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What makes a good wife? Let me tell you, Sally...


Unlucky for some: John and Sally Bercow's marriage is over after 13 years.

Unlucky for some: John and Sally Bercow's marriage is over after 13 years.


Jan and Celine Naughton

Jan and Celine Naughton


Unlucky for some: John and Sally Bercow's marriage is over after 13 years.

Sally Bercow, the now estranged wife of British House of Commons Speaker John Bercow following an affair she is alleged to have had with his cousin, Alan, has confessed to being a "terrible wife".

This is not the first time the 45-year-old has stolen the limelight from her 52-year-old husband. Throughout their 13-year marriage, she variously posed in nothing but a bed sheet with the House of Commons in the background, was caught in a passionate clinch with a DJ in a London nightclub, and appeared on Celebrity Big Brother. Now, she admits, "I'm a terrible wife. I always have been. If John wants me back, then he's crazy."

Maybe she has a point, but what do you suppose makes a perfect wife? When Jerry Hall's mother famously told her it entailed being "a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom," she replied, "I said I'd hire the other two and take care of the bedroom bit."

I remember having slightly more elevated expectations of my wifely role in the run-up to my own wedding day a little over 31 years ago. And it was more of a gallop than a run - he swept me off my feet, asked me to marry him after six weeks of dating (actually, he was on holiday for two of those, so strictly speaking, we dated for four weeks before he put a ring on it, to use the modern vernacular) and charged up the aisle just as soon as the obligatory three-month notice of banns had been posted. And no, I wasn't pregnant. Not yet.

The proposal was the most romantic thing I'd ever heard. "I want to come home to you every evening, go to bed with you every night and wake up with you every morning," he said.

Now it's more likely to be, "You're out with the girls? House to myself? Great!" But back then, it was a done deal. "What do you think of your new son-in-law?" a neighbour asked my mother.

"Sure, I hardly know him - I've only met him three times," she replied.

Yet here we are, 31 years, five months and three days later, and while I might have started out with great expectations of being the perfect partner for this perfect man, I realise I have fallen far short of what I set out to be - and guess what, my darling Jan isn't perfect either (although he's pretty darn close).

I wanted to be everything wrapped up in one: a stimulating conversationalist, a shiny, happy, smiling, caring, fun-to-be-with kinda gal, his best friend, his soulmate. And here's what I've learned - sometimes I'm hot-headed, sometimes I drive him nuts insisting we spring-clean the house 10 minutes before we're supposed to be on the road, sometimes I don't listen, sometimes I'm loud and screechy, sometimes withdrawn… sometimes, to paraphrase Rhona Cameron's I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here speech, we're all like that. That's life.

So here's my secret, the one thing after three decades of marriage, that I know for sure: there is no such thing as the perfect wife, or husband. No one person can embody everything another needs. There's only the good-enough wife, mother, husband, father, daughter, son...

And if you can manage to keep being good enough for each other, you can do it for a very long time. But don't just take my word for it. For this article I did a quick straw poll of married couples like me with the simple question: What makes a good wife?

There were too many replies to include all of them, but here are some of my favourites:

"A good wife has to be understanding when I'm late home from the pub/football, forgiving (I forgot to lift the toilet seat again) and loyal (she supports your county even though she's from another)."

"She's the invisible gel that keeps the family together."

"Flexible and keen to try new things." (Excuse me, Leo…?)

"About 20 years of training! And a lot of patience."

"A good wife is hopefully your best friend; someone you want to spend your time with, who likes doing the same things as you; someone who supports you in what you try to do and is constructive if criticism is needed; someone you can confide in, even the thoughts you wouldn't voice to anyone else; someone who makes you laugh and who laughs at your jokes; someone who can slag you about your shortcomings without being malicious; someone whom your family likes, and who likes your family in return (or at least pretends to!) She's someone who has your back, always."

"She can turn your mood with a single smile."

"Samuel Johnson said a man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table than when his wife talks Greek.However, Amal Clooney, who famously doesn't cook, may well disprove that notion."

"A good wife doesn't do, 'I told you so'. And she can massage a man's ego as well as his back."

"She makes a house a home."

"She knows when to say nothing. She understands THE look. She laughs even when she's heard you tell that joke a hundred times."

"Look for someone with a good heart and a good head. It's that simple."

Sally Bercow, take note.

Irish Independent