Ian has been away walking in Scotland for a few days and is coming back this afternoon. It's always the same when he goes (and I go away quite a bit as well but the dynamic is different when you are the departing): first I don't want him to go and feel quite unreasonably sad as he departs, then I shake myself off and get down to enjoying the business of having the house to myself, doing just what I feel like, loading the dishwasher without the inevitable complaint, catching up on sewing or reading, loving having the bed to myself and most of all loving the glorious silence that comes from the absence of Radio 4 or even worse Radio 5 following him around the house.
As the time comes for him to get back I get all excited, can't quite settle to anything for looking out of the window and listening for the car or the motorbike. I change the bed and tidy the bedroom, knowing he loves the feel of clean sheets after a few nights camping. I choose something to cook that I know he likes and fill the kitchen with the smell of baking. I change out of the disgusting jeans I have been gardening in and put on a clean T shirt and some mascara (yes, it's push the boat out time). After all these years my heart still lifts when he comes in the door.
So I have been thinking, as someone who failed at marriage the first time round, about what makes a marriage work or fail. Ours is not a calm or easy relationship and in the first year we were married we argued so much I dreaded coming home. We can still flay each other in a desperate, agonising way but that is rare now. We have got better and better at not arguing, at coping with the fact that we are both strongminded, used to our own way, utterly convinced we are right. And that is one of the answers to a happy marriage I think: not insisting on being right, accepting that it might be better to be happy and together than right and alone, looking for the answer that works for both of you because you care about the other person's happiness, even as you wonder why they can't just see it your way!
And then there are the things that "glue" you together: sex is one, the way to connect without words, easy to let slide when children and work begin to overwhelm you but devastating in its absence; houses are another, an attachment you both share to a place, a garden, somewhere you can work together to create a home, doing something together rather than talking when talking isn't working; and family, your wider family in which you play a part.
Children are both the most powerful glue there is and the thing that can blow a marriage apart. It is impossible to describe to a friend who hasn't yet had a child the impact a baby will have on a marriage, overturning everything, throwing your life up in the air so that nothing is the same when everything comes down again: the incessant demands, the lack of sleep, the earthquake of becoming parents rather than lovers. But if you can survive that (and I didn't first time round) sharing the raising of children is like nothing else. I still feel a profound attachment to my first husband as a result of the years in which we did that.
And what unglues? Infidelity, unkindness, boredom, a sense that somewhere there will be something better, too much or too little putting yourself first, too little shared life and shared aspirations.
Writing about it makes it seem unfathomable. To be married can be both the best and the worst thing, a good marriage the foundation of your life, your rock, your place of safety; an unhappy one a brutal cause of pain or a slow demolition of the soul. We ask so much of it and need to give it so much if it is to deliver.
Perhaps the only truth is that what makes a marriage work is wanting to be married, an utter commitment to being there. Is that easier as you get older? I suspect it is.
I'm going to go now, to change the bed and to make him a cake.