WITH the hearts and flowers of Valentine's Day just around the corner and this being National Marriage Week, love and romance are most definitely in the air.

Even Prime Minister Tony Blair is focusing on the importance of getting hitched - describing it as a tremendous source of happiness and stability as well a loving environment in which to bring up children.

"Like millions of people I can vouch for the benefits that marriage can bring to your life," he said in a statement of support for National Marriage Week.

"Marriage continues to play a vital role in the health and strength of our society - it is good to have a chance to recognise and reflect upon its importance."

"If you can make it work, marriage is really great for you," adds Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at Warwick University.

"It makes you much healthier, much wealthier, and much cheerier - no question at all - and it is probably the single best investment in well-being you can make.

"Of course finding the right person is not so easy, but both first and second marriages produce, for men and women, huge amounts of happiness."

In order to properly prepare for marriage, couples need to fully understand the importance of communication skills including sexual communication, how to manage conflict, how relationships change over time, and the development of their own spirituality, advises Terry Prendergast, chief executive at Marriage Care.

Prendergast believes that it is vital for engaged couples to understand that marriages are not static but develop in six definable stages which can differ in length and pace depending on individual relationship dynamics.

"The romantic part - sexual attraction and excitement - is very important and initially glues a relationship together, but is fairly quickly followed by the reality stage when you start to see each other as you really are," he explains. "Reality leads to the conflict stage often reflected in disagreements over finance, child-rearing, and personal values, followed by the dependence stage when the relationship settles down somewhat.

"Then, as you start to discover more about your partner you will often become a bit more introspective, which leads to the finding yourself stage.

"This can be a very dangerous time in a marriage because people often feel independent, disconnected and separate from their partner, and may even find someone else outside the marriage," he warns.

The final stage is interdependency, when a point of mutuality exists and the couple have a good, solid relationship, Prendergast says.

"You might go through that whole process seven or eight times in a long-term relationship," he says. "The important point to remember is the person you marry won't be the same person the next year and certainly not in 10 years time, so couples must be aware that change, and indeed problems, are all part of marriage - they are nothing to be ashamed of."

Roni Jones, head of Relate in Bournemouth believes it's the way couples resolve differences, not that they have differences, which influences a marriage.

"Reasons cited for divorce, such as unreasonable behaviour, often follow on from couples' inability to successfully resolve their differences," she said.

Relate stresses the importance of learning resolutions to conflict and to negotiate mutually agreeable outcomes.

"Some people have difficulty actually recognising happiness and contentment," said Roni.

"We are in love with being in love and strive for a hearts and flowers romantic idyll. We all know that a long-term relationship just isn't like that."

An accelerating social trend is the expectations people put on a marriage. The media has also been blamed for the heavy expectation of what a relationship should be like.

"Take shows such as Friends, for example," said Roni. "They are depicting relationships which aren't normal.

"What is normal is washing up together and deciding where to plant the magnolias. OK, so it could be seen as boring' but it's nice and secure and a great environment in which couples and their families can live and grow."


Paul and Stacy Young

  • We don't have one rule for one and one for the another.
  • No jealousy, but don't take each other for granted.
  • Make time for each other.
  • Keep a bit of madness, mischief and unpredictability in the relationship.
  • Always be free with compliments; sarcasm doesn't work.

Antony and Jay Worral Thompson

  • We all have faults and must be tolerant.
  • Be prepared to listen and take advice.
  • Never let the romance disappear and try not to become predictable.
  • Marriage is never one-sided - always share responsibilities.
  • Always allow enough time in your schedule to sit down and talk - communication remains important.