A woman finds that she and her husband now disagree over just about everything except Friday night curries. Mariella Frostrup says that where there’s squabbling, there’s hope.
The dilemma My husband and I have been together for 20 years. I still love him – as in I wouldn’t like any harm to come to him – but the passion has been no more than sporadic for a long time. We argue about almost everything, especially politics. At the moment he is all for Brexit while I’m more on the fence and suspect sticking with Europe is the way forward.
It’s not the only area where we’re opposites. I enjoy my book club, he enjoys fishing, I love a beach holiday, he likes a lot of activity, the only thing we seem to agree on is how much we love our two uni-bound kids and food, we both love a Friday-night curry. So now the children are only part-time residents, should I follow suit and get a new life for myself?
Mariella replies Whoa there, missus! You say there’s no passion left between you, but aren’t you forgetting that to rustle up an enthusiastic argument you need to care? The apathy of the soon-to-be-divorced is a far more terrifying sight; hanging out with couples in their dying days it’s all “Yes dear, no dear, pass me the butter dear.” It’s spooky enough to make a spectator commit to celibacy for life. As far as I’m concerned if there’s battle left in you there’s also the spark of a relationship.
I bumped into a friend at a party the other night, positively glowing and brandishing her ex-husband on her arm as her date. She’s not alone in reaching the conclusion, a decade after she divorced, that her husband’s shortcomings were also available in a variety of other suitors from the four corners of the globe, but not his kindness and parenting skills.
Coming from a divorced family and having experienced the misery it causes children I’ve long been an advocate of sticking together where you can. At times it feels like the hardest road to follow, when passion has dulled and the mere presence of your partner makes a crime of passion appear a pleasant diversion. But as you get older you realise that life whizzes by at a pace, friendships come and go and an enduring union with someone who knows you warts and all is a welcome buffer in a cruel world.
Ironically there are plenty of parallels between your domestic dilemma and the Euro debate taking place across the country, that finds you on opposing sides. In a climate where facts are thin on the ground and opinions epidemic, most voters will be making their choice with hearts rather than heads, making it my natural territory. As with any impending break-up it is difficult, as the rhetoric from both parties escalates, to sort the truth from the fiction. Sticking with the devil you know may not be the most compelling reason to remain in a marriage or as a member state, but finding a way to coexist is a vital ingredient for contentment at any level of existence.
I’ll admit I’m a natural European, born in Norway, brought up in an Ireland entirely revitalised by EC funding and then emigrating to the UK in my teens. It seems to me that the founding principles of an integrated Europe, where we’d never again endure the terrible losses experienced in two great wars, are reason enough to try to work out our differences. In a globalised world the idea of returning to being one lonely little island, neighbouring a cluster of countries committed to each other’s mutual support, seems a regressive step.
Without banging the point home too emphatically I’d say the same could be said for your marriage. Instead of heading for the door what about trying to disrupt the status quo? You claim opposing interests, but I’d describe them simply as individual pursuits that only become a point of contention if you try to force them on each other. Instead, welcome your development as individuals as a bonus to your life together, take holidays alone or with friends when you can’t find mutually acceptable locations, indulge your hobbies and when you meet in the bedroom you may find your passion revitalised.
Like all relationships there will be much that could be improved on and new issues to resolve, but if individuals, like my pal and her husband, can turn from enmity to intimacy, and couples like you from apathy to enthusiastic re-engagement, then surely our politicians, charged with behaving maturely and intelligently for the greater good, should be encouraged to do likewise. I don’t want to burden you with onerous responsibility but if you and your husband can find a way of communicating more constructively there’s hope for Europe, too.
As Gandhi once said, we must “be the change we want to see” and the qualities that will improve your relationship – including compromise, commitment and empathy – offer enhancements to wellbeing not just behind closed doors but out in the real world, too.