up as soon as possible to avoid small things spiralling out of control. It is better to have a minor argument than to adopt between you that sacred rule “silence is golden”. On the contrary, silence can be a serious sign of discomfort in the relationship and may cause irreversible damage.
Also, silence between a couple can be used as a way of manipulating the other partner, making them give in to other requests, criticisms and complaints. If you engage in this behaviour, you will have less satisfaction and intimacy in your relationship, as well poorer communication, which inevitably will lead to unhappiness.
In my opinion, women shouldn’t really need the sparkle of an expensive wedding, just for the fascination of it. If true feelings are not in that relationship, it’s totally pointless to sign papers and spend over £18,000 on a luxurious party. All four couples heard here had a common point in their views and advice, as all of them emphasised the importance of love. Actually, you can acknowledge your ribbon of togetherness to the whole world every day, remembering and believing that “all you need is love”.