Recently my parents celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. We had a family lunch for them with plenty of cake, a helium balloon, speeches (one delivered via Zoom from my brother in Covid isolation and one delivered by Dad, aged 95, from memory, one hand gripping his notes). My 97-year-old Mum listened attentively, although 10 minutes previously she had needed a quick reminder of who was present, her husband included.
These days she sometimes can’t quite place her relationship to the Very Nice Man but it, turns out, what destroys memory can’t erase love. Still, anyone hoping to discover exactly what makes a marriage last was disappointed. If you ask my Dad, you’ll always get the same answer, “love each other”, because from that flows everything else, but he’s not big on details.
They met on a blind date by the way, in 1949. She went swimming off a boat and couldn’t get back in so he had to dive in and push her up over the side. The rest is history.
So after several decades of close observation these are my rules for a long, successful marriage, with apologies if I’ve missed anything out.
Be proud of each other, for whatever reason: being the life and soul of the party, being a good boss, winning medals for dancing some years in the past – it doesn’t matter what.
Trust each other’s instincts 100 per cent. As in: “Your mother says she’s got a funny feeling about this place, so we’re leaving now.”
Miss one another when apart for any length of time. That was always the case. Now mum misses dad if he goes to the loo, but he’d rather that than her forgetting him altogether.
Have reasonable expectations (and be grateful for what you’ve got). Mum got married in a “shared” one-size-fits-three wedding dress bought with coupons. She was never fussed about extending a kitchen, though she treasured her Carmen heated rollers.
Say you love each other, often, and show your appreciation every day. “He never praised her for her efforts”, was my mother’s explanation for why some friends were divorcing. “That’s enough?” Apparently.
Go to bed at the same time, even if now that means Dad following Mum up to bed at 8pm.
Don’t go to sleep on an argument. This is the only bit of advice my mother gave me on my wedding day. Some other marital advice. Don’t let yourself go (in the appearance department). Don’t always beat them at sports too often (seriously). And don’t become a serious gardener (controversial). In my mum’s opinion the serious gardener goes to bed too early and then won’t leave home in case they miss the peonies/ dahlias, which leads to boredom – the second enemy of marriage after lack of appreciation.
Always have the other one’s POV in mind. This used to mean considering whether each other was OK in any given situation. Are they struggling at the end of the table? Is their back killing them? Now it’s more along the lines of Dad deciding Mum could do with a blow-dry to cheer her up. It’s the same principle though.
Go shopping together. Or more like one of you follows the other around an antique shop until they alight on a Thing They Love and then buy it. Excellent marital gel.
Stay amused and entertained by all the things that amused and entertained you at the beginning (rather than turning into the person who likes their life to operate as if run by a crack team of special advisors). When my mother left the petrol cap on the top of the car for the umpteenth time did my father have a sense of humour failure? Certainly not. All part of the fun package.
See the funny side of almost everything. Including the 17 stitches that Mum got after a fall, from the exact same doctor who had stitched up Dad’s head a month previously.
The Daily Telegraph