In November 2018, I hosted a dinner for members of my extended family to celebrate my 40th wedding anniversary.
A recent question from a reader on my page "Marriage tips for Muslim women (and men)" tied straight into something I said in my speech at the event. Namely, what matters is not how long two people have known each other before marriage, but rather the quality of what they learn about each other before deciding whether to get married.
That question has led me to share the speech here, as it also contains several other things I have learned about marriage by reflecting on my own experience.
I am sure that you have all heard that “there is no such thing as a free lunch!” It also applies to dinners. The cost tonight is quite low. You have to listen to me for 10 minutes.
40 years. That is longer than the entire lifetime of most of the people here. I want to share some thoughts because I believe there are messages for young people starting out in life.
Before Tahara and I even saw each other, her parents came with some family friends to check me out. Does anyone know where I was when they saw me? I was on a hospital bed in Manchester Royal Infirmary.
My concern was that if someone sees you on a hospital bed, they might think you are a permanent invalid. However, I passed their inspection.
For me, the message is about being open about yourself when talking to a prospective spouse. I did not have a choice about hiding that I was in hospital and had just had an operation. But my advice to everyone is not to hide things from a perspective spouse.
The next step was for me and my parents to visit Tahara’s family and for us to meet each other. Does anyone know how long my parents and I spent at their house?
It was about five hours. For about one of those hours, Tahara and I were able to talk to each other privately, in the garden, where we could be seen but not heard.
After our family headed back to Manchester, my mother asked me what I thought, and Tahara’s mother asked her what she thought. Both of us said "yes", and the rest is history.
How was it possible for us to decide to spend the rest of our lives with each other after five hours? There is a two-part answer.
Firstly, each of us knew quite a lot about each other before that day when we met. The advance due diligence covered things such as knowing the person’s age, education, family background etc.
Secondly, our conversation was serious. You are not meeting for a social chat. You are trying to decide whether you want to spend the rest of your life with this person.
I cannot remember many details after 40 years.
We discussed how many children we wanted. Tahara came from a family of six, and wanted a smaller family. I came from a family of two, and wanted a larger family. No surprise then that we compromised on four.
Tahara asked me what I was looking for in a wife. I gave her my prepared answer: “Obedience.” Instead of telling me to get lost, which would probably be the answer in 2018, Tahara replied “Within reason.”
We met again three weeks later to get engaged, and met again three weeks after that to get married.
Let me share something else I learned within the first year or so of our married life.
I was working at Arthur Andersen. My work colleagues and I would often go out for an impromptu pub visit or meal after work. I did not like phoning home to tell Tahara I was doing this, because I thought she would complain.
However, when I got home, I would learn that Tahara had been genuinely worried that I might have been mugged or killed etc. I learned that it is much better to phone home and tell her what I am doing, even if I think it will annoy her.
That transparency is how I have lived my life for the last 40 years.
I have one final piece of advice, which I think is the most important secret of a happy marriage. All couples have problems sometimes.
There is one thing that you must never say to your husband and wife. That is: “I do not want to talk about it.”
Whatever the issue, you must always talk about it.
If you look on my website, you will see that in 2014 I gave a speech at Clare College as Alumnus of the Year. The video was recorded, and you can also read the words.
It includes five pieces of advice for Clare College’s second year undergraduates. One of those was “Marry well.” I want to explain what I was thinking, because it has nothing to do with finding a rich husband or wife.
Since all of you know me, you will be aware that I do have the occasional fault. If you ask my daughters, they will probably tell you that I have a gigantic number of faults. However, you have no idea what I was like at the age of 28.
For 28 years I had been utterly spoilt by my mother, and also doted on by my father. While I had some good points, I had many, many, bad ones.
With enormous patience, over 40 years Tahara has made me a far better person. I have always consulted her on every important decision. The normal approach is that I ask her, she advises me, I instantly reject her advice, and then later on we end up doing what she suggested, sometimes years later.
I said on TV about 25 years ago that I was deliriously happily married, and that has remained true the whole of the 40 years. If you want Tahara’s perspective, you have to ask her.
I want to end with two toasts. So please can you grab a drink and stand. The first toast is to the light of my life, “Tahara.”
For the second toast, I was thinking back over the 40 years and all of the people we have lost. My second toast is “To the memory of those we have lost.”