THE ANSWER IS — EMPOWERMENT.
Today my husband and I celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary and also 26 years together this year. So last year it was wonderful to see Lauren, who is Steve’s daughter and my step-daughter get married to the love of her life Gareth. What a very special day.
One of the things my children asked me in the run-up to their wedding was — what makes a great relationship and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Steve and I married when I was 34, we met when we were both 30. I had had a strong of broken relationships and been engaged twice. Steve had been married twice and was getting divorced for the second time. Our history of relationships was not auspicious back in 1996.
So when my children ask me questions like that, I can only talk about my own experiences and I also do that with them, as they grow and experience life, and their own relationships with partners break up and they suffer heartache and pain.
One of the things I tell them is that ‘love’ is many things. I do believe in ‘love at first sight’ and I do believe long term relationships with someone you met at school can work (Lauren & Gareth started going out aged just 13). However for most people it’s not like that.
The key for me is feeling empowered by a partner and them feeling empowered by you. Where the vibe is one of ‘yes we can how do we do that’ and not one of ‘no we can’t do that, you can’t do that’. As soon as you feel bound, or restricted, especially when you are young, it probably won’t work.
Steve and I argue and we bicker like any couple. Yet at the heart of things, when we’re in times of trouble or high emotion, there’s only one person I want there with me — and it’s him. He is the person who makes sense of my day, makes sense of me and keeps me balanced. He doesn’t shy away from telling me hard truth and being the most critical.
And for him, I refuse to be a compliant and ‘doormat’ partner who agrees with everything for a quiet life. I will be heard and say my piece — though I do pick my battles. Some things are not worth the argument.
The other thing which worked for Steve and I was absolute raw honesty. As soon as we realised this was could be long term we laid our cards on the table with each other. We set out our ‘ts & cs’ and I’m so glad we did that although for some it may appear very unromantic. Almost like a pre-nuptial that wasn’t legal but was from the heart for us both.
For me it was this:
- I want someone who is faithful to me.
- I want someone who is strong yet not violent in any way.
- Break either of those two rules and you’ll only break them once.
- I want children if I’m physically able and that’s a deal breaker.
For Steve it was this:
- I want someone how is faithful to me — I was married to someone who was not.
- I want someone who is strong yet not violent.
- Break either of those rules and that’s it.
- I want more children — he had his toddler daughter at that time.
- I don’t want to get married again — twice bitten, thrice shy.
And you can see the pattern here — our needs were very aligned from the outset. We accepted each other’s terms and although we’ve had some big hiccups in the last 22 years we’ve hung on to those terms. Steve did ask me to marry him in South Beach Miami in 1998. I was not expecting it at all and I thought he was picking up something off the floor when he was trying to propose! I honestly never expected he would ever want to tie that legal knot again — and I utterly accepted that.
I was flabberghasted because I’d known when we set out our ‘contract’ that he meant it and my view of marriage was that it was less important to me than having a family. We immediately started to make arrangements for a very small do in 1999.
Then in February 1999 we realised our lives were going to change as I was expecting Sam, our daughter. We delayed our wedding by one year and tied the knot in the year 2000 in a small ceremony and we invited just 28 people and it was wonderful.
We didn’t have a ‘big do’ it was not our thing. I’d lost my dad in 1997 suddenly and not being walked down an aisle with him by side was something I couldn’t face. Steve had been married before with two ‘big dos’ and he didn’t want that again. For him it had to look and feel different.
I wanted our day to be positive and not full of the absence of my dad. We had a registry office wedding followed by lunch at a pub and photos in the park and it was a wonderful day. I’ve never regretted having a small wedding.
The memory of that lovely day stays with me and kept me going when we had tough times and I know it will keep me going still. We were surrounded by our closest family, some of whom are no longer with us and I’m so blessed to have shared that with them. We had close friends there who were in our circle at the time and some still are. I do wish sometimes that close friends we have now were part of that. Yet that’s just life.
So what makes a good partnership — Steve is my ‘can do’ partner, my most infuriating person, my lover and ultimately my best friend who respects and admires me — and me him. We are proud of each other and we make a daily, weekly and monthly commitment to face life together as two separate individuals doing our best.
What’s your secret to a strong and lasting relationship?