Do it just for 30 seconds and believe me your married life will chanfe forever - Healthy Mates Ideas

Do it just for 30 seconds and believe me your married life will chanfe forever

John and Dan met online when John was 19 and Dan was 17. They were from similar backgrounds, country boys who, growing up, hadn’t known anyone else who was gay. When it turned out they were attracted to each other as well, they couldn’t believe their luck. They were together for a year before life intervened; when, two years later, they bumped into each other again, the attraction was stronger than ever. They knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, and announced to their respective parents that they would be entering into a civil partnership.

The response was immediate: they were 21 and 23 – way too young. “But then we both sat our parents down,” John says, “and I told my mum I knew she was 21 when she got married. And Dan sat his mum down, who was also 21 when she got married. And we said, ‘You’re all a bunch of hypocrites.’ They shut up and left us to it” – though not without John’s mother pointing out that she had also been divorced, and that marriage was not to be undertaken lightly. “It just went over my head. We were in love and heading to our wedding, simple as that.” And so their life together began as everyone hopes these things will begin – with love, joy, hope, and in defiance of any boring naysayers.

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But earlier this year, after four years of civil partnership, John and Dan filed for divorce. Every divorce is an individual grief; it is also, however, part of a greater cultural story. This is not just that divorce rates are high, though that is part of it (2012, the last year for which the Office for National Statistics has published figures, saw a slight increase in the number of divorces, to 42% of marriages). Almost half of divorces happen in the first 10 years of marriage, and the rate is especially high between the fourth and eighth anniversary. The average age at divorce was 45 for men and 42 for women, which masks a more interesting statistic: by far the highest divorce rates have been among women aged 25-29 and men aged either 25-29 or 30-34, depending on the year.

Over the past few months, I’ve talked to a number of people who were divorced by the age of 30, about their first, early marriages. I have discovered, predictably, that there are as many narratives as there are unions (or perhaps, it would be truer to say, as with traffic accidents, as many stories as there are witnesses, ie at least two). But there are some things that come through again and again.

That the pain and trouble of a difficult marriage are often a huge shock – “The church tells them marriages are made in heaven, but so are thunder and lightning,” as a wry matrimonial lawyer once put it. That divorce, though easier and more common than it was in previous generations, is still traumatic – the cliches of a messy or painful divorce are not only cliches, lawyers and therapists will tell you wearily, but tautologies.

But I also found that people who survive what are sometimes called starter marriages often learn things they could not have learned in any other way – not even by cohabiting. And that these things might help them go on to make far stronger unions than they might otherwise have made.

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Whether or not a young couple stay together often depends on why they married in the first place, says Kate Figes, author of Couples: The Truth, a book for which she interviewed more than 100 couples. If it’s because “they want an expensive party, to be centre stage for a day, because they have romanticised notions of finding their ‘soulmate’, or want the imagined extra security marriage might bring, they could be in for a nasty shock, and a speedy separation,” she says. “On the other hand there are people who marry, say, their childhood sweetheart, or the person they fell in love with at university. They grow up together.”

Many of the people I spoke to in fact fell into the latter camp – they met early, yes, often at university; but there were years of dating, of sharing lives and possessions, before they actually married.

Kieron Faller, 34, manages a music technology company and lives in London. He met his first wife on his first day at Canterbury University, and they were engaged a year later. “It didn’t feel like we were being weirdly over-committed or obsessed with each other to the exclusion of our friends or other stuff that was going on,” he says. They married four years after they left university, by which time they owned a house, two dogs and a horse, and were both working.

Alison Martin, 42, a self-possessed teacher at a school in West Sussex, also met her ex-husband at university. It was her first week at Queen’s in Belfast. He was funny, good-looking, and “I suppose it was very lighthearted, you know, as girlfriend and boyfriend, then it got more serious when we were living together.” They had been together for seven years when they married in 1999.

Laura Paskell-Brown, 34, now a doula in San Francisco, met her husband in her first year at Oxford, when they were both campaigning against the introduction of tuition fees. “I saw this man – he seemed to have it all together. He lit up the room every time he walked into it, and I was like, if I can’t be that person, I can marry that person,” she says. “I thought he’d see how interesting and fabulous I was, and then we’d live happily ever after.”

But happily ever after is a large part of the problem. As a culture we seem to believe that marriage is a kind of end point and a solution to all ills, rather than the start of a complex process that, depending on who we are and how we deal with it, could go any way at all. The central question, says Susanna Abse, a psychotherapist and CEO of the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships, is: “Can [a marriage] tolerate the process of disillusionment, the facing up to limitation that all long relationships have to go through?”

Divorce: Alison
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Alison Martin, 42, met her husband at university. They married seven years later, and divorced two years after that. Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Guardian
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This disillusionment can set in surprisingly quickly. “I remember my mum saying to me, ‘Oh, isn’t it fun when you are first married?’” says Lindsay, 34, an American from Oregon who met her ex-husband when she sat down next to him in a youth hostel in Salzburg. They conducted a long-distance relationship for a couple of years, before she came to Britain to be with him. They married when her student visa ran out. “And I was like, ‘Oh really? When does it get fun?’ And that is not a criticism of him, I think we just didn’t know what sort of existence marriage really is.” Unable to cope with its strictures and its import, she began to pull away in all sorts of unconscious ways. “He was always a much more sensible character, and I, all of a sudden, just started going out and getting really drunk all the time, and hanging out with people he didn’t like.” At the same time her work as a business manager in architecture and design was going well. “I became more confident in myself.”

Schoolteacher Alison remembers having serious doubts a month or two before her wedding. It was a church wedding, not massive, but involved all their family, “so there was a lot of buildup. But I thought you either got married or you split up and it was over. You know it’s not 100% right, but do you try to make it work because, ultimately, you still love them? So I went in knowing there was a good chance it wasn’t going to work. But there was also a good chance it would work.”

The day that really sticks in her memory, however, is the day after the wedding, when she and her new husband were meant to clean out their old flat in preparation for renting it while they were on honeymoon. “Our friends had come in and trashed it, there was confetti everywhere, lipstick all over the mirror, all over the toilet,” she says. Her husband went to drop off his suit and planned to join her in the cleaning. “Eight hours later, he came home. He’d been out, had a few drinks with his friends. We were leaving first thing in the morning. It’s not a great way to start your marriage off, and I suppose that carried on, really.”

Paul, 45, also a teacher, had been with Nathalie for five years before they got married, and says they never got used to it. “We both fought against the idea,” he says. “I remember the day we got engaged, Nathalie threw up because she was so anxious. We didn’t call each other husband and wife; it sounded too permanent. At our wedding – quite traditional, formal, in a church – I remember somehow the first dance didn’t happen because, ‘Oh no, we’re not going to do that,’” he says. He is particularly struck now by the fact that they “fought a lot in that first year – a lot more than in the previous four or five. I’m sure it was a reaction to the idea that we were tied together for the rest of our lives.”

It didn’t help that they found their lives going in different directions. Paul went back to university, while Nathalie went straight into work, and progressed quickly. “It was exciting and there was lots of opportunity to go places. But it was not something we were sharing – I was stuck at home, and she would resent me for not doing the same thing.” While this type of divergence can happen at any time in our lives, it tends to happen particularly in our 20s and early 30s.

Marriages that are built on fairytale promises, as Laura admits hers was, begin to founder when reality comes into view. She got married two months after her finals, in 2001, and what she did, she says, was “paint a picture. But as that started to crack away – as it inevitably does – I became more and more defensive.” They began to fight a lot. “I was constantly trying to tell him what he was doing wrong, trying to control him and change him. I could be really vicious.” They moved to San Francisco in 2003, because her husband was studying there, and she realised two things: one, that she had found her home, and two, that she was leaving her marriage.

Others discover that things that seemed manageable before marriage are the source of building resentments. Alison, for instance, found that her husband would go out with his friends at the weekend while she stayed at home, preparing lessons and doing the housework.

Then there are factors that have the capacity to bring everything to a head. Money is one. “He’d say, ‘Well, you chose to have a low-paid job,’” Alison says. By then they’d had a (planned and wanted) baby, and children are another acknowledged marriage stressor. They bring high strain (in terms of finances, fatigue and housework) and often highlight different standards of care. “It wasn’t an easy time,” Alison says. “It reinforced just how different we were. Before, when we argued, I just thought, ‘Well, we’ll make up a few hours later.’ But when you’ve got a child, you don’t want to be falling out all the time.”

Eventually, two years into their marriage, it all became overwhelming. “I was lying in bed,” she says, “it was three in the morning, he hadn’t come home, I’d rung his mobile I don’t know how many times, but there was no answer. And then, it sounds awful, but I thought, do you know, if the police knock on the door and say he’s been hit over the head and is lying in an alley, it’ll actually be a relief.” The next day she picked up the phone and began looking for properties to rent.

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