A report recently by the Department of Education provided the headlines in one newspaper: “Marriage counselling could spell the end for relationship.” Eh? Surely the opposite is the case? Indeed, I know couples whose marriage, hitting the proverbial “rocky patch”, has hugely benefited from such counselling.
But it appears, according to the report, that most people would rather sort out their problems privately or with the help of family. Resorting to professional help can be “intrinsically linked with feelings of failure and defeat”. This seems a great pity. And how accurate is the report anyway? Apparently it derived its results from interviews and focus groups with people in long-term relationships. It suggests that most difficulties in marriage centre on parenting, in-laws and infidelity. Sex and money aren’t mentioned: two combustible areas I would have thought.
Strong relationships, the report says, are based on closeness (tautology here), allowing independence, providing support – and having children.
Alongside these vague and general maxims I would like to add other more specific ones, culled from an excellent leaflet produced by the Ruth Institute, about which I blogged last week. It is called “101 Tips for a Happier Marriage” and the provocative quote beneath the title says “You can improve your marriage even if your spouse doesn’t change a bit.”
Really? But I thought that it was your spouse who was impossible and who had to change (joke). Under subtitles such as “Love is a decision not a feeling”, “Not so great expectations”, “Winning is for losers”, “Strategies for reducing grudges” and “Forgiveness is more important than sex”, the author, Jennifer Roback Morse, offers sensible tips such as “Remember that only God is God. Let your spouse be human. Give your spouse a break from being always perfectly understanding, always loving and always there for you.” “Adopt this motto: Setbacks are inevitable, but failure is unthinkable.”
She adds: “Strive to do all you can for your spouse, even if he or she for some reason is unable to give you very much.” Also: “Remove all forms of sarcasm from your vocabulary. The word sarcasm comes from a Greek word meaning ‘to tear flesh like dogs’. There is never a good time or good reason to tear your spouse’s flesh.” And: “Admit you were wrong. Owning up to your own imperfections allows you to be human.”
These are only some of the tips but you get the gist. Interestingly, when I read agony aunts these days I notice they also proffer realistic advice, as if they have realised that Hollywood doesn’t have the answer to making ordinary marriages work well. Most people aren’t Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh playing Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Come to think of it: why doesn’t David Cameron send every married couple in Britain the Ruth Institute’s leaflet, “101 Tips”? The Government says we are drowning in debt and that it wants to save money. Marriage breakdown costs the country astronomical sums in the resulting single-parent households, fatherless children and all-round misery. It would surely be the cheaper option.