Our Consultant solicitor based in Guildford, Surrey, Lewis Hulatt, of Major Family Law, specialist divorce and family lawyers comments it is the week for commercialisation of romance and the sale of trite sentiment done up in pink, so instead of lowering the mood by banging on about separation and divorce, I shall think of ‘lurve’ and marriage. Are they as retro as ‘horse and carriage’? Maybe not when on the morning I am writing this, the radio alarm announces not just the wedding of one presenter at the weekend, but the forthcoming celebration for another. I have it tuned to the radio show that is so annoying it makes me get up to switch it off. Maybe all their perpetual forced laughter is understandable nerves rather than mere idiocy…but I doubt it.
When I got engaged back in 1990 (literally a generation ago!) I was already a family lawyer doing lots of divorce, so I said my engagement represented the triumph of hope over other people’s experience. Like most couples, over the years, we have been through the marital crisis triggers of moving house, illness, unemployment, money problems and bereavement, but somehow we survived. Maybe it helped having the examples set by our parents who in their turn overcame such stresses as well as having the added pressure of children, but not everybody is as fortunate. At the outset, I did invest in the RELATE Guide to better relationships to add something positive to the negative examples of what I knew of what went wrong for my clients. A revised edition is still available and exercises such as finding 5 (yes FIVE!) positive things to actually say to your partner gets easier, the more often that you do it. I have challenged couples at dinner parties to do that and even couples whose relationships endure sometimes struggle because they assume that the other recognises that in amongst the dross of vices and imperfections, they are appreciated for all their good qualities. Apparently it helps to tell people…
(A revised edition of the book is still available and whilst I did work alongside RELATE as a family mediator, I am not on commission.)
Anyhow, moving on from Valentines Day on which my wife was working an overnight shift and had to content herself with remembering the red rose acquired from our local Indian restaurant, which like a true romantic I did en-vase for her: a bit more history.
You can imagine that I have seen a lot of relationships go wrong in 30 years of working in family law. The pearl anniversary of working as a family lawyer is five more than the 25 years of marriage due to be celebrated the same month later this year. It is not that people splitting up are failures or that somebody must be to blame, it is simply that the pressures of life have not got any less and people have been living longer: a lot easier to adhere to ‘until death us do part’ when like Lady Margaret Beaufort (mother of King Henry VII) you might be a widow at 13 – either from your husband being killed in battle or succumbing to the plague. I know about Lady Margaret because she owned Woking Palace and as well as being a champion for education, after whom schools and colleges have been named, she had four husbands in total, the fourth before the age of thirty. Not exactly a ‘silver splitter’. Each time she wed, the matriarch of the House of Tudor could hardly expect that marriage was going to last a generation. Her grandson, the polyamorous King Henry VIII had a short attention-span and was a divorce enthusiast with the inclination to give a relationship ‘the chop’ if he did not get what he wanted from it. Imagine if you will, the (posthumous) lecture in which I cast Maggie Smith as Lady Margaret: “Six wives, Henry? A trifle excessive surely? That’s two more than four husbands!” Hearing this, Johnny Vegas as Henry wipes his greasy mouth on his sleeve and ripostes “Stop moaning gran and finish your swan!”
So much for Tudor lurve.