Bel Mooney: She never picked up the signals


Which is worse within a marriage, not to tell or not to ask? Should we expect couples who share a bed to share intimate details about their financial affairs as well? Tessa Jowell has split from her husband David Mills because she is "angered" at the way questions over his complex business dealings have embroiled and embarrassed her. As newspapers questioned how an intelligent woman could possibly sign a document without asking why, and speculated what the high-flying couple actually talked about at home, the "dreadful strain" (in the words of Mr Mills's statement) on the marriage increased to breaking point.

The lack of communication in the Mills household may seem bizarre yet surely, in some ways, we can see this as a paradigm of modern marriage. The fiercely ambitious politician and the international tax lawyer must have been ships passing in the night for years, and when they met up there would be family matters to discuss, as well as dinner parties to attend.

So shooting the breeze about Silvio Berlusconi at breakfast would not have been likely. Independent cash-rich/time-poor couples do not spend much time talking about the minutiae of their bank balances. I confess that during my long marriage I was too idle to interest myself in finance, and allowed my ex-husband to deal with everything, it so happens, with exemplary efficiency. So I do not share the general astonishment that Ms Jowell "signed the relevant papers" for a loan on their home without knowing the nature of the investment. She trusted him, so why should she?

At the end of last year, the financial adviser, MSN Money, published research which revealed a third of Britons admit lying about money to their partners. It also found men lie more than women, perhaps because their debts extend to bigger things than designer handbags, perhaps because of some atavistic conviction that it is their right. The point is, in today's Britain both sexes are uneconomical with everything including the truth, and the result is a weight of debt which can easily drag a once-happy marriage into the depths. In time, the erring partner will become so appalled at the prospect of confessing how weak/greedy/hopeless/ dishonest he or she has been that the web of deceit grows all the more sticky. After embarrassment comes fear, then despair. Ten per cent of the population lie because they have no idea how to sort things out.

What disturbs me about the Mills-Jowell case is not that she did not ask him what he needed the loan for, because surely to cross-examine your spouse implies a lack of trust. It is not even that he did not tell her. The real source of wonder is that Ms Jowell didn't notice her husband was becoming increasingly stressed, as he must have been. If a relationship is a genuine partnership, both halves will possess antennae to pick up signals that something is up.

But only if there is time. Whatever happens to this couple, I suspect observers may read something of their own marriage within the mess. Working long hours, cherishing the independence of separate accounts, juggling children and career, evolving different interests, never having the time to catch up, this is the way we live.

Not to tell and not to ask are two sides of a tossed coin, risking closeness and companionship, even love itself.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions