Divorce: a funeral celebrant’s look at marriage in the past

Unknown-3This is the busiest week of the year for divorce lawyers. Maybe you are one of the many couples booking an appointment for legal advice. Divorce is a modern phenomenon. In England & Wales there are 13 divorces an hour and we have the highest rate of divorce in the EU. (See links below). In the past, for various reasons couples stuck the course. The law has made divorce easier, women’s lives have changed giving them more financial independence and the state is more financially supportive of one – parent families. Attitudes are vastly different. What can we learn from the past or do we just accept that things were different back then?


Through my work as a funeral celebrant I meet many people in their 70s and 80s who have been married for 50 and 60 years. I ask lots of questions in order to go away and write a eulogy for their loved one. These are some common answers to the questions I ask:


  1. Where did you meet?


Most people in the 30s and 40s met in dance halls. ‘I noticed him from across the hall and we caught each other’s eye.’ Streatham & Lewisham dance halls are frequently mentioned. But across Sussex every village held dances and in those days this was where couples met.

‘Several of us were waiting for a taxi and we got chatting in the taxi,’ one lady told me.

A favourite one of mine: ‘we arranged to go on a date but I chickened out at the last minute so my brother went instead. She preferred him and then got engaged after 3 dates.’ And another ‘we arranged to go to the cinema in Brighton but then one of us cancelled. Luckily we didn’t go. The cinema was hit by a bomb that evening.’ Many couples met in the war. Sussex had Italian prisoners of war working on the land. Some English women married them. There were also Canadians stationed in Sussex and several women Ive spoken to faced a terrible dilemma of whether to marry and live in Canada. Many said no because they didn’t want to leave their mothers.


  1. What’s your secret of a good marriage?


Many have told me ‘I let him get on with what he wanted to do and he let me get on with what I wanted to do.’ A different sort of partnership to the one we expect today when couples expect to share interests and put high expectations on the other person to do what they want to do. One lady said ‘to make a marriage work you need a sense of humour. Let the small things go. Laugh when things go wrong and above all put not 100% effort and commitment into your marriage, put 120% into it. Some marriages seemed insufferable. One woman put up with accompanying her husband on fishing trips on cold windy beaches in desolate places every weekend and the kids hated it but ‘it was dad’s hobby and we all went along,’ she told me. Another person told me ‘we were very different as people but we never gave up on each other. He would have done anything for me and I would have done anything for him.’


  1. Tell me how you proposed.


So many men proposed on the second or third date and certainly very early into the relationship. I reckon it was because they couldn’t have any nooky until they got wed! So they rushed into marriage. Social norms were different in those days. ‘We daren’t do anything,’ one lady told me. ‘Our parents would have killed us.’

The best answer to this question was: ‘I took her for a walk and proposed by a gate. I promptly fell into a cow pat but she said yes!’


In my books ‘The Catholic Woman’s Dying Wish’ and ‘Every Family Has One’ are snippets of information and conversations I’ve gleaned along the way through my work as a funeral celebrant. Little things have been carefully and sensitively woven into the plot. If you like reading about love, relationships and families you may like my books!


The links to my books about family and relationships:






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