Deadlock to wedlock

3rd January 2014 at 00:00

When I was little, one of my favourite television programmes was My Wife Next Door. It was about a divorced couple - George and Suzy Bassett - who relocate to the country then discover that they have inadvertently moved into adjoining cottages. High jinks and hilarity ensue, followed by the inevitable rekindling of romance.

It struck me then that this was the ideal way to conduct a relationship: all the convenience of marriage without any of the downsides, such as finding the grill pan full of fat.

It seemed perfect. If couples would agree to live in conjoined yet separate living spaces, the wife could festoon her bedroom with voile curtains, valences, throws and swags, leaving her husband to nest quietly next door on his bed of chewed-up newspaper. In the event of her feeling lonely, she could invite him for dinner on condition that he wiped his feet on arrival.

I could see from my parents' fraught relationship that men and women struggled to live under the same roof. Much of their misery was caused by a battle over space, which my mum was winning. The house was overrun with her ornamental fetishes - tiny copper kettles, plastic fruit and a full symphony orchestra of music boxes - and my father was relegated to any remaining space. He sought refuge in the garden, where he occasionally reasserted his manhood by peeing on the leeks.

Similar territorial battles are unfolding in my marriage. All my school paraphernalia is locked in a war of attrition with my husband's AA batteries, running shoes and box sets of DVDs. It's a conflict no one is winning and it makes us both very unhappy.

A friend has found a solution. He loves his wife and kids but finds the petty acrimonies of family life so debilitating he is teetering on the edge of divorce. So rather than chucking in the towel, he and his partner are going to live in separate houses. According to sociologists, 10 per cent of all UK couples are now "living apart together".

The attraction is easy to understand. You're less likely to clout your partner with the toaster if you don't catch him constantly checking his emails when he should be running children to school, and he'll find you significantly more attractive if you stop helping yourself to his razor and working him like a mule.

My hope is that eventually this model will be rolled out into the world of work. Rather than teachers and senior leaders being trapped in a cycle of mutual disappointment, where everything we do needs improvement and everything they do is rubbish, we could - for the children - try "teaching apart together".

We would stay in our classrooms doing our best for the children, while they'd remain at a respectful distance, reading books on teaching and telling us the plot. Who knows? We might even - like George and Suzy - learn to get along.

Beverley Briggs is a secondary school teacher from County Durham, England.

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