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.


  1. That was very deep and thoughtful,I can tell you've had time alone it gives us time to think and appreciate....xx

  2. I think I'd change the bed but he'd have to sacrifice the cake!

    As J and I live and work on the farm we have had to take care to find a happy medium in our relationship. I think every healthy marriage has its up and downs but if you can work through them all, that's when you honestly say it's meant to be.

    Crystal xx

  3. We've been married for 32 years come October 4th - and that's longer than either of us were not married. (That sounds a bit double dutch) And they've been, on the whole 32 good years. Much love, some compromise - I've not, until I read your excellent blog, stoppped to analyse what has made it work.

  4. Like Mountainear, our anniversary is in October - it'll be 34 years on October 13th. It's good to think about what makes it work - but not too much analysing!

  5. Elizabeth? Are you my twin separated from birth over the hills?

    My marriage to the girls' dad failed (and yes, much of that stemmed from my disappointment that he couldn't engage with the babies I so adored) but at the same time we did bring these two wonderful people (I would say that, wouldn't I?) into the world so that was certainly a success.

    But I think your point about making an effort is a good one too, it's about still bothering to do something kind for the person you love and showing that you still care. Well said. Enjoy the clean sheets!

  6. Oh that was SO well written, thanks so much, I am going to print in off and give it to my daughter who is getting married next year - you put if far better than I ever could. I hope you don't mind. It will just be the words, nothing to link it to you, no cyber name or purplecoo.

    As many of you on this site know, I have been married 3 times. Marriage is hard work, and the easiest thing in the world all rolled into one. The MOST important thing is choosing someone essentially right for you and a good person at heart. That sounds easy but is not.

  7. i sure enjoyed this post--i enjoyed the parts i can identify with, and i enjoyed even more the insights that had not yet occurred to me.

    my first marriage failed, too, as did my husband's. now we are appraoching our 9th anniversary this month. i feel the same way you do, when he goes away --i don't want him to be gone, and i worry about his safety (because i am a worrier, and getting worse), and then once he's disappeared i love the alone time, which i squander in useless and wonderful ways. (usually watching "Persuasion" and having popcorn and wine for dinner.)

    and then when he's due home, i, too, get restless. if he's coming home late, i can't sleep....

    the difference between this marriage and the first one is that i now understand that it's not my happiness i need to be concerned with; it's his. and as long as he is equally concerned about mine, it works jsut fine.

  8. Quite an extraordinary blog Elizabeth - just so spot on.
    I can just imagine you getting all excited and hopeful when you hear the car etc. Lovely. mousie

  9. Oh that was lovely . . . it is so good to hear women talking about their husbands with such love.

    Oh I could so empathise with you the feeling when your man is leaving and when they are gone and coming back. And it the joy of them returning that is so important.

    For me part of the glue is being able to really listen to each other and also liking and understanding and being honest with yourself which allows you to be the same to each other

  10. A very thoughtful blog. Marriage is a very strange institution. I've been with my man for 33years and for most of them we've been married. My previous marriage lasted a matter of months. I'm sure marriage gets better the longer you try it.

  11. Lovely Elizabeth and so much to think about. I know exactly what you mean about enjoying the time alone, but the excitement when they come back. Iive been with my dear chap 29 years (27 married) and I knew the moment I saw him I was going to marry him. I didn't even know his name. We've had our ups and downs, but we've always had a shared sense of humour and I've never regretted a minute of it and would marry him all over again if I had to.

  12. Oh what a lovely blog, Elizabeth.... I agree with you so much. yes, I love my time alone (the way the house gets clean and stays clean), 'my' music meandering through the rooms rather than endless difficult bits of classical 'music'.... But, like you, I cherish the return. Adrian's been my only marriage but we both came to it late and, had we not, I suspect both of us would have had a failed marriage behind us....I think we are both aware of that and very wise to what we have and how lucky we are.
    Enjoy the homecoming....what kind of cake????

  13. I sat and wrote my shooting article while waiting for this load - it was worth the wait. You write so wisely and beautifully.

    Marriage is about so many things, friendship, compromise, sex, partnership, time together and time apart. Everyone's is different but we all take the same lessons from it. To be successful I think most of all you have to look at things through your partner's eyes once in a while. It's certainly taught me a few lessons in my 10 year marriage.

    A divorce lawyer once said to me she thought men strayed and had affairs because their minds didn't go as far as seeing 'the other woman' in her dressing gown at 7am every morning. They didn't figure that there would be arguments and moods, tracky-bottoms and slippers moments. It's about taking the rough with the smooth!

  14. This was such an exceptional post Elizabeth, but you must stop making me cry! I read it last night, but couldn't comment as it was too apt - had just had a large row with R! We also go several rounds in the boxing ring from time to time (metaphorically speaking of course!) and have been having a particularly stressful time lately, with all sorts of worries keeping us both awake. We have a tendency to get terribly competitive over who's working the hardest/under the most stress/whatever, but your post made me swallow my pride and go and be nice, instead of of submitting to the very tempting frosty silence. Thanks! I do so agree, as ever, with what you say.

  15. As always you get it just right Elizabethm...

    You will know the relevance of this blog to me and I totally agree.

    After everything, I STILL get excited about my husband coming back from work some evenings and look forward to a full weekend of quality time together, just us and the boys.
    But I also am fiercely independent and love my own space and have many interests of my own so we are not dependent on each other-keeps things healthy and an element of keeping your own identity...despite being two halves of a whole...
    We have the same values and want the same things in life coming from similar backgrounds. Our characters are quite different and we 'compliment' each other.
    "A SOULMATE:- a person for whom one has a deep affinity, esp a lover, wife, husband..."

    Excellent blog.

    warm wishes

  16. Know just how you feel, I am exactly the same when the happy farmer goes away, I hate it as the time draws nearer, then enjoy the change in dynamics of having my own space and time, whilst missing him and following his adventures via the phone, only to get really restless and excited as I eagerly await him walking through the door again.

  17. That is just such a lovely blog - so well written and so true - that it almost brought tears to my eyes.
    Every couple will be different, but no marriage will be a bed of roses unless those roses are worked at and tended. I remember David Niven's autobiography, writing about his first wife saying she was just so wonderful. She died and he married someone else about whom he went on to say exactly the same things. He said he couldn't believe that he had been so incredibly lucky twice over - but I think that a good deal was down to him, always being (or so he appeared) complimentary and attentive, warm and welcoming.

  18. That's the second time that i've heard about being 'right' or being 'happy', they don't always go hand in hand do they?
    Aren't you a sweetie changing the sheets and baking a cake...hope he appreciates it!

  19. This is a truly lovely blog.
    Thanks for sharing it everyone.

  20. Thought provoking and empathic as always, Em. Whenever I get to the point of loading the 12-bore, I stop and try to picture someone else sitting opposite me at the dinner table........
    We have alwas made time in our hectic schedules to have special meals together- candles, the full works, every weekend- so when thechildren left home (the first time!) we still had our little rituals. I still think he's impossibly handsome!

    I have tagged you, by the way, for Blossom's homework.

  21. A lovely, thought-provoking blog. Thank you. Like others, I've been married a long time (27 and counting), but seldom wonder about why it works so well.

    Wanting to be with her.
    Wanting her to want to be with me.
    Wanting her to be happy.
    Wanting her to know I care.

    It seems to be all about giving, rather than receiving.

    I try to remember that being best friends is sometimes more important than being right.


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