Life & Culture

You want a happy marriage? Listen to us

As Prince William and Kate Middleton take their vows, we ask about the secret of wedded bliss.


Rabbi Michael Laitner runs the United Synagogue's Newlyweds Programme which helps couples learn practical Jewish approaches to married life. He has some advice which he thinks might be useful to a certain young couple who are tying the knot today: "An old Midrashic adage states that a groom is compared to a king as long, add the rabbis, as he treats his bride like a queen."

After today's royal wedding, it may not be too tough for Prince William to treat his bride, Kate Middleton, like a queen, or at least like a princess.

But if they are to break the pattern of marital disasters in the royal family, they might want to listen to some other wise Jewish words of advice.

Pamela and Harold Fisher married at New West End Synagogue in April 1951 when Pamela was just 19. Like William and Kate, they had to get over some hurdles before they could live happily ever after.

"Cupid's arrow shot me the first moment I met her," recalls 83-year-old Harold.

"I was at university and my mother had forbidden me to go to the Jewish social clubs because she said my degree was more important than mixing with girls.

"I went one day after university and saw they were rehearsing a play so I went in and saw this gorgeous girl on the stage.

"I tried to make contact with her but lots of other young men were also trying because she was beautiful, had a gorgeous voice and was very popular and outgoing.

"I gradually 'dispensed' with each of her other suitors and came to the head of the queue. And she fell for me."

According to Harold, the couple have hardly ever argued. "In 60 years, I can honestly say I can count on one hand the rows we've had and they've been over nothing.

"We have no secrets and tell each other everything, which is very important."

Pamela, 79, believes communication is the key. "If you don't let each other know how you feel, you get resentment. Don't try to change each other. You can bend for each other but don't break.

"William and Kate have had a long courtship and know each other well so I think they have a good chance. I'm sure they've worked out any difficulties by now."

Harold chimes in: "Just so long as they're not as silly as Charles and Diana - they didn't have a chance."

Sonja and Solomon Freiman celebrated their 60th anniversary last month. Solomon, originally from Warsaw, was among the group of 732 young concentration camp survivors brought to the UK in 1945 and known as The Boys. He met his future wife at a Jewish youth club in Swiss Cottage, north-west London.

"When I first saw him, I was a bit concerned because he was quite short," says Sonja, who is 79.

"We went to some dances together. I don't really know how it happened and don't think he ever asked me to marry him - we just started planning a wedding."

She has some rather unconventional advice for the royal newly weds. "After you have an argument, just go to bed together and you'll get back together again.

"We have been fighting for all these years - I don't know who has won yet. Don't marry just for looks - character is important. He no longer has hair and I still love him."

Jean Beecham, 85, believes the key to a successful marriage is respect. She married Eric, 88, within three months of meeting him and marked their 60th anniversary earlier this year.

"It's important to respect each other's opportunities and wishes", she says. "We started off in a little house in a little street in a little area and we have not progressed to Hampstead which I always adored and where I was brought up before the war, but we're still happy.

"We met on the stairs at an engagement party and he said the classic line: 'Haven't I met you before?' I thought he was dashing but was worried I liked him more than he liked me. We lived happily ever after though.

"My husband was a struggling accountant and I always encouraged him. We had fun together and we still laugh a lot. A sense of humour is very important. I am fortunate to have one - so does my husband."

Ninety-year-old Auschwitz survivor Freddie Knoller met his wife, Freda on a blind date in Baltimore in 1950 and they were engaged one month later. Freddie, who was originally from Vienna and now lives in Totteridge, moved to America after he was liberated from Bergen-Belson in 1945.

Freda, who is 83, was visiting her aunt when she met her husband and the couple returned to London two years after they married. "I fell in love with her on the telephone before I met her," Freddie says.

"She had a beautiful English accent and we spoke for an hour. We clicked instantly and I knew I wanted to marry her."

His advice to the royals is "to be pliable and listen to the other person. I give my wife a kiss and cuddle every morning when I wake up and every evening before we go to bed."

Pearl and Philip Ross-Field celebrated their 70th anniversary last month.

They have lived in the same house in Redbridge for 60 years and have four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Pearl, 93, believes relationships have changed dramatically since the time she met her husband at her sister's wedding just after the outbreak of the Second World War. But she says the secrets of an enduring marriage remain the same.

"Don't argue. If we have a few words, we just forget about them afterwards. You should always apologise if you're wrong. Be considerate to each other and gloss over anything you don't like.

"We look after each other. Phillip is a very gentle, kind and considerate person. We have always helped one another and we have had a very happy life together."

Philip, a 95-year-old former Air Force officer and retired warehouse manager, is more concise with his advice. "You keep your mouth shut," he says. "That's a great asset."

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