06/10/2013 09:44 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What We Can Learn From Other Marriages

You're in love, you're getting engaged, and if you haven't yet named the day, you soon will. You want your wedding to be an unforgettable affirmation of your love and of your long-term commitment.

But how can you make sure that in the years to come you will live up to the promises you made on your wedding day?

Looking back on my own 50 years of happy and fulfilled married life, I find that the marriages of family members and friends have had a big influence -- both positive and negative.

First, let's get the negatives out of the way:

• Maybe your own parents, grandparents or siblings are not the greatest ad for marriage. Maybe you grew up hearing constant bickering or worse. Perhaps their marriages ended in divorce. Don't be put off -- you can learn from their mistakes. When your other half is grouchy, he or she is not necessarily angry at you. A hard day at work, indigestion, or even a hangover may be the cause. So make allowances, try to see your partner's point of view and make light of your differences. Next day it may be you that's the bad-tempered one. When that happens, try not to take it out on your spouse.

• You know those uncomfortable occasions when someone mocks their spouse, belittling them or making jokes at their expense? It might raise a laugh but it's hurtful and it's embarrassing for their friends. So if a cruel but witty quip comes to mind, resist the temptation to voice it.

• I've noticed that sometimes when friends split up and they are single again, they seem to have some really good times. Frankly, I've been known to envy them their freedom -- the grass can look so much greener on the other side of the marital fence. Don't be deceived. Just count your blessings, think of all the things you value about your own relationship, and keep them fresh.

And the positives?

• While I was writing Happily Ever After, I interviewed numerous couples, both friends and strangers, about their relationships. A friend half my age commented on my own marriage. She said, "What I love about you and Rob is how polite you are to each other." Of course you can never know what exactly goes on behind closed doors, and I confess to letting the politeness slip a little now and then. But yes, it makes a difference. I've noticed that other couples, clearly very contented, are unfailingly courteous to each other.

• Small tokens of affection are evidence of a happy marriage. A touch on the shoulder, a brief hand-clasp, a secret smile: such gestures are worth frequently making to affirm the relationship.

• All too often couples in restaurants seem to be ignoring each other, sitting in silence, not making eye contact. By contrast, the happiest couples clearly enjoy each other's company. They look at one another, talk and laugh, and definitely do not take each other for granted.


Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall is a garden designer, writer, and winner of two Chelsea Flower Show gold medals. Her book Happily Ever After: A Lighthearted Guide to Wedded Bliss (Atria Books / Marble Arch Press), was published in May 2013. For more information about Jane, visit her website at