Rev Kate Bottley: why in-laws are the secret to a lifelong marriage

Ahead of her BBC2 show Alone with the In-Laws, The Goggleboxer explains why the parents-in-law hold the key to a happy life

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I think of myself as a strong independent woman. But when it came to my husband proposing, I made him do it the old-fashioned way, by first having a chat with my dad before officially popping the question.

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Graham duly booked up with my parents to have a cuppa, an occasion he later declared had been the strangest, most awkward evening of his life. Not the conversation about us spending the rest of our lives together – that was the easy bit – but sitting alone with my parents without me there.

My parents liked Graham, they still do, and he liked them, but this was the first and only time he’d ever, in four years of our being in a relationship, spent any time alone with them.

Not much has changed. He’ll pop in for a cup of tea, but it’s very rare that Graham spends any time alone with my parents, and the same goes for me with his mum. But who knows us better than our parents, who can offer the kind of insight into how we tick that they can?

Perhaps before taking marriage vows ourselves, it would help us to understand our loved one a little better if we saw them through the eyes of his or her parents. Couples walking up the aisle are not, by and large, thinking about divorce, but we all know that not all marriages stay the course. From my work, I know that often the reason things break down is a mismatch in expectations of what a good marriage looks like.

“It wasn’t what I thought.” The model we base those expectations on is the marriages we’ve seen up close, and for most of us that’s the marriage we grew up with, that of our own parents.

The programme that I’ve made for BBC2, Alone with the In-Laws, tries to explore this idea. We send a prospective bride and groom to spend time, on their own, with their future in-laws to explore what marriage might mean to their soon-to-be spouse.

Wedding days take a lot of preparation and no small amount of effort to get through the 24 hours of nuptials. How much more effort, albeit of a different sort, will it take to make a success of the next 60 years or so? Like a marathon runner thinking about having the best race possible, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

How do we wake up each day for the next however many years and still be as much, if not more, in love with our spouse as we were on our wedding day? Churches across the country offer marriage preparation for couples about to take their vows, but Alone with the In-Laws offers a radical approach to preparing for a successful lifelong marriage, and not just for couples marrying in a Christian context.

I think any couple willing to put themselves forward for this shows they’re determined to do all they can to understand their partner better and make their marriage work.

It also takes a certain sort of bravery and willingness to be vulnerable – not only for the bride and groom, but the parents, too. And the hope is that, with all parties willing this relationship to work and being honest in their conversations, perhaps the marriage might just last a lifetime.

Now, I really must check my diary and book up Graham’s mum for a coffee. It’s about 20 years overdue.  

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Alone with the In-Laws is on Thursday at 8pm on BBC2