Our founder, Dr Jack Dominian, was committed to helping families and ahead of his time in so many ways. His story is threaded through our history and this website. The obituaries below from national newspapers, The Telegraph and The Guardian will also provide more insight into his life.
Dr Jack Dominian, who has died aged 84, was a British psychiatrist and Roman Catholic theologian who championed a rethink on Christian sexual ethics at the same time as he fought to uphold the institution of marriage.
As early as 1977, Dominian had warned against the Catholic Church’s preoccupation with marital chastity at the expense of other factors in a successful marriage. Writing shortly after the Vatican had published its Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics decrying the corruption of moral standards brought about by the “unbridled exaltation of sex”, Dominian outlined his own Proposals for a New Sexual Ethic. There he argued that the presence of a genuine love between two people – whether they be married or not – validates sex, making it an activity worthy of celebration. Sexual pleasure, he wrote, must not be trivialised in the eyes of the Church, being one of the “gifts of God to Man which can become the springs of joy, pleasure and loving communication”.
Dominian went on to extend the same argument in defence of the love between same-sex couples. To think of sex solely in terms of procreation, he wrote in New Internationalist in 1986, was to deny its “capacity to give life in a more than biological sense”, its role in strengthening a couple’s sexual identity and their sense of commitment to each other. While Dominian admitted that the teachings of the Bible condemned homosexual practices, he ventured that same-sex marriages would one day be possible, and that couples should receive the support of Church and State.
At that time Dominian was working as a senior consultant at the Central Middlesex Hospital in Acton, where he had been struck by the number of dissolved and unhappy marriages among his patients. Wanting to understand more, in 1971 he founded the Marriage Research Centre (now One Plus One) to conduct research and offer marriage advice.
Under his direction the centre tracked the progress of 65 volunteer couples from their wedding day in 1979 through the first six years of marriage, and then at regular intervals thereafter, in an attempt to identify the factors behind spiralling divorce rates. Using this data, Dominian identified three separate phases to a married relationship: the crucial first five years, during which some 30 to 40 per cent of all divorces take place; the middle decades, during which couples must juggle commitments to immediate family with commitments to work and their ageing parents; and the final decades, when one half of a couple is often left to cope with the death of the other.
Yet Dominian came to feel disillusioned with the ability of counselling to resolve long-standing marital discord, since by the time most couples arrived at One Plus One the issues that had led to their unhappiness were already too deeply entrenched. From the mid-1990s he began to call for an approach that focused on the prevention of relationship breakdown, rather than belated attempts at a cure. In the future, he argued, couples would need to be prepared for marriage, and given tools to develop the “companionate” love that arises from intimate coexistence.
It was a love that had been markedly lacking in Dominian’s early life. He was born Jacob Dominian in Athens on August 25 1929, to a Catholic father and Greek Orthodox mother, and attended the Lycée Léonin, one of the city’s oldest independent schools, before moving with his family to India at the age of 12. His father, elder brother and sister were all distant figures throughout his childhood, and the relationship with his mother was often under strain. “Nowadays, she would have been a business magnate, but in those days she took her frustrations out on me,” he later recalled. “She was a very self-centred person.”
Yet it was from his mother that he inherited his keen sense of ambition, and after National Service he went up to read Medicine at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, gaining his Master’s degree from Exeter College, Oxford. He met his future wife, Edith, at a 1955 meeting of the Union of Catholic Students in Worcester, and they married later that year.
Having attended the Maudsley Hospital in London to complete his psychiatric training, Dominian became a consultant physician to the Central Middlesex Hospital in 1965, where he remained for the next two decades. He was appointed MBE in 1994 for his services to marriage counselling.
In all he published more than 30 books, including The Definitive Guide to What Makes a Marriage Work (1995), and One Like Us: A Psychological Interpretation of Jesus (1998), which employed modern psychoanalytic theories to explore Christ’s childhood development.
Applying psychiatry’s diagnostic criteria to himself, Dominian identified his own personality type as neurotic — “but then,” he added cheerfully, “neurotics can be fascinating to live with”.
Dr Jack Dominian’s wife predeceased him in 2005, shortly after the couple had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. They had four daughters.
Dr Jack Dominian, born 25th August 1929, died 10th August 2014
My father, Jack Dominian, who has died aged 84, was a psychiatrist and lay Roman Catholic theologian who put loving relationships at the centre of his work and founded One Plus One, an independent marriage research centre. Through his 25 years of clinical work with the NHS until his retirement in 1988, he became increasingly aware of the emotional, psychological and economic costs of relationship breakdown.
He founded OnePlusOne in 1971, and raised funds ruthlessly during its difficult early days, embarrassing my mother, Edith, on many a social occasion with, in his own words, a “blind irrational stubbornness” and refusal to acknowledge any obstacles. One Plus One is now a thriving, government-funded charity with an emphasis on research, preventive work, and the creation of resources to strengthen relationships.
Jack believed that his deep understanding of psychology and psychiatry were crucial in the development of his philosophy of love, sex and relationships. His book Proposals for a New Sexual Ethic (1977) challenged the very foundations of Catholic teaching on marriage, arguing that sex in the context of a loving relationship was “one of the gifts of God to man” and needed to be celebrated as such. His fundamental belief that the church needed to change to reflect the reality of the modern world never ceased, yet he remained within it, believing it to be “the mystical body of Christ”.
He was born in Athens to a Greek mother, Mary, and Armenian father, Charles (hence Jack’s Roman Catholic faith), who was chief cashier at American Express in the capital. When Adolf Hitler invaded Greece in 1941, Jack was evacuated to Britain.
Educated at Stamford school, in Lincolnshire, at Cambridge, where he qualified in medicine, and Oxford, where he undertook postgraduate work, he worked as a doctor at Stoke Mandeville, the Churchill and the Maudsley hospitals, and as a consultant at the Central Middlesex hospital.
He was the author of 32 books on marriage, sexuality and religion, including One Like Us, a psychological study of Christ.
He met Edith in 1951 through the Union of Catholic Students. He credited her with teaching him everything he knew about love. He was appointed MBE in 1994 for his work with marriage and the family.
Edith died in 2005. He is survived by his four daughters, Louise, Elise, Cate and me, and by five grandchildren.