Just under 170,000 people gave up on their marriage and headed for the divorce courts last year, according to the latest figures. You currently have a 40 per cent chance of your marriage lasting until a judge, rather than death, do you part. But behind the doom there's some good news - 60 per cent of marriages survive. So what's the secret of couples who stay together?
Couples whose marriages last tend to report one thing above all - they talk. They chatter about their day, discuss world events, share opinions. And when problems arise, they have a foundation on which to thrash out the nitty-gritty of what bothers them and what they can do about it.
Couples who spend time together, stay together. We all need a little private time and to have something of our own, whether it's a regular round of golf or glass of wine with friends. But couples who celebrate their golden or ruby weddings tend to be the ones who can name their partner's favourite film, colour and food, because they've shared enough experiences to learn about them.
You'll find out pretty early in a relationship what has the potential to drive you crazy about your partner, whether it's their habit of squeezing toothpaste from the middle of the tube or blowing the weekly grocery budget on a pair of shoes.
Money, sex, who does the washing-up - all can be the triggers for a breakdown, because they are matters we tend to leave undiscussed until it's too late. Couples who negotiate bringing such tensions under control before they get to be grounds for splitting up, do well.
Couples who stay together sometimes say it's because they never argue; but it's not that you argue - it's what you do about quarrels that matters. Disagreements that go round in circles, rows that fester, are deadly. The key isn't to avoid starting them, it's to finish them; have your say, listen to your partner's view and resolve your issues. Couples stay together if they're prepared to work at it.
As Lady Fisher, the wife of a former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said when asked if she had ever thought of divorce: "Of divorce, never; of murder, frequently."
LUCIENNE & ROBIN
Robin Day, 90, the furniture designer, married his wife Lucienne, 89, the textile designer, in 1942. They have a daughter, Paula, 51.
SHE SAYS: "We have been together for 64 years and it is very largely because we believe in the same things in design. We talk about design all the time. I remember being at the Royal College of Art and knowing of a chap called Robin Day. He had already left but he was always coming back to play table tennis, which he was very good at. We were finally introduced and that evening we met at the end-of-term dance. Neither of us danced; we talked and talked the whole evening. Since that time, we've hardly ever been apart. It was very sudden and very complete. Of course there is always going to be some give and take. But our passion for design has underpinned our relationship. The other thing that cemented our relationship was the birth of our daughter, Paula, in 1954. We still have these close and affectionate feelings."
HE SAYS: "Apart from having common professions, kindness and tolerance are essential. Lucienne has both of these qualities. My second passion is mountaineering, which can be very dangerous, and she has been very good at putting up with this. It was quite dramatic when we met. We immediately discovered we shared a passionate interest in design. We talked all evening about design and we've been talking like mad ever since. We've worked in the same studio all our lives, which suits us. And we still share a deep passion for the value of design."
ASSIA & STEPHEN
Stephen Webster, 46, the jewellery designer, has been with his wife Assia, 33, a PR director, for 11 years, and married for seven. They have a six-year-old daughter. Stephen also has a 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
HE SAYS: "It's important to keep laughing at things. I still make her laugh, which can sometimes help defuse situations. We work in the same company, and we found out pretty early on that we're both very fiery and it doesn't work when we're in the same office. So now she works half a mile down the road and it works really well. I travel on my own a lot for work and always love coming back to her and the kids. They even seem happy to see me. There is nothing routine in our lives and we never let things linger. We laugh about the fact that we very quickly switch from a heated conversation to a normal conversation."
SHE SAYS: "Appreciation, forgiveness and space are essential in any long-lasting relationship - and a lot of jewellery, of course. We were friends before we became lovers, which I think helped. You have to be compatible and he still makes me laugh which is very important. One thing we do need in our relationship is space. We have short-term separations due to work and it does make me miss him. Forgiveness is something I learnt from Stephen. Before I met him I never used to say sorry. Now I probably say sorry more than him. But there's no secret formula: you're either lucky or you're not. I think we're very lucky."
SAM & SAM
Sam(uel) Clark, 38, has been married to Sam(antha) Clarke, 36, for 10 years. They own the restaurant Moro in Exmouth Market, London, and have two children, aged five and three.
HE SAYS: "At the core of our relationship is a deep love. That's the foundation of our relationship and it keeps us going in the good times and the bad times. When we met, we quickly realised that we were very good for each other. There are always going to be ups and downs, and it's about supporting one's partner when they're low, tired or ill. There has to be a trust that they will always be there for you. We're always there for each other. Modern life can be quite tough in some ways and you have to have a dogged determination to make it work, and make it fun and exciting at the same time."
SHE SAYS: "We have very similar interests and passions. I always knew that whoever I ended up with would have to love food as much as me. We spend time talking about food, cooking, eating out. It's all part of having fun in a relationship. Sam is more gentle and I'm probably more organised but these differences are complementary. And having the same name was definitely part of the attraction when we first met. Things aren't always easy when you have children, it can be a massive drain on a relationship. But we always try to balance work and family life so we have quality time together."
ALEX & CLAIRE
Alex James, 37, bassist with Blur, has been with his wife Claire, 35, a film producer, for four years. They have one son, aged two this month, and twins due in June.
HE SAYS: "What makes love work? Great sex and long legs. I think what you also need are things in your life other than each other. To start with, a relationship is all-consuming. I really swooned for Claire when I first met her. My friends probably thought it was a bit strange but we just wanted to be with each other. I never wanted to get married until I met her and now I think marriage is brilliant. After that initial swooning phase, you need to make sure you have time together but have your own lives too. It's very good to remove yourselves for a while and just get away together. When I look at my parents they're just really good companions. It's the most difficult thing in your life, your relationship. I still don't know why she loves me or why she hates me."
SHE SAYS: "It's being able to listen and being able to maintain that best friendship. Alex is the person I talk to about everything. We just met one night and it escalated very rapidly from there. We were married a year after we met, and had a baby nine months later. Now we have twins on the way. I think it works because we are quite alike and we enjoy the same things. He can be patient and listen and admit when he's wrong and I'm the same. We also make time for each other. Sometimes we're very insular but I think you need to be selfish every now again and spend time together alone. We're in our own little bubble."
FERGUS & MARGOT
Fergus Henderson, 42, the chef and owner of St John restaurant in London, married his wife Margot, 41, who runs the catering company Arnold and Henderson, 12 years ago. They have three children, aged 11, nine and six.
HE SAYS: "I think patience is important. You both have to be patient with one another. Red wine and making the bed also help. We've been married for 12 years and it still seems to be going strong. There has to be an ability to kiss and make up and not let things run on for too long. When things get heated, it's best to put things to an end quickly. She is incredibly patient with me. We are both chefs and we have had some fiery moments but I think we channel this into something sensible rather than destructive. Having children also means that you have to spread your love around a bit more. Most of all, I think it's important to have a nice time together."
SHE SAYS: "Fergus is a very gentle-mannered, loving, kind, generous and forgiving man. And he has a slightly mental wife. We've been married a long time and you have to put up with a lot to make a relationship work. We have a lot of fun together and that combined with support from friends, family and children is very important. Then there is sex. You have to keep your sex life going. And get a cleaner. Even if you're broke you'll go mad if you don't invest in a cleaner. Lots of good eating and drinking also help. We are similar in terms of what we enjoy. We like sitting around a table with friends. I'm a bloody good wife, and Fergus is a very understanding and generous man."
RENA & SOPHIE
Sophie Ward, 41, the actress, has been with her partner Rena Brannan, 40, the writer, for 10 years.
SHE (SOPHIE) SAYS: "When I met Rena, we liked each other immediately. We're from very different backgrounds and there wasn't a chance we could get together at that time; it was impossible. But there was this chemistry and we eventually started working out how to be together. Although we are very, very different, we are the same age and have the same cultural references: books, films, plays, politics. We are also both very strong-willed but agreed early on that we would never pitch our wills against one another. She is very unpredictable and I'm still never sure what she would think about things, so I always want to know her opinion. She always has something interesting to contribute. Making love work is throwing your lot in with another."
SHE (RENA) SAYS: "Initiative is really important. The sexiest thing on the planet is if your partner goes off and does something, without you having to say you'd like a box of chocolates. The desire to try to understand each other is still really great in both of us. We are very, very passionate. We are not dramatic but we have a passion for communication and our relationship is definitely intense. It's like learning about someone for the whole of your life. It's like an art project. After 10 years, we're still probably in the honeymoon period and I think it will be like that my whole life with Sophie."
DOM & STACEY
Dom Joly, 38, the comedian and 'Independent on Sunday' columnist, has been married to Stacey, 42, a designer, for five years. They have two children, aged one and five.
HE SAYS: "I was lucky because I married Stacey a week before Trigger Happy came out, so it is nice to know that she married me for who I am rather than because she's a squirrel fetishist. If you work in showbiz you definitely have to marry someone who isn't in the media, so you don't bore your friends rigid. We're very different: I'm a show-off and Stacey is much more grounded and secure. But we share the same core values. People who talk about their perfect love lives tend to be the kind of people whipping cats in private. But I could not have done everything I've done without Stacey and without being 100 per cent happy and secure with her. We definitely complement one another."
SHE SAYS: "Dom will probably say something jokey but I'm going to be more serious. It's about wanting each other to be happy and have a good life. I just want him to be happy and to experience everything he wants to experience. We're both very fiery and quick-tempered but we never hang on to it. It works for us because neither of us wants to be with someone you can walk all over. Having said that, Dom is extremely messy. The domestic stuff is what we argue about. But we get along extremely well. Even if we have a blow-out it's never a big deal. Ten seconds later we're hugging and kissing."
JONATHAN & AMY
Amy Jenkins, the writer, 39, and her husband Jonathan Heawood, 32, the director of English PEN, the writers' organisation, have been married for 18 months. Their first baby is due in May.
SHE SAYS: "I think it's incredibly important to have all the basic building blocks in place and have a similar vision for the future. For example, we both want to live in the same city, we watch the same TV programmes - within reason - we like the same art exhibitions, read the same newspapers, enjoy similar holidays. When I met him it was different from previous relationships. I was able to be myself completely. We were quite astonished to find we had very similar dreams. It also helps that he is physically what I expect in a man: he has dark hair and he's taller than me."
HE SAYS: "Talking, talking and talking. It's so important to talk. There was that line in Love Story I always found absurd, that love is about never having to say sorry. I think love is about being able to say 'I'm sorry' and being able to accept apologies. Never saying sorry implies you lead independent lives. When you are in love your lives are intertwined. You give up part of yourself but you get something back much bigger. Amy and I talk all the time. I have never had the sense of being able to say anything before. Everything is on the table. It's about being undogmatic and knowing you can say anything because love underpins it."Reuse content