the happy couples: how

'Made for each other', 'so well suited', 'a perfect match' - some couples seem to have all the answers. So what's the secret of marital bliss? Four self-confessed happily marrieds talk to Emma Cook
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IMOGEN AND ROY PURTILL, MARRIED 11 MONTHS

Imogen, 26, works for a tour operator and Roy, 28, is a sales manager for a computer company. They got married last August. Imogen is expecting their first child in November.

Imogen: We lived together for a couple of years before we married so it seemed the most natural thing in the world. We did have a bit of a problem in terms of religion; I'm Jewish and Roy is Catholic. So we compromised and got married at Brighton Pavilion. Now we're married we definitely work harder at the relationship. You have to work things out and neither of us walks away from an argument anymore. I think the psychological bond of marriage - declaring our love in front of close friends and family - has made us closer.

Roy: After a year of marriage I feel I've changed a lot. Now I think I've put on a bit of weight, settled down and got comfortable. I've started thinking long-term about developing my life; my career and family, putting down roots. I've also noticed that friends react to me differently. Whereas before they may have made jokes about women, they don't now out of respect to Imogen.

Imogen: A strong motivating factor with us is the fact that both sets of parents are divorced. I think Roy was more affected by it than I was. We're determined to make it work because we don't want to follow in their footsteps. There is an added anxiety in knowing your mother and father divorced. Subconsciously you're thinking 'is it going to happen to me? Am I going to put my children through the same experience?' It's made us keener to not let that happen to us.

Roy: I was only nine when my parents broke up and I couldn't go through it again. That's why we both care about communication, because we want to get any issues resolved straight away. I don't want problems to stay as thorns in our side and to carry them around for years. It's a decision we've both made.

Imogen: We felt so strongly about our backgrounds and discussed ourdecision to get married at length. Our strategy has always been to talk. As soon as I'm feeling irritable I'll tell Roy, but he always senses it because we know each other so well. I'm usually the one who says my bit and then backs down.

Roy: That's the bit I've had to work hardest at: backing down. We're both quite headstrong. Before we married neither of us would climb down in an argument. One of us would storm out and head into town. But now we know that we have to resolve things. If we storm out it's into the other room and then we come back 10 minutes later. When I was living with Imogen I couldn't do that so easily. It was probably because I was stubborn and there was still a certain amount of independence there that needed to be weaned out. You're never entirely sure until you say 'will you marry me?' that you want to go ahead. Once you make that decision you commit yourself to it.

Imogen: We've both calmed our tempers down. We talk things through rather than shout. I think we've matured as a couple. There's also a lot more trust there. Before we married it was a case of 'where are you going? and 'when are you getting back?' Now it's a case of 'out you go'.

VERONICA AND ROBERT HOEHLE, MARRIED 15 YEARS

Veronica, 34, is a housewife and Robert, 35, is a self-employed carpet fitter. They have been married for 15 years and have three children: Robert 12, Richard, 9, and Fraser, 2.

Veronica: When we first got married, some things were hard to get used to. He got up very early in the morning but still assumed I would make his breakfast because his mother always did. There were a few arguments, usually about the housework. He would expect me to do it all so I explained that I wouldn't.

Robert: We always try our best to talk about things although there can be a lot of shouting and arguing - especially when I was working too much. Work can be a pressure; I'll come in tired and she'll expect me to sit up and talk. But we've resolved it now; I ve had to make allowances by making more time for the family. I feel our marriage is stronger. In the early days I'd just walk away from a row. Now if I'm wrong I'll admit it. .

Veronica: I think when I had our eldest son, Bobby got a bit jealous because he felt left out. We overcame that by always giving ourselves time with each other. For the past 15 years, my sister has the kids every Saturday night so we can go out for the evening.

Robert: That really helped - it's really important to have a bit of time to yourselves. Also we've always been strict about keeping the kids out of the bedroom. We don't let them barge in every five minutes because it's important to have that bit of privacy for yourself.

Veronica: Our marriage is happy because I think we've been through a lot and overcome it. Bobby started off as self-employed and we were really struggling while he was trying to build up work. We did argue but managed to talk about things as well. I'd say it took about five years to work out an equal partnership. It could be hard; at one point he'd come home late after drinking with his friends and I'd be waiting at home with his dinner on. We argued about it and agreed that I'd go out when he did. Now if he sees his mates, I go to the bingo with mine. And if we do go out separately, we always give one another a week's notice. He plays pool every Tuesday but says he wants to pack it in. I've told him not to. I like having that freedom while he's out - it's good for both of us.

Robert: After 15 years I feel much closer to Veronica. I confide in her about financial worries, which have always been the worst problem for us. I'm the sort of person who tends to hide any problems under a blanket whereas Veronica is more direct. Business-wise she's always a help; she sorts things out and pushes me to do things. We're completely equal; if we weren't she'd tell me about it. I like the fact that if I go out for a pint, she's got her own social life. It's only fair that she gets out as well.

Veronica: I think we're much closer too. In the first five years of our marriage we just let problems build up and we would have big rows. Now arguments are rare and I think we've got a lot more in common. We share things together more: going to the cinema, eating out and doing things with the kids.

Robert: You can get into a rut so we do make the effort to go out and look nice for each other. Veronica gets dressed up and does her hair and I put on a shirt and tie. That's when I think, there's the woman I first met. I don't really know what a successful marriage is but I do feel that ours has got better and better. The longer it lasts the wiser we get.

JOANNE AND DAVID CHEYETTE, MARRIED 4 YEARS

Joanne, 27, is a physiotherapist and David, 30, is an accountant. They married four years ago and have a daughter, one-year-old Ellie.

Joanne: The main strategy we have is to talk a lot - we're really open with each other. If I'm fed up I'll tell him and he's the same with me. You can tell when things get bottled up - that's when the sparks begin to fly. Since we had Ellie we have had to make more of an effort to be on our own as a couple, especially in the past four months when David was revising for his accounting exams. If he wasn't studying I was at work, and then he went on revision courses at the weekends. It was a difficult time.

David: We don't argue a lot - it's just banter. There's never any occasion when we get pent-up feelings. If she says something annoying I'll tell her. There are times when you get irritable - when you're woken at four o'clock in the morning to change the nappies - but it's forgotten in seconds. It's like trying to accept that you'll both be irritable at certain times, almost pre-empting the event. That way it doesn't matter because we understand what the causes are.

Joanne: Humour always combats the difficult bits. The other day I got annoyed about something and David was holding the baby. She made a face and we couldn't be irritated anymore: I burst out laughing. You can tell when things are stressful because we don't laugh as much.

David: We can sit and have absolute hysterics about something, which I've never done with anyone else. I think that's a very important part of the relationship. It means we can be very natural about things.

Joanne: The worst time we argued was a couple of weeks after our honeymoon. We hadn't lived together before and we had a blazing row - the only real one in the past four years.

David: Our rows are very rare although I do think they're important. We're still learning. If something annoys you, then you should bring it out in the open. I think marriage is about learning to cope with each other's idiosyncrasies. It's a case of adjusting your life to fit in with someone else's. That's why we didn't want to start a family straight away. We wanted to be a couple and learn how to live with each other first. I think planning was a key factor. If you don't, then you are probably aiming for a major fall.

Joanne: Having Ellie means we tend to spend more time together as a threesome. David comes home from work earlier and gets up earlier. Before we socialised more and that's slowed down in the last year. The only added stress has been David's revision, which means I've been on my own a lot more.

David: I did feel extremely guilty going off at weekends to revise and when I got back I'd get very involved, taking Ellie out and doing more around the house. I think that stemmed from the guilt that I felt. We do make a bigger effort to be together. I like my time at home and the thought of going out with the guys just doesn't appeal to me.

Joanne: If anything, Ellie's improved our relationship. We make a special effort to go out and we don't waste what time we've got together. TEXT: LIZ AND LES WILSON, MARRIED 22 YEARS

Liz, 58, is a cook/housekeeper and has two children from her first marriage: Susie, 34, and David, 31. Les, 64, is a semi-retired purchasing and distribution manager and has two sons from his first marriage: Tim, 37, and Paul 35. They have been married for 22 years.

Liz: I feel that my husband has worked at the relationship more than me, especially at the start of the marriage. He would always tell me he loved me and be the one to say, "Let's talk this out." I still feel, and always have felt, insecure because my first husband left me. It's always at the back of my mind that if I have to stand on my own two feet then I'll be able to. I think that was why I had a barrier there at the beginning of the marriage.

Les: We were both really broken-hearted, especially Liz, when our first marriages broke up. I thought when I get married again it's got to be for good. Liz still has this feeling that I may go off with someone else. I know she does - she's still very insecure in that way. But she knows really that I'm not interested and that I'm always here to reassure her.

Liz: I was very defensive at first. I'd just clam up and not talk about things. That's what was wrong with my first marriage and I think it's sort of in my nature. But I'm not like that now. In that way, I've made an effort to change. Time and getting older has encouraged me to talk things through. If something annoys me I say it. But we argue less these days, probably because we know each other so well.

Les: I feel I've always compromised a bit more than Liz and let her get her own way. But that has never bothered me at all. I wanted to make sure our marriage would go well and at times that has meant accepting what Liz wants to do.

Liz: For example, when my son David left home at age 22, he'd still come round for meals and I'd do his washing. At that point Les thought he should be more independent. But it wasn't David's choice, it was mine; I still wanted to mother him and make sure he was all right. Now I've got used to the fact that the children have left and I think it's helped our marriage. I realise they've got their own lives and so have we.

Les: In the beginning I was probably a little bit jealous of the affection Liz would show to David and Susie. But I've matured now and accept that's the way she is. I realise that she still gives me everything in terms of affection so it doesn't matter. We don't get angry with each other in the same way that we did in the early stages of our marriage. We're calmer and everything gets talked about.

Liz: After 22 years of marriage I'd say Les is my best friend. There is definitely less passion but I feel that the companionship part is the best thing. Les is a very affectionate person and I'm not, but we both accept that. I'm completely honest about it and both of us see it as just one of those things.

Les: I'm a loving man and like cuddles and all that sort of thing but Liz doesn't. I've come to terms with that and what we've got now is a much deeper friendship. Liz and I don't have to work so hard at the relationship these days. It goes at its own pace and just carries on.

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