People with long memories will recall that OnePlusOne began life as the Marriage Research Centre.
The founder, eminent psychiatrist and writer Dr Jack Dominian, believed strongly in relationship commitment. He himself had an enviably happy marriage, and he often said – in jest and yet not really joking – that his wife had taught him everything.
I’ve been wed twice. My first effort was fairly disastrous. Like many young women back in the ’70s – and despite the fact that I was very career-minded – I felt I would be a failure if no one ever asked me to be his wife. How many of us, I wonder, suppressed misgivings about our relationships and tied the knot, just in case no one else proposed?
By contrast, thirteen years after my first trip down the aisle, and when I had been divorced for half a decade, I got married again, this time to a colleague, David Delvin, who had become the love of my life. This relationship was completely different and was hugely companionable, romantic, respectful, sustaining and generally sprinkled with magic dust and much laughter.
Being gloriously happy in a marriage does not, however, mean that you never have to work at it. No matter how ‘made in heaven’ your liaison might seem, it can never be totally immune to life’s reverses. However, we both liked to talk things out, and we vowed to eradicate the mistakes that we knew each of us had made in former relationships. For one thing, we had a curfew on discussing serious or problematic matters after nine at night, and another decision, which worked well for us – though I know would not be practical for everyone – was that we decided we would never spend a night apart. And we didn’t, until my husband’s ill-health kept him in hospital from time to time.
Essentially, we knew that we were fantastically lucky to have found each other, and on most days of our thirty-two years together one of us would say: ‘Don’t we have great times?’ And we would laugh. Because we did. And we realised that the excitement and joy we shared made both of us a better and more viable person – and that our combined spirit was much greater than the sum of our individual parts.
I know that to be true even more now. My husband died a year ago. And at present, I feel less interesting, less useful, and much less content than I did when he was alive. On top of that, and in common with so many individuals who have lost a greatly-loved partner, I miss being special to someone who was so very special to me. But I am living life to the full as best I can, because I see it as a gift. And obviously, in the light of David’s death, I’ve become acutely aware of how quickly, and suddenly, time can run out.
To come back to Jack Dominian, I got to know him in the period between my marriages. In fact, in my job as a television presenter at Anglia TV, I was fortunate enough to interview him on a programme.
At that time, my career was blooming but my private life was a mess, and I asked if I could come to see him at his consulting room in London. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
What I learned from him changed everything. He taught me about loving not only other people but also oneself. And he helped me to see that it was important to place equal value on being as well as doing. For someone who had always needed to be recognised as capable and industrious at work in order to feel good about herself, this was an eye-opener.
With Jack’s support, I was able to put the errors of my first marriage – and other poor relationships – behind me, and to be ready for an intense and loving relationship when it presented itself. And I doubt very much if my second marriage would have been the success it was without that help.
But it was a success and our bond strengthened with the passage of time. Recently, I came across an article written in 1997, in which we’d been interviewed about our relationship. We both said that though we’d fallen for each other in a very big way some eleven years previously, we were aware that our love had grown immeasurably since then.
Jack used to talk about ‘genuine authentic loving’ and how this type of love evolves gradually over the years when a couple work at their relationship.
I love that phrase because it does seem to sum up what we enjoyed.
And I can tell you that it continued to increase, and that one of the best, and most romantically charged, weeks of our lives – strangely – was after my husband had a stroke in late 2016. I remember us clinging together and talking about how excited we felt, and how grateful we were that he had survived and that our love could continue.
And when, over the next fifteen months, gradually I became as much a carer as a wife, I was overjoyed to find that I felt a real sense of purpose and love in small things like making the best mashed potato I could when that was all he wanted for dinner, finding a television programme he might have energy to enjoy, giving him a good shave, or shopping for exotic flavours of ice cream to tempt him to ‘just try a little pudding.’
Most of all, I relished talking with him. We never ran out of things to say. And we discussed every aspect of his life, his care, what was to happen to him, our families and my future. We were lucky to have those months when, though we knew he was dying, we still had each other, and his personality remained very much intact.
All happy marriages and relationships are different – but they have components in common. And these tend to be the sharing of love, liking, passion, respect, humour and spirit. Above all, I never ceased to be impressed by my husband. He was a marvellous man, and my admiration for his many abilities filled my soul.
And now I know that the power of a lengthy and deeply satisfying relationship reaches out and comforts us from the grave. Of course, it’s hard to be single again and hard to deal with the void that is left. But decades of love, approbation, and affirmation give us a bank of positive emotion which we can continue to draw upon after death separates us from the person we love so much.