What I've learned from 50 years of marriage,
by BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD
When my husband Bob and I stood at London’s Marylebone Register Office and exchanged our vows 50 years ago, I didn’t know if my marriage would last. No bride ever knows that.
Now, as we celebrate our golden wedding anniversary with a holiday in Mexico this week, I know just how strong our bond has proved - and a great deal about the institution of marriage, too.
Are these observations the secrets to a happy marriage? Well, they have certainly kept our relationship - and our passion - alive for half a century. Here are the lessons that each decade of my marriage has taught me about love - and about men.
THE FIRST TEN YEARS
There’s no such thing as a sisterhood
Was it really more than 50 years ago that a handsome young man with brown eyes and a dash of blond in his hair walked into the drawing room of my London neighbours? It certainly does not feel so.I learned a lot that day. First, I learned that it’s possible to feel like you’ve known someone your whole life, even though you’ve only just met them. And, later, I learned that hell hath no fury like a jealous woman.
I had turned up wearing very little make-up, skin-tight turquoise ski pants and a white sweater. A young reporter, I was probably a little bolshy and slightly overweight — a bit like a Sixties Bridget Jones.
The moment Bob started to talk to me, I was instantly at ease. I knew nothing about this dashing American man. I didn’t know if he was married, divorced, rich or poor. And I didn’t care.
Before lunch, I sneaked into my neighbour’s bedroom and used her make-up, frantically adding a slick of red lipstick and several coats of mascara in a bid to make myself more glamorous.
Bob had brought a well-known screenwriter and his wife with him, and she followed me to the bathroom. Here’s how she taught me my first lesson in love.
She asked me when I’d met Bob, and I answered: ‘Just today.’
Slowly, she looked me up and down, and then she said: ‘We’ve introduced Bob to all the most beautiful stars in Hollywood and he wasn’t a bit interested in them. I can’t believe the way he is behaving with you.’
I was stunned. But since then, I’ve come to realise that a woman in love often incites resentment from other women — especially if the woman in question is successful. It pains me to say it, but there really is no such thing as a ‘sisterhood’.
On that Sunday afternoon long ago, I shrugged off that woman’s words and rejoined Bob.
Over that first lunch, we discovered that we had so much in common. We were both only children. We both loved the movies, the theatre, music and books. He had such a wonderful sense of humour, and he had me in fits of giggles throughout the afternoon. He still does today.
THE SECOND DECADE
Troubles can bring you closer together
You can’t control what will happen in your life, but it’s how you handle the bumps in the road that matters when it comes to your marriage.
We were put to the test fairly early on. Bob and I had just assumed we’d have children and we were so excited when I became pregnant two years after our wedding. Everything was perfect, so when I miscarried it was absolutely devastating.
Eighteen months later, I found out I was expecting again — and this time, the pregnancy seemed to advance fine.
I was worried, but I never really thought I would lose another baby. When I did, I was utterly bereft.
Some weeks later, I thought: ‘If I regret this, it will destroy me and it will hurt Bob, too. I can only look forward: I can’t look back, and I can’t let this define me.’
After that, I never became pregnant again. I remember saying to Bob, ‘Shall we adopt?’ and he seemed keen. But we were both busy working and it just never happened.
Now, we agree it would be lovely to have grandchildren, but I don’t know how easy it really is for women to have it all: a job, a family, a lovely home and a contented husband.
Never forget your husband has problems, too
It took many years for Bob to confide in me about the tragedy of his childhood.
I knew that his father had died when Bob was still a young boy in Berlin. His parents were Jewish, and when Bob was eight his mother put him on a train to Paris.
After the Germans invaded, Bob was helped over the French border into Switzerland by a priest. As he turned to wave, he watched as the priest was shot by German soldiers.
At the end of the war, he set sail for America to join his mother, who had managed to escape Berlin for New York. But when they docked, she wasn’t there. I have always imagined how he must have scanned the crowds looking for her face.
Waiting for him instead was an American cousin, who told him that his mother had died just three weeks earlier.
Many years later, on our 35th wedding anniversary, Bob and I gave a party. I stood up to toast my beloved husband in front of our friends. I raised my glass and said: ‘This party really is for you, to make up for all the birthday parties you missed when you were a child.’
Knowing that Bob had suffered so much hurt has helped to steer me through many a marital row.
There have been many times when I could easily have erupted, but I restrain myself because it’s all so trivial in comparison to what Bob has been through.
Accept that you will never understand men
Just before I married, my mother offered me some advice which I’ve never forgotten:
‘Never offer a man a divorce. He may take you up on it!’ Her other words of wisdom were: ‘Keep your mouth shut and do your own thing.’
Like any man, Bob can be absolutely infuriating. I buy glossy magazines but Bob will often throw them away before I have had the chance to read them.
Years ago, I would get so angry. Now, I simply fish them out of the bin and take them into my office to read in peace.
When we do row, Bob says, ‘Don’t get excited’ — which of course winds me up even further. I say: ‘I’m just making a point!’ I used to think, ‘What is wrong with Bob?’ but then I realised that men simply think differently. We can’t understand them, so don’t bother trying to.
In the heat of a row, no matter how cross I am, I make myself leave the room and boil the kettle in the kitchen.
As the steam rises, I take deep breaths. Then I go back to Bob and — even if it takes an effort to smile, because I want to throttle him — I ask cheerfully: ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’
By the time we share the tea, our row is over.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed thousands of gossipy lunches with my friends, but I have never once criticised my husband. When a wife castigates her husband, or airs their private problems in public, a marriage can easily hit the rocks.
Just as important as keeping your counsel is keeping faith in your husband. A friend once asked: ‘Don’t you worry about him? He has a glamorous job. He’s a movie producer, and he flies around the world and meets beautiful women.’
I replied: ‘If a man wants to cheat, he’ll do it wherever he is. He doesn’t have to travel to be unfaithful.’ That’s something which so many women forget.
Forget possessions - cherish each other instead
In September last year, I embarked on the biggest closet clean-out of my life. It all started because I developed tendonitis in my foot. The doctor said I had to stick to shoes with two-inch heels.
So I put my three-inch heels in a shopping bag and gave them to some of my friends. They were so thrilled that I then started to sort through my dresses.
Every time I came across a dress I hadn’t worn for ages, I put it on a rail. I emptied half my closet, giving away some of my clothes to friends and the rest to charity.
Satisfied, I next moved on to my jewellery.
Every year, for 50 years, Bob has bought me something special to celebrate my birthday, our wedding anniversary, Christmas, a new book or a film of a book.
I asked Bob what he would think if I sold some of the jewels that were just lying unworn in our safe.
He told me: ‘They are yours — it’s up to you.’
I thought: ‘There’s only one thing I actually want or need, and that’s you.’ So this year, 40 pieces of my jewellery were sold through auction at Bonhams.
After that, there really was only one thing left to go in my ultimate clean-out — and that was our apartment.
He still makes my heart leap after all these years. He kisses me and tells me I’m beautiful - and, yes, we are still very attracted to each other
For the past 18 years, we’ve lived in the same 14-room, 6,000-square foot New York flat. It’s so big, but we have really only been using four rooms in the past few years.
I remember looking up the wide corridor and thinking: ‘Children should be running up and down here.’
So we decided to downsize. We sold the apartment to the actress Uma Thurman, and when I took a final look around, I felt no regret or stab of loss, and neither did Bob.
For now, we’re renting a furnished home while our new, beautiful, eight-room apartment on Park Avenue is decorated. It’s sunny, airy and a much better size for two people.
Recently, we’ve both been unwell with chest infections, and it brings into sharp focus the reality that we’re getting older.
I say to Bob, ‘I don’t know what I’d do if you die’ — and he becomes all gruff and says: ‘You’ll manage.’
He still makes my heart leap after all these years. He kisses me and tells me I’m beautiful — and, yes, we are still very attracted to each other.
It’s not the same mad passion of those early, heady days of love, but the physical pull is still there, and that will never fade.
In the past year, I’ve given away shoes, dresses and sold jewellery, furniture and our home.
So much has changed, and yet each night I sit beside Bob and feel the warmth of his body next to mine and feel blessed.
The simply truth is that with Bob beside me, I have all that I need.