Wash your own socks, holiday alone – and don't speak during the day! How to stay married for 30 years



21:08 GMT, 25 April 2012

While others celebrate with a lavish party or sometimes a trip abroad, my husband and I spent our 30th wedding anniversary in a series of traffic jams on the M6 as we drove north for a family Christmas.

Not the most romantic celebration, perhaps, but that’s what happens when you get married two days before Christmas. Traditionally, 30 years of marriage merits a gift of pearls — not really my thing. So instead, Robin gave me a gorgeous fake-fur coat and I gave him a weekend away.

Sadly, the coat was two sizes too small
and the shop didn’t have my size in stock. But I loved the idea that,
after 10,950 or so days and three sons, he was blind to how much I’d
expanded. As for the weekend — well, we haven’t quite got round to it yet, but we will.

Staying power: Fanny Blake pictured with her husband Robin

Staying power: Fanny Blake pictured with her husband Robin

Robin and I wed in 1981 in a low-key register office wedding three years after we met. I was 32, he 33. Like most couples, the past 30 years haven’t been a completely smooth ride, but neither of us has chosen to get off yet. When I asked Robin why he thought that was, he laughed: ‘Sheer bloody-mindedness.’ There’s probably a lot of truth in that, but there must be something more. It got me thinking: what does keep people together over time

For our grandparents, ‘Till death do us part’ was the rule. A long life together was more a matter of chance than anything — early death was the most likely thing to separate them. Divorce or even separation invited stigma. Once married, if the relationship went pear-shaped, the majority just had to ‘keep calm and carry on’.

However, things began to change with
our parents’ generation. According to the Office for National
Statistics, the divorce rate rose from 3,563 couples in 1930 to 30,870
in 1950 and 119,589 in 2010. I
speak as one who has done both — I am divorced, having been briefly
married when I was in my early-20s. I was young and perhaps had
unrealistic expectations.

I do: Fanny and Robin at the registry office on their wedding day on December 23, 1981

I do: Fanny and Robin at the registry office on their wedding day on December 23, 1981

But since then, I have become a more pragmatic person who is better at accepting the rough with the smooth. There is, of course, more to it than that. In my experience, factors such as love, friendship, a sense of humour, shared and separate interests, respect, trust and loyalty all come into play. Each couple has their own theory as to how they’ve lasted the distance.

Take some elderly friends of ours, for
example, with more than 40 years on the clock together. They rattle
around in a huge, four-bedroom house, their children having left home
long ago. When it was suggested
they might move to somewhere smaller and more manageable, the husband
rejected the idea out of hand, announcing: ‘We’re not going anywhere.
The older you get, the more space you need — so you can get away from
one another.’

Of course, there are many others who
seem joined at the hip — doing everything together, right down to the
supermarket shop (my idea of hell). My husband and I are not alone in
having a marriage that falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. We
share a house and, most important of all, our three boys, all well into
their 20s. They are undoubtedly a huge part of the glue that binds us
together, as children are with so many couples.

Our marriage is like an old patched
coat, a bit frayed at the edges and worn here and there, but on the
whole more comfortable than any other

One friend went so far as to say she would never consider separating from her husband because: ‘I don’t want to base my happiness on the unhappiness of my children.’ Her view is extreme, but perhaps there’s something in what she says. I know that our children love and rely on us as a couple as well as loving us as individuals. Romantic fiction might suggest otherwise, but much of coupledom is working out a way to share the mundane details of life.

In our case, the domestic chores are
divided between us. My husband pays the bills (I’m not so good with
money) and I do the gardening (he’s not interested). We share the
cooking (both reasonable at it) and do our own washing and ironing (both
loathe it). We certainly have
our different tastes and interests. He drinks whisky; I prefer gin. He
likes red wine; I prefer white. He eats meat; I don’t. He likes early
church music; I prefer cheesy pop or songs from the shows. He likes
sailing; I’m terrified by being on open water.

Over the years, we’ve allowed each other space to be the people we want to be, and that’s been important for us.
I love travelling, while my husband would be happy never to fly again.
As a result, I have gone on holiday several times with a couple of my
women friends, while he has stayed behind happily, looking forward to
hearing the traveller’s tales on my return. As writers, we work at home, but have very different habits. I once suggested we could have lunch together. His response was firm and final: ‘I don’t have lunch.’

Instead, we work at opposite ends of the
house, rarely communicating during the day, unless we text or email
about important things such as what we’re going to have for supper,
who’s doing the shopping or what film showing we might go to later. It
might sound eccentric to some, but it’s an arrangement that works for
us. And there’s much we like
doing together, too. We enjoy long walks, reading, doing crosswords
together, and going to the theatre and cinema.

Bone of contention: The couple pictured with their third son, who was wrongly registered as David Thomas, and later nicknamed Spike by his brothers

Bone of contention: The couple pictured with their third son, who was wrongly registered as David Thomas, and later nicknamed Spike by his brothers

Another of our shared loves was our standard poodle, Cocoa, who  established herself as an indispensable member of our family. After her death four years ago, I pushed us into getting a replacement: a delightful, black, eight-week-old, rough-coated lurcher. But I’d forgotten the amount of work that comes with a puppy. After two weeks of being unable to get any work done, I couldn’t cope. Robin was away at a conference when I phoned him, sobbing, to say I was going to take her back to her litter. He objected, as I expected, but then he said: ‘Well, I love you more than the dog, so if you must . . .’

Our differences have also balanced each other out. Robin is, for example, a much more patient father than I am a mother, cautioning me (sometimes successfully) from diving into our children’s lives, forcing on them my unwanted opinions and advice. He’s more temperate too, sometimes advising me to stop and think when I react too quickly and threaten to fire off an unhelpfully angry email or make a misjudged phone call.

Needless to say, there have been moments in the past 30 years when we could have cheerfully throttled one another. When our third son was born, Robin was tasked with registering the birth of Thomas David. Thanks to a little confusion, he came back from the register office brandishing the birth certificate that gave the name of our son as David Thomas. That may not sound like much of a difference, but at the time, it was for me. I had preferred the names the original way round.

Not that it mattered in the end. The baby was nicknamed Spike by his brothers and he has been known as that ever since. We have argued about the most insignificant matters and, of course, others more apparently momentous, but our rows are short-lived and eventually laughed about.

Am I offering the recipe for a long marriage Well, if there is anything that proves how different people are, it is the making of marriages. This is simply how we’ve muddled through ours. The longer we’re together, the more there is to unpick and the less we want to. Our marriage is like an old patched coat, a bit frayed at the edges and worn here and there, but on the whole warmer and more comfortable than any other I can imagine getting brand new off the peg. Even the one he tried to give me on our 30th anniversary.

Fanny Blake’s new novel Women Of A Dangerous Age (Blue Door, 7.99) is out now.