It seems that the secret suspicion that owning a castle could solve most of life’s problems is not as ridiculous as you might have been told (mostly by people who own castles and don’t want to give you theirs).
In 2011 the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk separated after nearly a quarter century of marriage, saying they had grown apart. The duke went to the east wing of Arundel Castle, the family seat, and she took up residence in the west wing.
They were so bitterly hostile to each other that they reportedly turned down an invitation to the royal wedding because they couldn’t bear to be in a room together – even one as generously proportioned as Westminster Abbey.
As ever with ducal separations, there was great anxiety and speculation. Who would get custody of the dogs? The paintings? The award-winning village gastropub?
But no one need have worried. The Norfolks are believed to have unexpectedly and happily reconciled (one assumes they took it slowly – maybe a few date nights in the folly at first, some trial weekends in the gatehouse followed by a fortnight in the dower house, and so on), and it seems clear that the castle which allowed them to retreat from each other without fully rupturing the relationship must take no small share of the credit.
Couples are always being encouraged to “give each other space”, by cultivating their own hobbies, their own friends, their own nights out, and so on. Which is all good advice, but actually what you need first and foremost is real space. The literal, not metaphorical, kind. But of course this is tricky for most of us – castle-light and mortgage-heavy as we are – to arrange.
Of course there are some people for whom the whole purpose of love and marriage is to have someone with them all the time. Constant companionship is, for them, the greatest advantage of the marital state. Someone to eat with, talk with, sit on the sofa with, go to parties with – they never tire of any of it, or of each other.
These are people who need people, and indeed they are the luckiest people. They love it, for instance, when a spouse shouts “What are you doing?” whenever you move out of their sightline in the house. They don’t wish you dead for that at all. For the rest of us, it’s a bit more complicated. We need those separate wings. Failing that, we must try to carve out smaller private spaces.
Couples comprising one person who executes their daily ablutions with a bucket of water and bar of carbolic, and one who views the two-hour bath surrounded by candles and whale music as essential to civilised living will aim for separate bathrooms.
If you’ve got one book reader and one television watcher or music lover in the pair, you will try to arrange separate sitting rooms.
Or – and anecdotal evidence gathered over many a drunken evening with my female friends suggests this might be top pick among women, at least – there is the option of separate bedrooms. As one of those friends, who shall remain nameless, once put it over a bottle of Chateau d’un Peu Too Much Information: “I signed up for sex on tap, not sweating, snoring and scratching all pigging night. GO TO YOUR ROOM.”
This is a position supported, albeit slightly more decorously by Princess Michael of Kent herself, who, when faced with the prospect of downsizing and having to reside full-time in Kensington Palace, argued that having different sleeping quarters from a husband “keeps you fresher for each other. You won’t see each other being cross or saying ‘I can’t do this up, it’s too tight!’?”
I have, in my eight years of married life, tried for all of these divisions at one time or another. I managed to get a super-king-sized bed as a result, which is almost as good as separate bedrooms (“Hmm,” said my husband on our first night in it, from four feet away. “I feel it’s not so much saving our marriage as deluding us into thinking it continues to exist.””I know,” I said delightedly. “Money well spent!”).
My husband and I both have home offices, which have been only a limited success, however. As I type this in the (converted) loft, I can hear my husband two floors below. It sounds like he’s wrestling a bear in the wreckage of a Boeing 747, but long experience has taught me that this is just the sound of him making a cup of tea.
Soon he will stomp up the stairs, slam his own study door and return to swearing loudly at the computer. I, meanwhile, will pop another paracetamol and try to make it through another day of marital disharmony.
The more distance we could put between my need for peace and quiet and his inability to move through time and space without leaving what seems like the noise of 17 unfolding disasters behind him, the happier we – by which I mean I, who am nevertheless an important part of We – would be.
For introverts like me (and there are a lot more of us around than you think, because we prefer to get quietly depressed than make a fuss), having someone around as much as a spouse generally is, is deeply trying. Even if he or she is quiet, there is still a presence in the house. There are still conversations that you don’t want to have, questions you don’t want to answer, and other constant depredations – as your temperament perceives what normal people would call simple human interactions – on your resources.
Good thick walls and a discouragingly long walk between the two of you (I would paste an “Is your journey really necessary?” poster on every door along the way) are very much what’s needed here.
We might not have an east (or west) wing to retreat to when the going gets tough, but most of us could carve out some space for ourselves – or our partner, if she/he’s the one prowling round the relationship like a caged lion that loves you, but will savage you if you don’t stop smashing up Boeing 747s in the kitchen – if we just realise that it’s a safety valve, not the thin end of the divorce wedge.
Share all the hobbies and friends you like – but give each other some space.
– The Daily Telegraph UK