“The great marriages are partnerships. It can’t be a great marriage without being a partnership.” Helen Mirren
This evening is a familiar one. My wife and I are visiting her parents and, after a couple of drinks, decide to stay the night.
My in-laws are easy company and we never struggle for something to talk about. But tonight is different. Instead of catching up on daily events or moaning about the state of politics in the UK, I want to find out more about their 40-year-long marriage.
Their relationship has fascinated me since I first met them more than ten years ago. I’d been seeing their daughter for a few months and so they invited me over for tea.
Pat, now my mother-in-law, was undoubtedly the boss. Her husband John pottered about the entire night making sure that her glass was topped up and that she had everything she needed.
Despite Pat being a self-confessed ‘bossy britches’, what struck me was the tenderness in how they spoke to each other. They addressed each other as ‘darling’ or ‘my love’ without it sounding forced or cringeworthy. They sat close together on the sofa, gently holding each other’s hands.
Being a child of divorce, this wasn’t something I was used to seeing. Towards the end of their relationship my parents couldn’t be in the same room for forty seconds, never mind forty years.
So, Pat and John, how have you managed it?
“We’re united in everything we do.” says Pat, “Whatever challenges are put in front of us, we face them together.”
“I’m unanimous in that!”, says John, with a laugh, reinforcing the point that he very rarely disagrees with his wife.
“We’re never divided and can honestly say that we’ve never raised our voices to each other in anger,” adds Pat.
I’m not buying it. Surely in forty years, there must have been the occasional row?
John looks at me sheepishly and I’m expecting a revelation about blazing battles behind closed doors. Instead, he makes a not-so-shocking confession; “I do get told off but usually I deserve it”
“That’s because it’s important to not let things fester.”, Pat explains. “If I have been a bit harsh though, I apologise straight away. Even though I’m always right!”
This short exchange is a microcosm of their relationship. There’s a playfulness in their dialogue. Each of them has a complete understanding of the other’s position.
Has it always been this way?
John’s reply is a confident one. “The relationship hasn’t changed. We’re a team.”
We speak for the best part of an hour about their lives together. How they met when John was 17 and Pat 16. They tell me about their courtship (“that’s what it was called in those days”) and the early days of their marriage. About their pride in becoming parents and eventually grandparents.
“The worst thing about being a grandparent is going to bed with a grandad every night!”, says Pat.
As always the conversation has come easily and is pock-marked by trips to the fridge for a refill.
Before the wine gets the better of them and they end up snoring on the couch, I ask the all-important question.
What advice would you give to newlyweds?
“There’s no magic formula”, offers Pat. “Listen to each other, respect each other and love each other. They’re the key elements. That and a little bit of luck.”
I hope that we can all be as lucky as them.