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Wedding bells ring again; MARRIAGES ARE UP AND DIVORCES ARE DOWN AS CELEBRITY COUPLES SHOW IT CAN BE COOL TO TIE THE KNOT - BUT FOR ONE CITY COUPLE IT NEVER WENT OUT FASHION.

Byline: PAUL BARRY

THERE was a time when marriage seemed to be going out of fashion - and the trendiest kind of coupledom was living together.

But Britain's golden couple, Victoria and David Beckham, and Hollywood's beautiful pairing of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt have shown that wedded bliss can be glamorous.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics also give cause for cheer for those who believe marriage is still a valuable institution in the 21st century.

In the year 2000, the number of weddings in this country increased for the first time in almost a decade, while the divorce rate fell by two per cent.

Now the importance of saying "I do" - and staying together - is being celebrated in the run-up to Valentine's Day tomorrow as part of National Marriage Week.

Professor Andrew Oswald, an economics expert at the University of Warwick, has been studying happiness and believes marriage has "huge beneficial effects".

Supporters of marriage say it promotes stability both for individuals and society, and that married people are healthier and happier than singles.

Experts are not entirely sure why, but one theory is that because by nature we all like to have a soulmate, we are more content when we have one.

If we don't, the result can be loneliness, which can make people depressed, affecting the immune system and consequently making people more susceptible to illness.

"Marriage has a very strong effect on people, but I don't think most of them are aware of it," says Prof Oswald. "You live longer and you can ward off illness better - your immune system appears to benefit from the relationship and the security.

"Co-habitation has a lot of benefits too, but only about 80 per cent of those you get from having the band of gold. All the evidence shows that marriage has magical properties that help human beings."

To top it off, those who have tied the knot also tend to be wealthier because, if resources are pooled, they have more buying power.

Richard Kane, director of National Marriage Week, which is run by the Futureway Trust charity, also believes being married has definite advantages.

"If a couple are cohabiting, the relationship is unstructured," he says. "Our society these days can be very volatile, and people like to have the sense of permanence that marriage can bring."

Mr Kane says couples who live together tend to do so for just over two years. "Then they either split up, or walk down the aisle. When you are cohabiting it's much easier to split up, but if you marry you are making a big statement which gives you the incentive to make it work."

Ann Knowles Foster, spokeswoman for the organisation Marriage Care, agrees that taking the plunge - and working at achieving lasting wedded bliss after becoming Mr and Mrs - is important.

"Marriage promotes stability in society," she says. "There is so much uncertainty in the world and if people stay together, society as a whole benefits."

She says Marriage Care encourages engaged couples to attend one- or two-day marriage preparation course about 12 months before their wedding.

The courses tackle the three Cs and the three Ss that Marriage Care says are important in marriages - commitment, communication and managing conflict, and spirituality, sexuality and self-esteem.

"Couples do not always realise what a marriage entails, especially when they have been cohabiting," she explains. "They sometimes think that any problems will be solved by getting married, but of course they won't."

Experts say couples who are already married cannot afford to be complacent either. One of the main aims of National Marriage Week is to stress the importance of looking after the relationship after saying "I do".

Some churches are holding services where couples can renew marriage vows.

The National Marriage Week website is at www.nmw.org.uk

Display of dresses bring memories flooding back

AN array of wedding dresses from the 1950s to the modern day are on

show at a Coventry church to celebrate National Marriage Week.

Most of the dresses have been worn by brides walking down the aisle at Holyhead United Reformed Church, in Coundon, and all items on show have come from the congregation or their families.

More than 120 people have perused the heart-warming display since Monday, which also includes a wedding video, wedding albums, confetti and telegrams - with one parishioner including a list of costs!

Rev Peter Stevenson said: "The reaction we've had is 'what a good idea!' It's taking people's memories back a long way. It's been jogging people's minds and people have been walking out smiling.

"There have been people coming in off the streets having heard about it.

"We are a Christian church and we hold the values of Christian marriage very highly."

Among the exhibits are the wedding dresses of Nerys McCarthy, of Coundon, who married husband Gareth in 2000, and of Audrey Paskett, who married husband John in 1957, just four years after the church opened.

Tonight, Mrs Paskett's parents, Dave and Gill Hall, who married in a registry office more than 30 years ago, will have a wedding blessing at the church.

On Sunday at 6.30pm, the church is holding a marriage celebration for couples.

The exhibition can be seen from 10am to 4pm every day until Sunday.

'Vows are all about loving someone for rest of your life'

LIVING together instead of marrying wasn't an option when Harold and Lilla Probert were courting during the Second World War.

They were introduced by a mutual friend at the machine tools factory where they worked, and have not looked back since they married in 1942.

The fondness and love is plain to see in the way they smile at each other as they remember how they met.

Harold says: "We both worked at Webster and Bennett machine tools in Northey Road, Foleshill. I was a machine tool fitter and Lilla worked in the office. One day, another girl from the office, called Alma Judd, gave me a letter saying someone was interested in me, and would I like to meet her.

"We met outside the factory gates. I was 23 and Lilla was 16. We were both on our pushbikes. We talked and said we'd both like to meet again."

They met many more times over the next three years, talking and strolling around the country lanes which later became modern-day Holbrooks.

"I've still got the letter," says Harold, aged 86, with a fond smile, rummaging in a drawer to look for it.

"He loves hoarding things," says Lilla, pretending to scold him, but grinning cheerfully.

When they met, both Harold and Lilla lived with their parents and each relied on bicycles to get around. Harold proposed in March, 1942, and the couple married at St Lawrence's Church in Foleshill that November.

Because of wartime shortages and rationing, the wedding was a modest affair, and the couple say they are amazed that today's weddings cost an average of about pounds 14,000. Their wedding rings were obtained on the black market, and the reception took place at the house of Lilla's father, who got food for the day by bargaining with customers at the petrol station where he worked.

They heard bombs dropping around them as they travelled to Blackpool on the train for their honeymoon. The couple moved into a rented home immediately afterwards and it wasn't long before they had their first child, son Chris, in 1944. They had a daughter, Shirley, in 1954 and another daughter, Jill, in 1956.

They moved into their present home in Holbrooks in 1947, paying a mortgage of pounds 1 a week. Times were tight after the war and they could only afford to furnish two rooms. The front room which is now their lounge was used to store their bicycles.

"We have always taken an interest in what each other is doing," says Harold. "Lilla isn't interested in crown green bowls but she watches me play once in a while. It was the same when I played a lot of football."

Lilla, aged 79, says: "We've never had a row. We've always talked to each other and had a bit of give and take."

Harold says having three good children and regular holidays has helped make their marriage a success.

"Our two daughters are both married and they seem very happy. Our son's marriage didn't work out for him, but he has found someone else and he is happy too."

The couple will forever be thankful to their matchmaker Alma, who is still a friend today.

Harold says: "Some people say that marriage is just a piece of paper and they would rather just live together. But we don't agree with that. It is about loving someone for the rest of your life, whatever happens. It's a commitment and you have to stick to it."

CAPTION(S):

CELEBRITY COUPLES: David and Victoria Beckham (right) and Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt (above) have shown marriage can be glamorous; 'MARRIAGE IS GOOD FOR YOU': Professor Andrew Oswald; DISPLAY: The Rev Peter Stevenson with the wedding dress and album belonging to parishioners Nerys and Gareth McCarthy, part of the exhibition at Holyhead United Reformed Church. Picture: LISA CAREY; STILL IN LOVE: Harold and Lilla Probert today (above) and (left) on their wedding day in November, 1942
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Feb 13, 2003
Words:1557
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