Wednesday 16 January 2019

How to stay married - 'If you discover your husband is having an affair, play it cool'

Jilly Cooper has admitted she didn't follow her own book's marriage advice, but how do her tips hold up 50 years later? Tanya Sweeney finds out

At your service: The vision of wedded bliss Jilly Cooper had in mind when she wrote How to Stay Married
At your service: The vision of wedded bliss Jilly Cooper had in mind when she wrote How to Stay Married

Tanya Sweeney

What Jilly Cooper didn't know about sex and romance was seemingly not worth knowing. A frontrunner to Fifty Shades of Grey author EL James and most of the other bonkbuster queens, her writing contained a lethal combination of upper-crust romps, glamour, power and caustic one-liners.

Yet in her 1969 debut How to Stay Married, she dispensed earnest advice on how to be the best wife one can be, garnered during her own seven years of matrimony.

Almost 50 years ago, the book was a bestseller on its publication, but even Cooper herself said she was shocked when she re-read it recently.

"I nearly died of horror," she reflected this week. "What a smug, opinionated, proselytising little know-it-all I was then. More shamingly, I have never practised what I preached."

Reports abound that the Coopers' marriage wasn't without its flaws - they remained married until her husband Leo's death in 2013, though their union was rocked by rumours of Leo's infidelity.

But is there something - anything - in Cooper's words of marital wisdom? Along with relationship coach Annie Lavin ( and marriage therapist David Kavanagh (, we delved back into the divisive, yet highly entertaining, tome to find out.

Jilly Cooper
Jilly Cooper

Give, don't take

Jilly says: What a woman must remember when she gets home exhausted from the office to be faced with a mountain of washing up in the sink, the dinner to be cooked, the bed to be made, the flat to be cleaned, a pile of shirts to be ironed, and her husband in a playful mood, is that where marriage is concerned, cheerfulness, sexual enthusiasm, and good cooking are far nearer to godliness than cleanliness about the house.


Annie says: The notion of only one person "bringing/giving" to the relationship does not work and only leads to resentment. If you regularly leave work exhausted from your day and reuniting with your partner when you are distracted, consider the actions you can take to wind down and promote connection.

Embrace the after-work routine

Jilly says: If a wife feels resentful that she is slaving away, while her husband comes home and flops down in front of the television until dinner is ready, she must remember that it isn't all roses for him either. He has given up his much prized bachelor status for marriage and he probably expects, like his father before him, to come home every night to a gleaming home, a happy wife, and a delicious dinner.

Romance: Jilly and her late husband Leo. Photo: Getty Images
Romance: Jilly and her late husband Leo. Photo: Getty Images


Annie says: It is important to discuss expectations before one starts living with a partner. It's better to discuss an issue rather than prioritising your partner's feelings and repressing your own.

Do the housework when your spouse isn't around

Jilly says: I managed to persuade most of my employers to let me work from 8.30am to 4.30pm (to get housework done). Another solution is to encourage your husband to have at least one night out a week with the boys, then you have a few hours to catch up on housework.


Annie says: Work-life balance is important. Finding what lights you up outside of work and your intimate relationship is important. Housework seems like an unlikely choice for most people.

Don't be seen without your make-up on

Jilly says: Curlers and great blobs of face cream (in bed) are grounds for divorce. No woman need wear them.


David says: I think not forgetting the importance of appearance, while not overdoing it, is important to maintain a healthy relationship. If someone in the relationship feels taken for granted, or if you convey, 'I don't care what someone thinks of me', it sort of means that they're not that important. Decent guys will love you as you are, though.

No separate bedrooms

Jilly says: Have separate beds if you must, but not separate rooms. Once you get onto the separate rooms kick, it's so easy to shut yourself in every night and grow further and further away from your partner.


David says: Snoring, whether a man or a woman, affects loads of relationships and sometimes separate bedrooms are needed to protect a person's sanity. I would encourage couples to have 'cuddle' time and share some intimacy before trotting off to separate beds.

Keep schtum if you suspect he's been unfaithful

Jilly says: If you do discover your husband is having an affair with someone, and he doesn't know you know, play it cool. It may blow over. If you find out and your partner knows you know, the only solution is to raise hell and insist that it stops immediately. Usually the jolt of your finding out is enough to make him give up the other person, in which case welcome him home like the prodigal son and never, never reproach him again.


Annie says: Therapist and author Esther Perel, in her book The State of Affairs, explores the subject of infidelity and identifies how it can act as a gateway to explore the challenges couples grapple with. Find ways to fully understand why he is engaging in these behaviours if he is unfaithful.

Don't fake orgasms

Jilly says: A wife shouldn't pretend to be having an orgasm if she is not. The first essential is to be honest with one another. Don't pretend to be going into ecstasies of excitement if you are not, or your partner will automatically assume he is doing the right things to please you, and keep on doing them.


David says: Jilly was way before her time here. It's spot on, and one of the biggest issues a couple can face. While we like to protect our partner's ego, it becomes such a habit we stop knowing what the truth is. It's good to be able to say, 'that wasn't as good as I might have liked, but maybe next time'.

Avoid arguments

Jilly says: However much a row clears the air, one is bound during its course to say something vicious and hurtful, which may well be absorbed and brooded upon later. Try to cut rowing down to the minimum.


Annie says: When you notice you are rowing with your partner by engaging in personal attacks or blaming, you know you are not communicating heart-to-heart. Instead of cutting rowing down, consider the quality of your rowing. Is the objective to solve problems together or is it more important that you are right?

Don't refuse sex

Jilly says: A woman should be grateful her husband wants her. If a wife refuses her husband sex, then she has only herself to blame.


David says: The idea that men don't have the ability to restrain themselves from cheating is barbaric. I think there are lots of things couples can do that don't involve full sex. We've also discovered that if a woman's desire disappears and she waits for it to reappear until she really wants to have sex, she'll be waiting a while. The advice is to stop waiting and do something and this often helps to kickstart a woman's sex drive again.

Irish Independent

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