My grandparents were married for more than 60 years. Only my grandfather’s death stopped them having 65 happy years together and many years ago I asked my grandmother the secret of her long and happy marriage. She told me “Never go to bed on a row”
Sorry, Grandma but I’ve blown that many, many times.
But my parents never argued or quarrelled – in fact I never, ever saw them have a row. My mother said it was a sign of poor breeding to disagree publicly with each other in front of people and my father didn’t allow anyone to disagree with him anyway. As a result of this I witnessed no arguments growing up and even vague discord grated and made everyone feel uncomfortable as it was so unfamiliar.
Somewhere along the way I went very, very wrong. By the time I reached 15 I could argue with a paper bag. I thought what was going on around me so very wrong and could not stop my mouth from telling everyone this. At school, at home – I just wanted to tell everyone where and when they were wrong and it was inevitable that shortly after this my father would ask me to leave home. Arguing wasn’t allowed and by then this had become my only method of communication with him.
A few years later the MN and I were firmly a couple, even though we were still in our early years together and in our early twenties. We thought that on the whole we were pretty average sort of couple, though looking back, I’m not sure who we were judging ourselves against to reach this conclusion.
We had a large circle of friends of a similar age who mostly had one young child, or no children and a lot of our social life revolved around having people round to our flat and us going to theirs. When we had a babysitter we’d go out to pubs, clubs, the cinema and mainly because of what the MN did for a living, an awful lot of gigs.
It was many years later, when we were in our early 40s, that a close friend from those days told us that the only reason we’d been constantly invited to everything was because the hosts knew that if the party started to get boring or conversation flagged in any way, we’d be sure to be the night’s entertainment.
We were known, apparently, as “The Rowing Reeds”.
We were totally unaware of this and the news came as something of a shock. I rang a mutual friend to ask her if this was true and she confirmed, quite happily, that we were seen as something of a free cabaret turn – in fact those were the very words she used and she added “of course some people didn’t like you because you could get very noisy, but most people looked forward to that part of the evening and it was one of the reasons they came!”
Back in those days we could row with a conviction that would be envied by many politicians. Neither of us would back down, I had the gift of the gab and a love of using colourful and amusing metaphors to get my point across. He knew exactly when and where to hurt me and with one sentence would wound me with scalpel like efficiency. When the going got tough I would throw whatever came to hand – food, clothes, ornaments – even the TV on one occasion. He would always announce that he was leaving and that I would never see him again and would someone please explain what had happened to our daughter (and later our son), whose lives I had just blighted.
This went on for many, many years. There were some especially memorable moments; most close family remember the “Colonel Gaddafi row” where my MN supported the allied bombing of his bases and I did not. Most of our good china went the same way of Gaddafi’s bases with that one………..
But gradually we found less and less to argue about and when we did argue we found that we had grown up enough to be able to say “I’m sorry” or “That’s was a stupid thing to say” and most importantly “I really didn’t mean that”. We both began to be comfortable enough in our own skins and assured enough of our own self- worth to admit when we were wrong, apologise and go forward from there.
These days, and for quite a few years now, I can honestly say that we hardly ever argue and any full-on “rows” are so rare that we can barely count them. We agree about most things and when we don’t agree, we don’t always feel the need to say so. However, I have noticed that some people are slightly disconcerted by the frank and forthright way we talk to each other and on more than one occasion I’ve heard by daughter explain to others “That’s just the way they talk to each other – they’re very close”, which I often find perplexing. I know of few couples closer than we are, or ones who are more in love after more than 30 years. My passionate nature will always mean occasional shouting, but that doesn’t detract from the love I feel and even when the MN is in full flow (usually involves some pacing and gesticulating) I never doubt his love for me.
But perhaps what has really changed – the reason we don’t tear chunks off each other in public for other’s amusement any more, is because we have a steady and deep respect for each other. Sometimes he thinks I’m wrong. Sometimes I know he’s wrong, but we can live with that because we both know that ultimately we both want the same thing for the same reasons.
In the last few months especially, in the build up to Nico’s inquest, if we had not discovered strengths in ourselves and found a way to weather the storm without bailing each other out with the water, we quite literally would not have made it. When you are filled with such burning anger, sorrow and bewilderment it’s very, very easy to turn that on each other and I can completely see now why so many relationships founder under this pressure. But we will be alright I know, no matter what happens because the close bonds of love that made us such a happy family when Nico was with us are still there and still strong.
Which doesn’t mean to say of course that the TV is still necessarily safe from my wrath. I’m fairly certain that before our time together is done we’ll have a few more good rows. We may even go to bed on one. But we are determined that whatever the next few weeks brings, one row we will never have to have is the one where we say we did not do everything that we could to achieve justice for our precious boy.