The outcomes of my midlife marriage split include: a major reassessment of my ‘down-there’ hair, an overhaul of my underwear drawer and speedy induction into the unfathomableness of utility bills. Oh, and a deep dive into my ‘relationship behaviour’. Which has been interesting, illuminating and about as comfortable as wearing double Spanx in a sauna.
A breakup forces you to look at why you behave a certain way and, in my case, made me wonder why I didn’t pay more attention to something central to my existence. While I worried about my children’s schooling and the carbon footprint of my jeans, I just expected my relationship to trundle along without investment. In fact, I gave more thought as to why pillowcases always find their way into the bottom of duvet covers in the washing machine than I did to the mechanics of my marriage.
Over 26 years there were highs, lows and petty annoyances. They were celebrated and argued over, but never explored. Any tensions weren’t looked at in any depth.
Then, boom, my marriage imploded and my behaviour – and his – was suddenly under the spotlight. Our marriage counsellor asked us about things like boundaries and beliefs; she made us fill in forms about our childhood influences, and enquired about things like whether we fit the ‘anxious avoidant’ or ‘anxious attachment’ mould.
Trouble is, by the time we got to filling in forms it was too late. We couldn’t save us, but I did come out of the relationship thinking, ‘I want to be better at this.’
So these days my bedside table has a pile of books that examine behavioural patterns and instinctive reactions, and my Instagram feed is full of platitudes and advice. Some
of it is nonsense, some not, but one of the theories I encountered that made total sense to me was the notion of ‘love languages’. No, this isn’t some sort of kinky bedroom chat, but instead the idea that everyone shows their love differently – and everyone receives love differently. If we can understand how we and our partners each like to show and receive love, then our relationships stand a better chance. These are the main ways we show and receive love…
1 Acts of service You might show love by doing jobs for your partner. Obviously, nothing says ‘I adore you’ like taking the bins out in the rain.
2 Receiving gifts ‘I don’t want presents,’ said no one ever. It’s not about the money spent, more about the thoughtfulness of said gift. However, there is room for error. I maintain, when buying for most women, that my mantra ‘nothing with a plug’ remains true plug means ‘something practical’ in my book).
3 Quality time Keeping one eye on the phone or the clock is relationship napalm. My cousin once booked an anniversary meal in a restaurant where he could see a rugby final on a big screen from his table. For the avoidance of any doubt, this is bad.
4 Physical touch Being touched, hugged, squeezed and kissed fuels most people’s affection. But some people really don’t like this, and they are called haphephobics. If you are one of them you should advertise this on your dating profile. It’s only fair.
5 Words of affirmation This is about people who get the feels from being told that they are loved. If you really want to impress, talk to us (yes, I’m one) about why we are loved, too: ‘I love you because you are kind/clever/loyal… and your bum looks nice in those jeans.’ Apparently everyone has a primary language and a secondary language. I tell my boyfriend about the theory and there is no detectable eye rolling, which I take as a good sign. Because if my post-marriage ‘work’ has taught me anything, it’s that a willingness to communicate is key to relationship happiness.
In the spirit of being more open and keen to take my love languages learning from theoretical to practical, I ask him ‘which ones are most important to you?’
‘Three, four and five.’
I make a mental note to up my game on those. Full disclosure: I’m pretty keen on all five. Not sure if that makes me too demanding, but as I type he has just made me a frothy coffee. And says he’s ordered me a present – with the caveat, ‘but it does have a plug’. His thoughtfulness makes me so happy, though I realise I don’t care if it comes with three pins and a fuse. Which means I must be learning something.