Once upon a time marriage provided a certain blueprint for life together, and all you need do was abide by it. But newly-wed Conservative leader William Hague this week gave a new twist to nuptial vows, announcing on Talk Radio that he and his wife Ffion had scheduled an agenda of private time together: Sundays, an evening a week, and one whole weekend a month.

Leaving aside the questions this begs about modern relationships and work commitments, is that really enough "quality time" on which to base a lifelong union? My first reaction was that it isn't, but then I'm biased. Working from home while my husband Joff looks after the house and kids, we're used to seeing an awful lot of each other. Despite all the cliches about living in each other's pockets, absence making the heart grow fonder and needing to keep a certain spice in one's relationship, I think we're as happy together as we could be.

Well, yes, we do sometimes get on each other's nerves. Our relationship thrives on low-grade bickering, but that's often part of family life. The advantage we have over other, more time-strapped couples, is that things rarely fester. One rants and raves, the other takes the mick, and in five minutes it's forgotten. But maybe we're just weird.

Not so, says Geoff, a friend who has run a successful business at home with his wife for the last 14 years. "Working together has been the salvation of our relationship. A mutual interest provides a great bond and a bedrock for family life, and we're very in tune with each other."

Certainly time together allows you to evolve a very intuitive way of dealing with each other, confirms Relate counsellor and agony aunt Julia Cole, and gives you more chance to discuss issues that are important to you. But she warns against meshing together so completely that you lose all sense of your own identity: "In extreme cases clinging together may indicate that you don't have much confidence in the relationship, and feel it is vulnerable."

Not that busy couples are doomed to divorce. Bernadette Matus, chair of the National Childbirth Trust, lecturer in marketing at Brighton University, and freelance consultant and trainer, only really sees her husband Tad, head of information for East Sussex health authority, on Sundays. But if anything, she thinks their 19-year relationship has improved.

"I have a greater sense of identity, and there's a much greater equality between us. We've become real partners and have a new respect for each other. It helps that we have a lot in common, but we don't bicker much: there's no time and we've got better things to think about."

It may seem dispiriting that modern couples need to schedule time together, but it's undoubtedly wise, says Cole: newly-weds are often taken over by the romantic idea that somehow their love will naturally make time for each other. Couples should ring-fence time together, but they also need to decide what they'll do if the office phones or an urgent fax comes. "The Hagues have made the first step, but they'll have to be quite careful about the quality of that time." And if babies arrive on the scene? Then what?

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