Why 'til death us do part' used to mean just that to our parents
Published 21/10/2009 | 08:00
It was confirmed this week that half of all UK marriages now end in divorce, with the average marriage lasting just over 11 years. And in most cases it is the women who instigate divorce. So is modern marriage crumbling? Or were things ever any better?
After all, it was only a couple of centuries ago that men were allowed to beat their wives black and blue, starve them or lock them in the attic. Or throw them out on the street without a penny and deny them access to their own children.
Poor men could take their wives to the local market and sell them. This was seen as a sort of kindness and preferable to leaving the poor creatures homeless.
It makes you wonder why most women, and indeed most men, ever bothered getting married at all, if so many marriages quickly descended into a living hell of depression, debt and despair.
When I was a love-struck teenager, several older married women discreetly advised me never to marry.
"You get a big day out," they told me, sadly. "And he gets an unpaid housekeeper for the rest of his life."
I was also told that most men lose all romantic interest in their wives after the children come along. And that most men can't be bothered with remembering wedding anniversaries or birthdays.
They have no sympathy for PMS, morning sickness, labour pains or post-natal depression, I was informed.
They won't change a nappy or lift a finger in the house, even if they're out of work and you've just had a baby.
Oh, and men were mean and secretive with their money, too. Most men didn't even tell their wives how much they earned, but carefully counted out the housekeeping money on the kitchen table every Friday night, as if they were doing their wives the most almighty favour imaginable.
But I, being young and foolish, went ahead and got married anyway. And I turned out to be one of the lucky ones.
My husband never made a ritual of counting out the housekeeping money to me on a Friday night. He never roared at me when he had drink taken, or any of the other terrors I had been warned about. But then my other half is a bona fide 'New Man' . . .
The thing that perplexes me, however, is that modern marriage seems to be as much of a gamble as it ever was, for both men and women, despite the majority of men surely being 'New Men' now. There can't be more than a handful of males out there who still think it's acceptable behaviour to beat their wife after the pub closes. Aren't the vast majority of modern guys totally clued up on PMS and all the rest of it?
And don't we women have all manner of mod cons and ready-meals to help us ease the misery of housework?
We're having smaller families, too, so that's got to be a hell of a lot easier than trying to rear 10 hungry children on a pittance of a wage. And if all else fails there's always couple's counselling.
So what's the problem? Just why are so many marriages hitting the rocks by the time the children have barely settled in at primary school?
Are men still not pulling their weight? Or have women simply raised the bar too high? Just as the guys were getting to grips with changing nappies and having joint bank accounts, have women now decided that this isn't enough? That they now want a husband who does all the 'New Man' stuff, but also looks like George Clooney or Robert Pattinson?
Some experts say that expecting a marriage to last for 70-odd years is just being unrealistic. And that in bygone days the life expectancy of citizens here was much lower that it is now.
Countless young men died on various battlefields. And countless young women died having babies. And it was a very rare thing indeed for a married couple to live long enough to fall out of love.
So is that the bald and bitter truth then? That true love is a lie? In fact, is 'true love' nothing more than a rush of hormones, honed over centuries of evolution, to trick men and women alike into having babies?
And when the babies are safely in their cradles, do the hormones just pack up and move on, not giving a second thought to the broken hearts and empty chairs left behind?