Tuesday 21 November 2017

Terence Blacker: Why marriage should be for a fixed period ... and then renewable every 10 years

COUPLES who, in a spirit of romance and hope, are beginning to prepare for a spring wedding would probably do well to avoid reading the press at the moment. The darker side of marriage has been on display. In a UK law court last week, the former government minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife presented a memorable image of post-separation misery, thanks to the court artist. She sat blank-eyed at one end of the bench while he was at the other, his back turned huffily to his ex-wife. Then, over the weekend, a forthcoming book by Rachel Cusk, Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation, was serialised. Every sentence ached with unhappiness and regret.

Marital misery used to dwell behind closed doors, a matter of embarrassment, even shame. Mercifully, those days have gone, but of late something almost as depressing has taken their place. It has become just fine to show public contempt for the person with whom you once agreed to share your life. Trashing your past has become commonplace; it is a way of committing yourself to a bright new future. No poison spreads as quickly as marital hatred. It can blight the lives of children and destroy friendship. Worst of all, it infects private history so that the happiest memory is retrospectively stained by the hurt which is yet to come.

"The first time I saw my husband after we separated, I realised, to my surprise, he hated me," writes Rachel Cusk. "I had never seen him hate anyone: it was as though he was contaminated by it, like a coastline painted black by an oil spill." During the marriage, she "had hated my husband's unwaged domesticity just as much as I had hated my mother's, and he, like her, claimed to be contented with his lot. Why had I hated it so? Because it represented dependence."

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