HARRY and Kate Benson had been married for eight years and were parents to two young daughters when Kate told Harry that she was deeply unhappy. The news was a complete shock to him. Thirty years later, they are still together, happily married and parents to a further four children.
Their book What Mums Want (and Dads Need to Know) is an account of the steps they took to bring their marriage back from the brink (Lion, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-7459-6885-8). Key episodes in their life are narrated separately by each half of the couple, illustrating the gulf that was between them. (A classic moment: when asked what he loved about Kate, the only answer that Harry could come up with was that he loved the way she understood the chemistry of cooking.)
At one level, this book simply offers an easy-to-read personal account of the lives of one couple, alongside anonymised illustrations from the lives of others in difficulties. But their conclusions about marriage are also backed up by countless surveys and reports on what makes couples tick.
Harry is the research director of the Marriage Foundation, an organisation founded five years ago, in an attempt to bring down the divorce rate in Britain. Currently, half a million people a year have contact with the family justice system every year, and huge numbers of those who split up do so quite unnecessarily, according to the Bensons.
And the expert advice? “Happy wife, happy life.” According to the authors, it really is that simple, because the wife is the linchpin around which the family rotates. Wives want their husband to be their friend. If a husband realises this, and acts upon it, all will be well. Or at least, an awful lot better.
There’s more, of course: they acknowledge the pressure of bringing up small children. They note that upbringing shapes the way we respond to each other. But, essentially, the counsel is that if a husband loves his wife, she will love him right back. Many will find this far too simplistic. But there’s no doubt that this realisation was a light-bulb moment for the Bensons, and if their advice helps prevent unnecessary break-up and all the associated pain, that can only be a good thing.
Sarah Meyrick is the Director of Communications for the diocese of Oxford.