Cover Story: Marriage a la mode

We know what goes on behind our own net curtains, yet can't resist speculating on what makes other people's relationships tick. Shane Watson presents a field guide

To love, honour and obey, in sickness and in health... in the good old days, the parameters of marriage were clear. But the good old days are behind us. In the past few years, marriage has undergone a revolution. Without most folk noticing it, our expectations of how a couple should operate have been transformed. Suddenly there's no longer one normal, standard way to be married. Women are not after a big, strong man who can offer them financial security. While, for their part, men have begun to look beyond mother-substitutes who are good with an iron.

Roles have become muddled. I know men whose diaries, bank accounts and opinions are, more or less, controlled by their wives, and wives who have embraced a modern version of the Stepford rules, gussying themselves up for their man's return from work and spending their days shopping for pleasing underwear. In one marriage you'll find the man running the kitchen, and in another a husband who refuses to set foot in Sainsbury's. There are couples who work together and split the domestic duties right down the middle, and others who barely see each other, and take pride in an almost-single approach to life.

Now that husbands can be metrosexual and wives can be the breadwinners, the real trick is to find an "other half" who completes you. But don't think the world is your oyster. As I discovered when I was writing a book about marriage, couples tend to fall into one of eight basic types. It pays to know which you are, or which you might end up as, because each is as different as marriage is from being single. Well, almost.

The Woman-on-Top Marriage

This is the marriage in which the woman calls all the shots. Typically it didn't start out that way but, gradually, all pretence of him having a say in their affairs has gone and her dominance in the relationship has become an accepted part of their public routine ("Richard is so useless, if it wasn't for me we'd all starve... the children are so embarrassed by him... etc.)

Generally the WOT marriage involves a forceful female personality who either gave up a career in order to stay at home or left marriage a little late and was ultimately forced to settle for less than she had intended. It is possible, however, and increasingly common, for the WOT to emerge at a point when her children are almost grown up and she has acquired a new confidence, or interest in business, and equivalent contempt for her husband.

Most likely to say (her): "You see what I have to put up with?"

The Kitten-Woman Marriage

"Kitten woman" was a term coined by the then Kimberly Fortier - prior to her hitting the headlines - to describe a woman who was not afraid to trade on her feminine wiles and pose as a harmless kittie rather than the jungle predator she really is. In the context of marriage, the Kitten Woman appears to defer to her husband in all things, and makes a huge show of being reliant on his wisdom/strength/experience. He is the hunter/gatherer protector and she is the ingenue who looks to him for guidance. In practice she is extremely capable and absolutely in control.

Mr Kitten-Woman has an old fashioned sense of chivalry and is, to an extent, complicit in his wife's little game. He comes from a world where kittenism is a refreshing contrast to the whip-cracking norm, and he enjoys the pretence that he is the centre of his woman's world, and her knight in shining armour. Providing he is very secure and not so in love that he will allow himself to be bullied, the KM marriage can suit both parties well.

Most likely to say (her): "We have a very special bond."

The Survivors' Marriage

This marriage is one of the newest arrivals on the scene - combining as it does the tendency to leave things a little late in the day and the contemporary preoccupation with money and status. Each partner in this marriage is attracted to the other for essentially pragmatic reasons: she married him because there was no-one else better on the horizon and her biological clock was audible from 50 yards; he married her because she made their union seem like an exciting power-merger which would protect both their interests. Together they embark on endless projects - holiday homes, entrepreneurial gambles, more children - and the glue that binds them is their steady march up the financial ladder and the social scale.

Unlike other couples they are - alright, she is - disturbingly up-front about their problems conceiving, his problems at work, and her feelings for his brother. Either partner may wear the trousers but it is most frequently the wife.

Most likely to say: "We've worked out it's cheaper for us to live in separate houses".

The Ongoing-Affair Marriage

Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were typical of the Ongoing-Affair couple, which says all that needs to be said about the stability of this particular union. Normality - kids, an estate car, Center Parc holidays, relatives at Christmas - is difficult for these couples. At the heart of their marriage is the belief that theirs is a special love which must be nurtured and preserved from the humdrum daily drudgery of normal marriages. To this end they religiously celebrate anniversaries, are mad for renewing vows, and deliberately set aside quality time to be alone together, regardless of the fun opportunities that may arise.

OAMs hold hands in public, tend to cling to each other at parties, surround themselves with photographs of their most public loving moments and feel obliged to share their likes and dislikes and funny little habits with anyone who will listen. When OAMs do have children these become an extension of this special love-bond, and a nightmare.

Most likely to say: "We won't be able to do that, it's our night for catching up."

The Tomboy Marriage

The Tomboy Marriage is the opposite of the Kitten Marriage. Tomboy couples usually marry when quite young and think of themselves as great mates embarking on an adventure, who happen to have sex and a family. They are the most likely to have an unconventional attitude to their roles (she is quite liable to stay in bed on a Saturday with a filthy hangover while he looks after the children) and, though obviously devoted to each other, their relationship involves lots of jokes at each other's expense, quite a bit of independent partying, and plenty of risk-taking.

Tomboy couples are the most likely to sell up and go and live in Africa for a year while she is pregnant with twins. Their absolute horror is people who let breastfeeding get in the way of a good Friday night, and Ongoing-Affair couples. Zoe Ball and Fatboy Slim would fall naturally into this category and, as their example demonstrates, this pally marriage can be tricky to sustain and generally requires a shift towards a more conventional pattern at some point.

Most likely to say (him): "She's useless in the mornings so I deal with the kids".

The Commitment-Phobic, Determined-Adorer Marriage

Essentially this is a marriage between someone who is madly in love, and someone who is passive and happy to be given a direction. It is dangerous for the determined party because it means that, from the start, they have assumed all responsibility for the success of the relationship.

Commonly the determined partner is a woman who wants to have a child and is fed up with waiting (she gets pregnant, thereby forcing her boyfriend's hand) but it can also be the man, if he is seeking to snare a flighty, commitment-phobic girlfriend. The phobic party makes no secret of their reservations but, if their determined partner's instincts are right, this is anxiety talking, rather than indifference - and many reluctant grooms and brides visibly relax once they've taken the decision. In other words this is not the absolute recipe for disaster that you might imagine. It appears that one person's persistence can be enough to cement the deal - though this is still a high risk strategy.

Most likely to say (adorer): "Don't worry about it, you don't have to do it."

The Flatmates' Marriage

This is also known as the couple-in-denial marriage. The trouble with flatmates is that neither can admit to needing the other, or even being particularly into them. Flatmates continue to keep a mental tit-for-tat checklist and are always weighing up who has cooked the most and made the most trips to the supermarket. (All married couples are conscious of who is pulling their weight, but flatmates have a "you've drunk my milk" attitude to the relationship). Everything in the FM requires negotiation: there is no assumption that they will holiday together, or share the same Christening present, or attend the same New Year's Eve party.

Flatmates are secretly quite proud of their approach to marriage, although others can see that their lack of unconditional support for each other takes its toll.

Most likely to say: "He/She isn't the mood for skiing this year, so it'll just be me."

The Just-Gay-Enough Marriage

This is a style of marriage many women envy, particularly those in the Flatmates' category, although it doesn't appeal to everyone. The Just- Gay-Enough husband is thoroughly reconstructed and is happy to share in the chores and childcare as well as watch girlie TV and go clothes-shopping with his wife (though his preference is to look for "things for the home"). Mrs Just-Gay-Enough is, in the opinion of some of her female peers, rather spoilt. She gets a present on Valentine's day (accurate-size designer underwear), gets whisked off on romantic breaks and so on.

But, mysteriously, the woman sometimes seems less than thrilled with her metrosexual husband. There are tensions involving her use of the kitchen (he's taken over), her choice of decor in the bathroom (he has some very firm ideas), and her smoking (he wants her to give up). She feels (although this is rarely articulated) that, despite the many advantages of having a domesticated man, he is encroaching on her territory to a degree that makes her feel like she's living with a girlfriend.

Most likely to say (him): "Don't let her near my omelette-pan."

`Other People's Marriages', by Shane Watson, is published on Friday, by Macmillan, at pounds 12.99. To order this book direct, call 08700 798 897

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star