The British press like nothing better than reporting matrimonial disasters. Readers will remember the lamentable saga of the “War of the Waleses”, as well as the sad case of the divorce of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills. Long gone are the days when divorce proceedings were held in camera, and divorces of the famous attracted no more than a single paragraph in the newspapers. Indeed, there is something in the national psyche that loves a good divorce. One could possibly trace this back to the time of Henry VIII. We are still fascinated by that brutal king and his six wives, particularly the two wives who ended up in the Tower, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both of them nieces of the third Duke of Norfolk. Their executions were the celebrity news sensation of their day.
But this week the papers carry a rather different story, a couple who, having been separated for five years, are now reconciled. Funnily enough, the story deals with the same family. It seems that the present Duke of Norfolk and his wife are now back together again.
The Queen is said to be thrilled that the couple are now reunited. That is indeed gratifying. Where the Queen leads, we should all follow. But it goes further. Would it not be thrilling if all couples who have drifted apart were able to patch up their differences and get back together again? Would it not be good if more matrimonial disagreements were to end, not in divorce, but in reconciliation?
Many couples who drift apart do so after decades of marriage, as in the case of the Norfolks; their coming back together again would mean that they no longer need separate places to live, and would certainly please their adult children. Divorce, among other things, has greatly contributed to the housing crisis and also given us a rising number of older people living alone. None of that is good. Given that this is the case, it is surprising that one hears so little emphasis is put on reconciliation as a possible goal for couples in difficulty.
There are several organisations, some of them of Catholic inspiration, that exist to bring couples back together again, or stop them drifting apart in the first place. One such is Retrouvaille which often advertises its services through parishes. They do rather good work, to my mind. Perhaps the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk may now, if they feel able, talk to others about how they refounded their marriage, and help other couples not to divorce, but to give things a second chance. After all, as the Duke said shortly after his wedding: “I believe in marriage. When you stand up in front of 800 people and take vows, they’re not lightly broken.”