Virginia Ironside: Renewed love affairs are fragile unless the couple commit fully to the relationship

Liz Taylor and Richard Burton had a miserable time, see-sawing back and forth before splitting up completely
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The Independent Online

You do hear of couples splitting up and getting back together for the rest of their lives. It's the old "boy meets girl" "boy loses girl" "boy gets back together with girl" scenario, and very touching it is too.

That's perhaps what people felt when it turned out that Sienna Miller and Jude Law, having been separated for three years, had reunited in October 2009. But – and it isn't a great surprise – now they've split up and this time, it seems, it's for good.

Who knows what triggered the break, but usually, unless both partners in a relationship have decided to make a totally impregnable commitment, come what may (and the devil's in the "come what may") one person only has to slip in their resolve for 10 minutes and the whole thing crumbles like a pack of cards.

We know why they split originally. Jude Law slept with the children's nanny. Never a good idea if you want a relationship to keep afloat. But even without such obviously slip-ups, if couples, when they're together, only tend to see the bad things in the other person – the way they pick their teeth after meals, or laugh too loudly at their own jokes, or always overcook the steak – when they're apart they tend to take an equally distorted view of the other's good points. They regret having been so mean-minded. They look around and find that although their estranged partner had his or her faults, they have far fewer than most of the people they're meeting in their single environment. The grass, which looked so withered when they were sitting on it in their relationship, suddenly looks extremely green again – to both of them. And before you know where they are, they're back in each other's arms.

But unless, as I say, they've made a total commitment to each other, whatever happens, or they've spent a good six months with a relationship counsellor trying to iron out the irritations between them, then there's not a lot of hope, however many "spiritual commitments" they make – Law and Miller made one of these in Laos last year. They'd even planned to marry in New York this year, but having been together only one year and four months after their reunion it was clear that they'd never be compatible.

Now some of these off-on-relationships work. Witness Charles and Camilla.

But Liz Taylor and Richard Burton had a miserable time, see-sawing back and forth, and eventually splitting up completely. It was the old "can't live with him" "can't live without him" syndrome.

It's a dangerous game to play. And it's probably best, for everyone's sakes, not least the children, who can be utterly confused and badly disconcerted by the uncertainty of their parents' seesaw relationship, unless you've both made superhuman efforts to actually change the whole nature of your relationship, to call it a day.

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