“I went to mar­riage school…” Writer and au­thor Daisy Buchanan en­rolled – and here’s what she learnt

Yes, that’s re­ally a thing in 2018. Writer and au­thor Daisy Buchanan en­rolled – and here’s what she learnt.

Glamour (South Africa) - - Contents -

last year, on a night out at our lo­cal bar, one of my friends asked my hus­band if be­ing mar­ried was dif­fi­cult. “I love it,” he beamed. “Mar­riage is a piece of cake!” Hours later, af­ter too much rosé and some dropped chips, he fell off an es­ca­la­tor – and I fell onto him. I burst out laugh­ing. He thought I was laugh­ing at him when he was in pain and, when a stranger asked if we were OK, he said, “Fine – but prob­a­bly get­ting a di­vorce.” I was fu­ri­ous at his taste­less joke, and we ended up hav­ing the big­gest fight of our re­la­tion­ship. We’d made up by morn­ing, but it was as if the uni­verse was telling us that mar­riage isn’t easy: if we ever took it for granted, of course we’d trip up.

The thing is, we’re still new to mar­riage. Our wed­ding was in Oc­to­ber 2015, with 120 guests and a Luther Van­dross karaoke. It’s hard to ex­plain how it’s af­fected our re­la­tion­ship, but it does feel dif­fer­ent. Our in­ten­tions haven’t changed; they’ve be­come deeper. Mar­ry­ing my hus­band is the best thing I’ve done; but it’s also the most op­ti­mistic. A study shows that 42% of mar­riages end in di­vorce and, sta­tis­ti­cally, we’re un­likely to stay with the same part­ner for a life­time. Most re­la­tion­ships I’ve been in be­fore have ended badly, so why do I think this could be dif­fer­ent? Surely it’s naïve to think there never has, or will be, a love like this? Yet I do – be­cause, to­gether, the two of us are more than the sum of our parts.

Still, I be­lieve re­la­tion­ships are like gardening: if you want healthy plants, you need to put in the ef­fort, rather than leav­ing it to chance. Also, I’ve al­ways been a nerd, so if there’s a chance to get 100% in mar­riage, I’ll be at the front of the class with my hand up. That’s why I was de­lighted to dis­cover that Ada Cal­houn, au­thor of Wed­ding Toasts I’ll Never Give ( WW Nor­ton & Co; R341), was host­ing a ‘mar­riage acad­emy’, teach­ing how to make love last. I’m ab­so­lutely not talk­ing about ’50s-style keep-yourhus­band-happy tips, with mar­tini recipes and sur­pris­ing uses for house­hold starch. I wanted ad­vice that made sense in 2018, when, “Did you watch The Hand­maid’s Tale with­out me?” is a greater source of con­flict than not hav­ing din­ner ready by 7pm. Here’s what I learnt:

Don’t keep score

It sounds like the most straight­for­ward ad­vice, but Ada says the key to mak­ing a mar­riage work is to be kind to each other. “Mar­riage is a game where the sec­ond you start keep­ing score, you’ve lost,” she ex­plains. It re­minds me of a quote I once read: “You can ei­ther be right or be mar­ried.” The point? Jump­ing at every stab of ir­ri­ta­tion and al­ways need­ing to prove your point will not lead to last­ing love.

This chimes with the ad­vice of psy­chol­o­gist Dr Sa­man­tha Rod­man, who sug­gests fo­cus­ing on a small core of pos­i­tiv­ity when you’re strug­gling, and try­ing to no­tice one good, proac­tive thing your part­ner does. I de­spair at my hus­band’s in­abil­ity to en­ter a room with­out switch­ing on the ra­dio or play­ing a vinyl record, then fail­ing to turn them off even when he leaves the apart­ment. But then I re­mem­ber his pas­sion for mu­sic was one of the rea­sons I fell for him. I dig out some of the CDS he’s made me, and think about how, when he puts a record on, he’s shar­ing some­thing he loves.

Scrap the ‘soul­mate’ la­bel

We all love the idea that there’s some­one out there who’s meant for us. When you’ve found them, you can breathe out, or­der pizza and re­lax. And if it all goes wrong, The One is still out there, right? Ada tells me that’s non­sense. “Au­thor JRR Tolkien de­scribed his re­la­tion­ship with his wife, Edith [to whom he was mar­ried for 55 years], as ‘com­pan­ions in ship­wreck’. Life is hard at times, and mar­riage is also about find­ing a friend to stand be­side you. If you’re ex­pect­ing a soul­mate, you’re rais­ing your ex­pec­ta­tions to an un­reach­able level. In­stead, fo­cus on hav­ing so much shared history with a part­ner that you un­der­stand each other pro­foundly. That’s worth stay­ing mar­ried for.”

I think about when my hus­band and I moved into our new home, which was ex­cit­ing but in­cred­i­bly stress­ful – though there was plenty of shout­ing, we never shouted at each other. I re­mem­ber how kind he was when my beloved grand­mother died a few months ago – giv­ing me space when I needed it. Grief is hor­ri­bly grown-up, and find­ing some­one who will help you en­dure it is, I now re­alise, much more im­por­tant than hav­ing a part­ner who has the same favourite sand­wich as you.

You won’t have sex all the time, and that ’s OK

Let’s be real: some­times you want to rip your part­ner’s clothes off, and some­times you’d pre­fer to pull on your PJS. More than once, I’ve wor­ried about my pe­riod be­ing late, then I re­alised I can’t even re­mem­ber the last time we had sex. “For­get the pres­sure to do it all the time, and ac­knowl­edge when you just want cosy com­pan­ion­ship,” says Ada. “It makes it eas­ier to feel sexy again when you’re ready.” She’s right – wor­ry­ing about whether we’re be­ing suf­fi­ciently sexy is the world’s big­gest pas­sion-killer. “It’s rare that your sex life will fol­low a rou­tine, and wor­ry­ing about it will only cause ten­sion,” she adds.

Last month, I was in a posh ho­tel, with a suit­case full of un­worn sexy lin­gerie think­ing, ‘If we don’t do it right now, we’ve failed as a cou­ple.’ But all I wanted to do was wait for my pasta bloat to go down as I watched The Real House­wives. Then, a few nights later,

“The key to a happy mar­riage is to re­mem­ber yours is no bet­ter – or worse – than any­one else’s.” – Ada Cal­houn

while watch­ing a re­peat episode of Law & Or­der at home, a peck turned into a pas­sion­ate kiss, which turned into an up­hol­stery-wreck­ing ses­sion. I re­alise that our sex life isn’t rou­tine and, nearly five years in, I should em­brace the fact that we’re not pre­dictable. Sex, like ev­ery­thing else, stops be­ing fun when you feel as though there’s a ‘right’ way to do it. So don’t over­think it.

Mar­riage can sur­vive in­fi­delity

For many of us, cheat­ing is the ul­ti­mate be­trayal and the big­gest deal-breaker. But if you’re mak­ing a per­ma­nent com­mit­ment to a part­ner, is it un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect them never to look at any­one else for the rest of your lives? Ada ad­mits both she and her hus­band have been un­faith­ful but, be­cause they had sim­i­lar at­ti­tudes and were open to dis­cussing their feel­ings, the mar­riage stayed strong. “Just as a tall build­ing falls down if it doesn’t have room to ex­pand and con­tract – to sway – a mar­riage that’s too rigid crum­bles at the first tremor.” She sug­gests rat­ing our at­ti­tude to monogamy from zero to five, with zero mean­ing we’d never flirt with any­one else, and five in­di­cat­ing we’d be open to sleep­ing with an­other per­son. “If you’re a zero who con­sid­ers even a flirty In­sta­gram com­ment un­faith­ful, you need to make sure you’re not dat­ing a four – some­one who would hap­pily make out with a stranger in a bar.”

It’s hard to put this one into prac­tice, but I start to think about how it would feel if my hus­band had sex with some­one else, and whether I take him for granted. “A mar­riage is not made up of years of faith­ful ser­vice, but mo­ments of grace,” says Ada. Think­ing about how we’d sur­vive a cheat­ing cri­sis makes me grate­ful. We talk about the fact that we’re both at the lower end of Ada’s scale and agree that, if our feel­ings ever change, we’ll dis­cuss it first be­fore act­ing on any­thing. It’s brought us to­gether and made us re­mem­ber we’re both hu­man. And, in­stead of as­sum­ing we’re on the same page, we need to keep check­ing in with each other.

No one has it all fig­ured out

As a mem­ber of gen­er­a­tion Com­pare and De­spair, I of­ten won­der how other peo­ple make their mar­riages work, and whether they’re bet­ter at it than I am. But Ada shut that down. “They key to a happy mar­riage is to re­mem­ber yours is no bet­ter – or worse – than any­one else’s,” she says. “We do new­ly­weds dis­ser­vice by not ad­mit­ting that ev­ery­one faces rough patches. That cou­ple in their 70s, hold­ing hands in the park? Ask them about the worst bit of their mar­riage, and they’ll prob­a­bly tell you that, when their busi­ness failed, they lived apart for a year.”

It’s deeply com­fort­ing to know there isn’t a trick that will fu­ture-proof a mar­riage. To test her the­ory, I make a list of the most suc­cess­ful cou­ples I know. My par­ents have been mar­ried for 35 years and adore each other, but I know they’ve strug­gled. I think of the friend whose mar­riage I en­vied when I was sin­gle but, sadly, she’s now get­ting divorced. It’s a pow­er­ful re­minder that out­side of so­cial me­dia, the per­fect part­ner­ship doesn’t ex­ist and striv­ing for it can be dam­ag­ing.

The fi­nal les­son

In 2015, we promised that we would do our best for each other, every sin­gle day. Part of that prom­ise is ac­knowl­edg­ing that a day may come when we can’t do that un­less we’re apart. Go­ing to mar­riage acad­emy isn’t like tak­ing a driv­ing test – I don’t feel as though I’ve passed and proved my suit­abil­ity for mar­riage. How­ever, my per­spec­tive has changed. I don’t want a fail­ure-proof mar­riage, but one in which my hus­band and I are as kind as we can pos­si­bly be to each other – and to our­selves.

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