Looking from the outside in Harry’s marriage to Kate seemed perfect, but the reality was very different. Discover how their marriage was mended and how you can use the experience of the ups and downs of married life to support other couples.
If you had bumped into me and Kate in the early 1990s, you might have thought we were a couple with our act together. I was well established as Hong Kong-based partner of a small successful Thai stockbroking firm. I had previously flown Navy helicopters, including during the Falklands war. Kate was a professionally trained cook who had edited a foodie magazine. She was now mostly engaged with bringing up our two young daughters. On the outside, you might have thought we had a dream life and prospects… However, on the inside our lives were falling apart. After eight years of married life, Kate was beginning to realise I might never be the close friend and intimate lover she needed and hoped for. Bouts of post-natal depression didn’t help. Our conversations had become stilted, factual and brief. Our marriage was often fun but emotionally lifeless. A shocking ultimatum Kate’s conversion to faith only highlighted the problem more starkly. I was increasingly confused by Kate’s frustrated outbursts. I simply had no idea what she was on about. My efforts to respond were well-meaning but unfocused and short-lived. I remember only a blinding shock of light when Kate finally presented me with her ultimatum. “Change or divorce within a year.” I didn’t see it coming. At core, our marriage problem was that I was emotionally closed. I don’t say that lightly. Friends of ours asked me what I loved about Kate. All I could say was that she understood the chemistry of food. I had no idea how to describe intimacy or even gauge the state of our marriage. Fear of losing the kids took me reluctantly to a Christian counsellor. It was bad enough for an Englishman to go to a counsellor. As an atheist, mention of God would have been too much. Yet in just a few sessions, the counsellor did a fabulous job. My life opened up like worms spilling out of a tin can. I discovered how I had coped with dad leaving home when I was three and mum sending me to boarding school when I was seven. I had avoided the pain of my perceived abandonment by closing down and becoming independent. Being closed made it hard to be friends and relate to others. Kate married me in the hope I might improve! At the same time, I became intrigued by a group of Kate’s new friends who were missionaries looking after drug addicts, giving love but seemingly getting nothing in return. I was curious because I wanted that kind of love in my marriage. A series of strange coincidences led me to meet Jesus on my own personal road to Damascus. Months later, Kate began to despair again. She had pinned all her hopes for our marriage on me opening up and becoming a Christian. Yet our marriage remained lifeless. In desperation Kate wrote me a pathetic letter outlining the unappealing job spec for the role of Harry’s wife. An emotional rollercoaster At last, the message got through. Making our marriage work for the kids was not enough. I needed to make our marriage work for Kate. I got on my knees and told her she had no reason to believe me but that I would change. So when the phone rang one evening about a last minute slot at a marriage weekend in Taipei, we were on the plane the next day. The marriage weekend was an emotional rollercoaster. Kate had no idea what to think as her ice-cold husband suddenly started expressing himself with a colourful new vocabulary of feelings. Eventually both of us dared to share some especially deep hopes and fears. I fell madly in love with Kate in a way I had never before experienced. Our marriage could never be the same again. Our marriage today is far from perfect. It’s been a bumpy road since the highs of that seminal weekend in Taipei. Old habits die hard. But our marriage is full of love and life, ups and downs, and utterly unrecognisable from what we had before. We now have six young children. I guess we must be doing something right. God has made our calling to marriage and relationships wonderfully clear. Before I even knew we had marriage problems, Kate had marched into our bathroom one morning and declared that God said I would become a Christian and do full-time marriage work. I disappeared under the water. There are all too many Harrys and Kates out there for whom the pain and hell of family breakdown is so utterly avoidable. Great marriage and relationships can be learnt. Harry Benson runs the Bristol Community Family trust. He has married to Kate for 20 years and they have six children.