Don't pull the plug on your marriage - phone a friend first

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

Thank Rudolph that's over. The eating, the drinking and the slightly manic socialising have finally drawn to a close now that January is in full swing. Hurrah!

And as your diary echoes empty as a politician's promise and tumbleweeds drift across the barren tundra of your weekends - what a relief... - comes the analysis of why your marriage is so rubbish compared with your friends'.

There they were at every gathering, touching each other on the arm, solicitously inquiring about drinks and exchanging stupid secret smiles. They looked irritatingly loved-up.

Of course you did, too, because that's what parties are for: a showmance of togetherness even though he's seething about being dragged out of the house yet again, and you have a shopping list of complaints ready for the divorce lawyer.

Just to heap Pelion upon Ossa, Tuesday sees the return of Catastrophe, Channel 4's biting, tragicomic satire of marriage that holds an uncompromising mirror up to us all.

Will Sharon (played by Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) make it through this fourth series? More saliently, will you be settling down to watch it with your spouse?

After all, last week was Divorce Day, the date when divorce proceedings are most likely to be instigated. After weeks of enforced proximity, this is the moment when the volcano of hurt and fury is most likely to blow - because the legal profession is back at its desk and so is at least one of you, enabling a properly satisfactory rant on an actual landline.

Now, far be it from me to urge any woman or man to stay in a relationship that is toxic, coercive or simply makes them miserable and lonely. I don't think, in those circumstances, that staying together for the kids is much of a reason to hang on to something so damaging for everyone concerned.

Yes, children want their parents together, but they don't want constant shouting, door-slamming or icy silence interspersed with snide remarks. When mummy turns her head when daddy tries to peck her on the cheek, or daddy sits up late morosely drinking single malt on his own, that's hardly giving them a healthy blueprint for future relationships.

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But - and it's a big one - nobody really knows what goes on behind closed doors. Nobody can guess what another person finds bearable, a reasonable trade-off, a sacrifice worth making for all the good times.

Don't tell the bride, but once the honeymoon is over and the rose petals have been crushed on the counterpane, somebody's got to vacuum them up.

Marriage is a compromise, at times a challenge and occasionally a nightmare of miscommunication, contradictions and stubborn bloody-mindedness. Hand on heart, if my husband and I never went to bed on an argument, we'd have died of sleep deprivation years ago. Instead, he wakes up rested and relaxed having forgotten about the previous night's fracas.

How lovely? No, how annoying. If he cared, he would remember. I think you can see where this is going, but my point is that when it comes to wedded bliss, we are all just busking it, muddling through, leavening indifference with kindness and absurdities with laughter.

Consider the evidence: an estimated 15 per cent of couples have not had sex for between six months and a year. Half of all women prefer spending time with their best friend than their spouse. Some 54 per cent of women love their pet more than their partner.

Don't quiz a middle-aged man about his true, lifelong passion in the presence of his wife. Whether he's brewing his own beer or tinkering with electronics, you can bet Jools Holland's extensive model train set that the missus won't get a mention.

And, you know, that's OK. These days, we place too much pressure on marriage. Men expect wives to sort childcare, juggle their working hours, organise holidays and visits to the in-laws, which is a big ask. Women expect empathy, which is apparently an ever bigger ask.

Women like to talk about feelings and the future, men don't - unless it's the forthcoming railway modellers' convention. And, craziest of all, the twisted notion has somehow taken hold that husbands and wives should be best friends.

Not in my house. Oh no. If pressed, my husband claims his best friend is me. He'd say it was his barber, except he doesn't actually know Ken's surname. But, hey, that's men for you.

I take more of a spread betting approach to best friends, because we all have our strengths, don't we? The friend I go on European mini breaks with isn't the same friend I go to the cinema with, or the friend I moan to about my first-world problems as we yomp across Hampstead Heath.

So, ladies, before you think about pulling the plug on your marriage, phone a friend instead. With all that glass clinking and hors d'oeuvres-induced best behaviour, you haven't had a proper, no-holds-barred catch-up for a month.

A heart-to-heart with your best "whingeing about my husband" mate might be all you really need to release the pressure and pique that's built up.

And while I accept that schadenfreude isn't the nicest of emotions, it can be very useful to hear a little gossip judiciously busting the myths about other people's perfect partnerships. There's nothing like overhearing the ideal hostess laying into the perfect host about canap?? stains or boring work talk to warm the cockles, and lend a certain lustre to your own marital arrangements.

It's something of a truism that judging and finding fault with your husband can break a marriage apart. But judging and finding more fault with other people's husbands - that can instantly stick it back together again.

The Daily Telegraph, London