Friday 16 November 2018

Is marriage supposed to be 'hard work' like David Beckham says? Maybe

David Beckham has admitted that he finds marriage "hard work". Was he just being honest, or is it meant to be so tough? Chrissie Russell ponders the key to wedded bliss

David Beckham (L) and Victoria Beckham attend the
David Beckham (L) and Victoria Beckham attend the "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
David Beckham reportedly upset Victoria by describing their marriage as “hard work”. Photo: PA
Victoria and David team up for a previous Armani photo. Photo: Getty
David Beckham and his children Harper (left), Romeo (camouflage jacket) and Brooklyn (rear, behind Romeo) leave after attending the Victoria Beckham London Fashion Week SS19 show in Dover Street, London

Chrissie Russell

I suspect there were similar conversations going on in many households as husbands and wives read David Beckham's revelations that marriage to Posh has been "hard work".

"I'd say she is hard work," I remarked to my husband in an admittedly un-sisterly way as I gazed at Victoria's unsmiling face in the accompanying photo and gazed at beautiful Becks.

"Ha, not as much hard work as you," swiftly (and predictably) came the scoffing reply.

"Me? What about you…!" I retorted, and thus ensued the well-trodden exchange regarding which of us is more high maintenance, a back-and-forth that began shortly after we started dating at the end of 2007 and has continued through nearly six years of marriage, one house move and two children.

As anyone who is in one knows, marriage takes work. All relationships involve work - they don't just happen and it's not always plain sailing. People are complex, we change over time and when you throw in the ever-evolving pressures of life - new jobs, new homes, new little people who won't bloody sleep - then of course it's not all going to be rainbows and unicorns, no matter who you are or how much money you have.

Work? Yes. But hard work? Surely that shouldn't be the dominant description of life together? When I heard Golden Balls describe life with the wife as "hard work" - a comment that reportedly left her in tears for two days - a red flag shot up.

David and Victoria Beckham enjoying a meal on their anniversary Photo: Instagram
David and Victoria Beckham enjoying a meal on their anniversary Photo: Instagram

Because, yes, marriage takes effort, but it shouldn't be a slog. And if it is such hard work then, really, is it working?

I found dating hard work. The endless wondering about 'where is this going?', 'what is he thinking?', 'is it too soon to call?'.

By contrast, marriage is a breeze. Got a problem? We discuss it. Feeling hurt, annoyed, let down about something? We say so. In fact, with the familiarity of two people whose lives have been intertwined for so long, we often know if something is wrong before the other says. Communication is easier. There are no mind games, no tiptoeing around. We know each other's little ways and the reality of what it means to share a life.

I wonder if - not with the Beckhams specifically but many couples - the issue of a hard-work marriage come down to expectations. From a young age, so many of us are fed the myth of the fairytale, the 'happy ever after' that comes after the big wedding.

Read more: #TBT: Remembering Victoria and David Beckham's iconic Irish wedding

Today's couples are bombarded by rom-coms and heavily filtered Instagram feeds that portray a perception of romantic love as one of perfection. A world where soulmates are supposed to find each other and live in idealised, Instagrammable harmony. Against such unrealistic expectations, then of course any bumps in a marriage are going to make it feel like very hard work indeed.

Psychologist and psychotherapist Sally O'Reilly agrees we often have unrealistic expectations of marriage.

"Often we enter the marriage believing that once the commitment is made, we are safe," she observes. "Real life then comes as a shock and the images we're bombarded with in the media don't help.

"We watch other couples having great holidays, delicious dinners, 'best nights ever' out and cosy wooly-socked nights in (or mind-blowingly sexy nights in) and we think, 'why don't I have that? What's wrong with me?'."

In most instances the answer is 'nothing'. Marriages are not a series of beautifully filtered posts and clever captions. It's about morning breath and who puts out the bins and scheduling date nights. It's about getting annoyed about who cleans the toilet and aggrieved because the kids have taken over your bed, and excited about a night on the sofa with wine and a pizza.

Victoria and David team up for a previous Armani photo. Photo: Getty
Victoria and David team up for a previous Armani photo. Photo: Getty

When I walked down the aisle, it was with every intention of making our marriage work, but also with the knowledge that if it wasn't working, well then I could walk away. In sickness and health? Sure. In good times and bad? Of course. But til death us do part? Well, only if the good times outweigh the bad, frankly.

"The mantra that marriage is work, that's true," says O'Reilly. "But if it feels like it's work all the time, then we need to ask if it's worth it. Is there a pay-off? None of us likes to work for free, for no reward - we resent it, especially if we observe that we are the only ones working. We like things to be fair and just. Fun is a very important part of any marriage.

"I believe we know instinctively if we are working too hard - we know when something isn't right. The question is whether or not we respect ourselves enough to listen to our gut and then to share that concern with our partner.

"We all deserve joy. Life is short and it's for living, not slogging."

None of us - bar the couple involved - know what's going on in the Beckhams' marriage. Whether it's right or it's not. But at the very least, David has blindsided many observers with the brutal honesty of his language.

I prefer to say 'effort'. Marriage takes effort and a bit of expectation management.

It might not be the most romantic sentiment to express, but I don't think my husband is my 'other half' or my soulmate. He's not 'my world' and he doesn't complete me (sorry darling). My marriage isn't perfect.

But I never expected it to be - that's why I'd describe it as working, not hard work.

Irish Independent

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