There are two ways, I suppose, of behaving as half a couple, in the presence of third parties, when subject of absent spouse/partner comes up:
a) a show of perfect discretion and loyalty, even when 3rd party is family or very-close friends. This half-a-couple never bitches or even teases about other half behind his/her back, on a point of strict principle, and is deeply embarrassed if any but the most loveydovey words are ever exchanged between them in the presence of anyone else. Here we have the apparently dream-couple – until the day the shock divorce is announced.
b) the regular slagger-offer, who shocks third parties from the outset by the dirty washing (s)he routinely airs in public; other-half’s annoying domestic habits, dreadful taste in clothes/books/food/music, physicals defects, even sexual performance are not treated with the discretion most assume they deserve.
But here, take it from me, don’t judge too hastily. Helpfully pointing the slagger-offer in the direction of a divorce lawyer, or even marriage guidance counsellor could cause unpardonable offence. The job of third party may simply be to act as a sounding board for the humdrum irritations of what is otherwise a solid union. I have to admit here that I have tended towards this second category, though this may be about to end. I’ve just been taught my lesson good and proper.
Now I’m not that close to my birth family really, I don’t see them very often or phone very regularly – hardly at all, to be honest, and, again, to be honest, I am honestly happier that way. But when we meet, at Christmas, say, it doesn’t take much to make me bare all about my personal life to the point of indiscretion and beyond, in a blind attempt to recapture, I suppose, something of our earlier sibling solidarity, which is often the enforced mark, I’ve since read, of large families raised in an isolated, rural setting, like ours was.
And let me be clear about another thing; living with my partner has never been easy. We are at odds over many many things, which have roots in cultural and class conflicts, contrasting personal histories and whole sets of values which we don’t share. He also has a physical disability, which, as anyone with disability in the family will know, puts an additional, practical burden on those close to him. Not his fault, or mine, any of it, on the contrary, but still not easy to live with.
But that does not mean that we are not a unit, respectful of each other, and united above all in our commitment to our gorgeous child. We both know we have been incredibly lucky, in different ways, to find ourselves here, and we both know we could have done a whole lot worse. All this I take as a given.
It’s naïve of me, though, to suppose my horrible birth family does the same. Good heavens, I know them all well enough! I am only too familiar with their worldview, which at best could be described as cool, analytical and fair-minded. At worst, it’s snobbish, wilfully limited and cruel.
I will spare you the details on this occasion but suffice it to say no extended family gathering of ours is ever going to be the same again. I have my own family to think of now, and they, with all their flaws and built-in exasperations, will come first.