A YouGov poll found that 65 per cent of married people said a shared sense of humour was the most important component of a lasting union (Getty)

    The secret to a happy marriage is a laughing matter

    5 October 2016

    When you get married – and I know this for a fact, because I’ve scored a hat-trick, and I don’t mean a fascinator, though I am one – the official invariably asks you if you’ll stick by the poor sap for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health and all that jazz.

    Fair enough, as you obviously care enough to urge gifts out of your wretched friends in order to sanctify the union – though the ‘forsaking all others’ bit makes me want to roll my eyes and mutter ‘TMI!’ Such an intimate question always strikes me as somewhat impudent and immature for such a supposedly solemn occasion, as though the assembled congregation is supposed to conjure up a collective image of the two of you Doing It unto infinity. This has amused me, regrettably, to the extent that at my first and second marriages, I audibly sniggered before agreeing.

    But it got me thinking; if the State is going to get all sticky-beaked on one’s sex life, shouldn’t it also enquire about another of the conjugal coherents which is a very good indicator of whether a couple is going to make the distance? Namely, whether those about to be joined together in matrimony are equally interested in having a laugh. A YouGov poll found that 65 per cent of married people said a shared sense of humour was the most important component of a lasting union, while just 13 per cent chose romance.

    I can see some of the more stiff-necked Spectator readers adjusting their hair-shirts in disapproval now, but before we all take a slither down the slippery slope of self-satisfaction, let me point out that I too am a religious person who chose not to marry in Church, believing personal faith to be far too important to involve in what we choose to do with our genitalia. Rather inappropriate somehow, as though the Lord is some kind of curtain-twitching, tut-tutting village scold, when I’m sure He has far more important things to think about than who’s doing what to whom in the downstairs department.

    And before any buzz-kill objects that there’s no place for merriment in belief, what about Sarah the Mirthful, who quite understandably cracked up when an angel of the Lord told her she was going to witness a happy event (and I’m not talking about the slaughter of the first-born Egyptians here) despite being past the age of sixty? There’s loads of laughs in the Old Testament if you’re of a mind to be amused, and if you fail to see them, maybe you were in the back of the queue when the good Lord handed out funny bones. So I see no reason why ‘Do you promise to make every effort to amuse, entertain and otherwise cheer your spouse, and above all DON’T BORE THEM?’ should not be included in the wedding vows.

    In a world still reeling from the break-ups of Brad and Ange and Fatboy and Zoe (as a Brightonian, BTW, I have to tell you that the second separation is the talk of the town, by far overshadowing the more stellar sundering) the topic of boredom in marriage is a pertinent one. Of course, everybody is somebody’s bore, but most of them you can just cross the road to avoid; if you’re chained to them in wedlock, what do you do then? Boredom seems to have been a factor in the splitting of these celebrity couples; one of those ever-helpful *friends* said of Pitt that ‘he was bored stiff with the sedate, quiet lifestyle they were leading – when he was with Jennifer, it was Angelina who provided the excitement that was missing in his life. But when Angelina shifted gears and became more serious, that wasn’t what Brad thought he was buying in to.’ It’s equally likely that the dishy dynamo found dope-smoking Brad a bore, too – he himself has described the effect of marijuana on himself as turning him into a *doughnut* – and also something of a hypocrite, being too stoned to join her in her intense interest in international humanitarian politics but not stoned enough to spend time in Croatia negotiating the building of a purported £1 billion resort, apparently.

    In the case of our Hometown Heroes, the case is being presented as far more one-sided; Ball is portrayed simply as an empty-headed middle-aged flibbertigibbet reluctant to let go of her Ladette salad days. But from what I’ve heard of her, she is one of those rare showbiz spawn who has repeatedly referred to the shallowness of her lucky, lucrative career and her desire to do something more meaningful, while her husband is an even more middle-aged DJ who seems perfectly happy to play records for the rest of his life.

    So who’s the shallow one, who’s the bore? The answer is probably all of them – and none of them. Send all four separately on holiday with a bunch of mates and they’d probably be the proverbial life and soul of the party. It’s the CONFINEMENT, I think, that makes couples go nuts, especially in an age when we are told that we can be lover, best bud and soulmate, as well as co-habitees.

    When I was a little girl, I was very keen on the idea of being a lesbian as I was so put off by the Sunday school phrase ‘The animals went in two by two’, which just sounded dreary beyond belief. In her book Mating In Captivity: Can We Desire What We Already Have? the brilliant psychologist Esther Perel explores the perils and pitfalls of seeing your domestic set-up as a *squad*, in the horrid modern parlance

    My own experience bears this out; my first marriage, in which my husband and I had no friends except our speed dealer and each other lasted five years, my second marriage where we had loads of friends but all mutual lasted ten and my third, in which we maintained seperate friendships, made it to twenty. And when you are having a bit of one-on-one time, MAKE AN EFFORT! Yes, not every evening at home can be The Night They Raided Minsky’s, but at least try to raise a few titters. So many men and women become arch-bores once they think they *have* someone and blame it on having *no time* – too busy to have sex but not too busy to go to garden centres from the get-go – and then the children ‘came along’ – did that stop you from laughing too, perchance, lest the little darlings got the impression that life would be one big barrel of hoo-hoo ha-ha instead the vale of tears they shoud be expecting?

    And now the Marriage Foundation, a *think-tank* adressing the breakdown of relationships, has decreed that having a depressing-sounding *Date Night* once a month can improve the chances of a relationship surviving by a pathetic 14 per cent. I had my cat Pillhead put down exactly a year ago this month – but the idea of wining, dining and sixty-nining the poor old furry fiend once a month in order for him to have a 14 per cent chance of staggering on for another pain-ridden year makes about as much sense as this. ‘True love should have the thrills that a healthy crime has/We dont have half the thrills that the march of time has’, the old song has it; considering the sky-rocketing rise of divorce among the over-50s, the human heart is never too near death’s door to recall the helpless hilarity we experienced as teneagers. ‘Make love, not war’ the hippies used to say – but ‘Make ‘em laugh’ is, in my opinion, a far greater freeway to fidelity.