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How to make a marriage stand the test of time, according to four couples who have been together forever

Credit: Albert Palmer Photography

Love has the remarkable ability to build us up, define us and teach us the meaning of life. In these moving, bite-sized essays, four authors reflect on what makes a marriage endure and share their secrets to lasting relationship happiness…

Patricia Borlenghi, 66, lives in Italy and Essex with her husband Charlie, 69, an artist. She is the author of 14 books, including Dorek: Deaf and Unheard and The Necklace, and is the UK’s first female deaf publisher. Her latest novel, Gli Animali Pellegrini (£9.99, Patrician Press) is published in September

“Charlie and I met at university in October 1971 when I was 20 and he was 22. He was attractive, dressed well and we discovered we were both Arsenal supporters. I loved his sense of humour, too. 

“Our first date was at a fancy dress party and he went in drag – I thought he looked gorgeous in eye make-up! Our love grew from there, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. Even now, Charlie is young looking and fit for his age. I love that he’s also a walking encyclopedia! 

“Sharing the same values and beliefs has been vital for us”

“I couldn’t have married someone who opposed the things I stand for. We share cultural tastes in books, art, films and the theatre, and the same things make us laugh, too – humour gets you through a lot of what life throws at you.

“I think our marriage has probably been influenced by both sets of parents who were happily married. And although I am not religious, we both come from Christian backgrounds so marriage wasn’t something we entered into lightly. I think being surrounded by other happy couples is definitely inspiring, too.

“Learn to give and take and compromise”

Continue reading below…

“Someone once told me that her friend never let her husband see her without make-up, which I thought sounded ridiculous because Charlie and I respect each other in our natural states, warts and all. However, I understand it’s different for some couples. We’re both strong characters and argue a lot, but you do have to learn to give and take and compromise. 

“I think being financially savvy and on the same page at the start of your marriage – especially as early on as planning the wedding and dealing with budgets – also plays an important role in a couple’s relationship; not having children has possibly made it easier for us in terms of saving money. And you must always forgive and forget – there’s no place for jealousy.

“I am often told by Charlie how I have an answer for everything; perhaps I’m too happy to deal with conflict! Both my mother and grandmother were strong, matriarchal Italian women, and my generation of women were the first to be actively feminist, persisting in seeking equal roles both at home and at work.

“We make eating evening meals together a priority”

“Naturally, Charlie and I discovered early on how easy it is to share the housework, and we also have cultivated a passion for cooking. It’s a cliché but the saying ‘the way to a man’s/woman’s heart is through his/her stomach’ really is true.

“We see more of each other now that we’ve both retired from our full-time jobs, but still have our own working areas at home to give us space. Silence and solitude – but not too much of it – can be good and over the years I’ve realised our health is much more important than anything else. You will have to care for and nurse each other through ‘sickness’ and that’s one marriage vow that still holds true. 

“We are celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary this weekend and it feels great to have reached such a milestone. At this age, as always, I am grateful for the blessings my marriage has brought.”

Clare Swatman, 43, is an author and journalist. She is married to Tom, 44, a web designer. Her latest book, The Mother’s Secret (£7.99, Pan Macmillan) is out now

“Tom literally landed on my doorstep – I was in my fourth year at university and he was a friend of a friend who came round one evening. The first thing I noticed about him was his long hair (I had a thing for men with long hair – and still do!), and I fancied him straight away. 

“We eventually got married in Las Vegas – just the two of us – and spent nine weeks travelling and visiting Macchu Picchu together. For us, these adventures really cemented the relationship, and I think it’s wise to advise others to share adventures together. We’re quite different – he’s much quieter and more reserved than me, but fundamentally we hold the same values and that’s essential in my view. We also see each other as equals, and even when I’ve been the main earner in the relationship, Tom has never felt emasculated by it. 

“I believe in never going to bed or work on an argument”

“Sometimes traditional marriage advice is as good as any. I believe in never going to bed or work on an argument, which – funnily enough – was what I wrote about in my first novel, Before You Go. The main characters, Ed and Zoe, are happy but then they have a row and he goes to work after an argument and dies. Zoe can’t forgive herself and wishes she has the chance to tell him how much she loves him. This concept really resonated with me and several people have told me it’s made them rethink their actions.

“If you’re striving for perfection, you’ll never be happy”

“Every marriage is different, but one thing I know for sure is that it’s never perfect – if you’re striving for perfection, you’ll never be happy. Tom is lovely, but he’s also probably the least romantic person in the world. And yet that’s OK by me, because I don’t feel as though I need him to tell me he loves me all the time; I just know he does. He’s a gentle and generous person, and because he’s not a worrier, he stops me worrying too much.

“Marriage should never feel like a slog, but much like every relationship, it does require effort. Most of all, being with Tom just feels so normal and so right.”

READ MORE: Feel-good beauty fixes for brides

Kerry Barrett, 44, is an author. She has written eight novels and lives with her husband Darren, a research editor. Her latest book, The Girl in The Picture (£2.99, HQ Harper Collins) is out now

“I’m not sure it was love at first sight, but I certainly liked Darren immediately. We were both working for the same company – I was 27 and he was about to turn 26 – and I was attracted to his confidence and how popular and well-respected he was among our colleagues. But first and foremost, I fell for his sense of humour. Darren is so funny and to put it simply, I just wanted to spend all my time with him. 

“Since we got married, we’ve had two kids, moved house, I’ve been made redundant twice, my mum’s had a heart operation, and we’ve been through many other ups and downs. Of course, these factors have changed our relationship, and often you don’t see how until you look back and think ‘phew, that was a tricky bit’. The saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ really applies to marriage. It gets tougher and stronger over the years. 

“Always be honest with each other and to enjoy being part of a team”

“I think the best advice is to always be honest with each other and to enjoy being part of a team. You’ve got each other’s backs for the tough times, but don’t forget to keep checking in with each other when things are good. Don’t make decisions alone, or think you can just get on with things. Keep playing as part of that team. I’m really independent and my instinct is always just to do things by myself, but I’ve realised that’s no way to be when you’re in a partnership. Just like being a good manager means learning to delegate, I’ve learned to yield my independence a bit; I don’t mean I’ve turned into a submissive wife or that I’ll always listen to my husband’s opinions (!) but I see the value in presenting a united front and each having input into our relationship.

“When I was young, I thought love would be like it is in books with big romantic gestures, heaps of passion and big rows followed by making up – but it’s not actually like that at all. I’m a lot more comfortable with the reality than I would be with a romance-novel style relationship. I think the times when you’re just enjoying being with your partner, watching TV, or chatting while you make dinner, or talking about your day in bed at night, are really the best bits of a marriage. Some of my happiest times with Darren are playing cards on the balcony on holiday with a glass of wine, and just laughing so much I can’t breathe.”

Erin Kelly, 42, is a novelist and has written more than eight books, including The Sunday Times bestselling He Said/She Said (£7.99, Hodder). She lives with her husband, Michael, 50, an actor

“Michael and I met on holiday in July 2001. Growing up separately, we were both quite dreamy, artistic children who went to schools where these values weren’t really appreciated, so when we met there was almost an immediate connection.

“I think this now informs how we raise our children – we don’t try to pressurise them into being something they’re not – and being married to another creative person means we understand each other on that level, too. We also both chose an unreliable freelance lifestyle. Lots of partners wouldn’t be able to tolerate that, but it works for us (on a good year!). 

“Everyone knows that children – or lack of – will test a marriage, and sadly at some point you’ll probably face the loss of your parents. Sometimes you’ll even have those days when all you want is to get away from each other. And while space is important, you can go too far the other way.

“Quality time doesn’t have to be expensive”

“I used to think this was a sign we were spending too much time together, but now I understand it means that we’re spending the wrong kind of time together – getting caught up in routine, money, stress and other boring stuff that makes you forget why you got married in the first place. 

“Quality time doesn’t have to be expensive – we’ve had some of our best evenings in our local pub – you just have to be committed in finding that time for each other. One of the myths I think it’s important to dispel about marriage is to trust what you see on social media. Comparing yourself to other couples is toxic, but of course all we really see is the edited highlights. I’ve frequently been astonished by couples whose online lives I’ve envied from afar, only to learn that they’re separating.” 

READ MORE: What do your wedding flowers symbolise?

Want more inspiration and ideas? Hit ‘like’ on our Wedding Ideas Facebook page, and ‘follow’ on our @wimagazine Twitter account to join in the conversation.

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About the Author: Ezra Menez