I have always been terrified of marriage. That may sound ridiculous: a good marriage is an enviable thing. And I have seen many successful marriages – those of my grandparents, aunts and uncle, an amazing second marriage for my mother after my father’s death. In my family there has never been a divorce; all the more reason to fear that I would be the first to fail. I always thought myself constitutionally incapable of the sacrifice, the compromise, the commitment, that makes for a lasting marriage.
My husband and I first fell in love when I was 22 and he was 27. Marcus asked me to marry him very quickly and, as I didn’t feel in the least ready to settle down, I broke up with him. A couple of years later, my mother and I agreed to invest in his start-up bakery. I found myself working the first 363 nights with him to make it work; and once again we were a couple. He asked me again to marry him – and once more I wasn’t ready to commit. For eight years we confronted each other across a boardroom table, with my mother moderating (the happiest eight years of his life, Marcus is always telling our friends), and – to cut a long story short – we ended up getting married in February 2008. Our daughter Olga was born the following year.
I don’t think even then that I really wanted to get married. I was 36 and hard-working and selfish. Marcus was 40 and even more hard-working and even more spoilt. I did, though, want children in the stable environment that I associate with marriage, and I knew that Marcus – beyond the love that I felt for him – was a man whom I could count on, whom I found immensely attractive, whom I both admired and trusted.
The first few years of our marriage were quite difficult. I was trying to maintain a career that involved being away all week and returning exhausted on a Friday night. I felt that Marcus wasn’t supportive. He, meanwhile, was building a business and had an absent wife, a baby and nanny to manage. He felt unsupported too.
Marcus’s parents have been together for over 50 years. They did not have much money but they brought up three wonderful boys and stayed united on all fronts. Marcus says that his parents never disagreed, whereas I come from a family that debates all the time. The minute I argue with him, he tells me not to shout. I tell him that he has been disabled by his upbringing because he has unrealistic expectations of marriage.
Many things have changed over the 10 years of our marriage. We have had the pleasure of our children and the sadness of a baby that died. We are each very fond of each other’s families. We have a few friends in common and are tolerant of the time we spend with friends we don’t have in common.
I now understand that the first unhappy years were caused by me hoping that I could change Marcus. The moment I accepted that I needed to change myself, to stop being so combative, to appreciate rather than criticise, to listen rather than speak, is the moment that I began to enjoy my marriage. It has taught me the truth in the parable of the splinter and the plank. I must remember always to take the plank out of my own eye before I remove the splinter from his.
I still struggle with it, believe me. It has definitely been the hardest task I have tried to accomplish. We sometimes go back to sniping at each other. I often think that Marcus doesn’t begin to understand the complexities of my life. I know he thinks I am not sufficiently interested in the things that interest him. I would like him to be around more for the children. He would like me to appreciate how hard he works and that he is doing it for us. I find us often talking across each other: he will bore me to tears with some intricate discussion about work and I will drone on about the minutiae of our family dynamic. I am sure he thinks that our beloved nanny, Amy, is far nicer to him than I am, but then, I find her more interested in the children than he is most of the time, too! He is stubborn and doesn’t apologise readily enough. I am over-critical and find compromise virtually impossible.
But, but, but … I am quite proud of the state of my marriage these days. I am in love with my husband. I didn’t even know that I could love like this. I find him attractive, handsome, funny and kind. I know he has my back. I admire him enormously for all the same character traits that drive me so bonkers, I have come to understand: they are different sides of the same coin.
I do realise that not everyone is so slow on the uptake as I have been about what marriage is really about. I used to mock those cards that said something along the lines of, “love is not gazing at each other but looking in the same direction”. But I hope that this will resonate with anyone who has taken the long and winding road, rather than the straight path.
I do not delude myself that I am at the summit; a good and healthy marriage takes heroic endeavour; Marcus and I appreciate the occasional vista from a peak as a rare reward.