Trevor Laffan: The secret to happy marriage? Give her control of wardrobe!

Trevor Laffan reflects on 37 years of marriage in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: The secret to happy marriage? Give her control of wardrobe!

37 YEARS OF MARRIAGE: Trevor Laffan and his wife Gaye on their wedding day.

I WAS surprised to learn that nearly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce, and almost half of those occur in the first 10 years, especially between the fourth and eighth anniversary.

This is where the ‘seven-year itch’ comes from presumably.

The ‘seven-year itch’ is when romantic partners experience turbulence and a potential point-of-reckoning when they have been together for around that length of time.

Viewed as a critical juncture, the seven-year itch is defined as a time when couples either realise their relationship isn’t working, or they feel committed to it.

Well, with 37 years of marriage behind us, my wife and I can safely say we negotiated that hurdle, but there could be more traps ahead.

The Austin Institute for The Study of Family and Culture, using data from 4,000 divorced adults, identified the top reasons for a break-up in the United States to include infidelity by either party; a spouse unresponsive to needs; incompatibility; spouse immaturity; and emotional abuse.

Lack of communication is another pitfall, because they say good communication is the foundation of a strong marriage. 

Not being able to communicate effectively quickly leads to resentment and frustration for both, impacting all aspects of a marriage.

OK, I get that, but we cracked this one very early in our relationship, because I learned my place. My wife does the talking and I do the listening, problem solved.

Trouble with finances can be another marital issue, and how the family money is handled can cause lots of stress. Again, it’s not a problem in my case because my wife looks after it all. She says I’m useless with money and who am I to argue (see above).

Not being prepared for marriage was cited by 75% of couples as the reason for the demise of their relationship, particularly among younger couples, who discovered that wedded bliss didn’t always automatically follow the ceremony.

But it was the next reason that really made me sit up and take notice. Lack of equality.

When one partner feels that they take on more responsibility in the marriage, it can alter their view of the other person and lead to resentment. It’s all about sharing and I think this could be a common stumbling block. This could be the thing that sends many couples to the lawyers.

When Gaye and I started out in our married life, we didn’t have too many luxuries. We had a newly-built bungalow in the countryside, which wasn’t unusual in those days, but it was far from finished. Even when we returned from our honeymoon, there was still lots to be done, but we had the basics.

It was 1984 and we were building it by direct labour. Money was tight, so we added bits and pieces as we got the finance.

It was an exciting time to be starting out in our new life and we were in no hurry. Well, I was in no hurry.

While waiting for built-in wardrobes to be fitted, we used a few lengths of timber nailed together, with extra nails extending from the cross piece to use as hooks for hanging our clothes. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective. It also helped that we didn’t have too many clothes.

When the new wardrobe arrived, the space was evenly divided at first. I had the left-hand side and Gaye had the right. We co-existed peacefully for a short while, but I soon began to feel intimidated. I was gradually being squeezed out.

It wasn’t long before I had very little room, but my requirements were modest, so I didn’t complain. I thought everything would work out fine because I was young and naïve.

I was never into clothes but my wife, on the other hand, was, and by the time we left that house she had wardrobes filled in several rooms, but still complained about not having enough space. 

This, I was told by older and wiser friends, was the way of the world: easier to just accept it.

When we moved house in 2006, we went upmarket and inherited a walk-in wardrobe. An actual room for nothing but clothes. I could hardly contain myself, but my excitement was short-lived. I foolishly thought this was for both of us, only my wife had other ideas.

She had no intention of entering into a fair distribution agreement. Fifty-fifty was not in her vocabulary on this issue, so I was reduced once again to a smaller allocation.

Over time, that space has almost disappeared completely. I am now reduced to a foot-stool in the bedroom where I lay my few bits and pieces. I’m lucky to have it.

From time to time, I get grief about having my clothes piled high on that little stool because, apparently, it looks unsightly, but I’m not going to fight over it because I’ve heard too many scary divorce stories.

Like the one about the guy who got a divorce from his wife of 15 years. They split everything fifty-fifty, including the house and the land around it.

The ex-wife decided to build a house right behind the existing house, so the backs of the houses faced each other.

Apparently, the ex-wife spent a lot of time in her backyard, so the ex-husband saw her all the time. He bought a female dog and named it after his ex-wife. He got great mileage from shouting at the dog: ‘Xxxx, you bitch! Get in here!’: ‘Xxxx you bitch! Quit pissing on the flowers!’ or ‘Xxxx, you bitch! Quit digging in the dirt!’

The police were called a couple of times, but there was nothing they could do because the dog was registered under the name of Xxxx, and it was in fact a bitch.

That sounds too stressful, so I’ll just make do with the stool.

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