1) How/when did you first meet?
We met at the Youth 2000 prayer group which was held, every Wednesday, at Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane, just off the Strand in London. Anna-Marie says she first fell in love with my back as she used to sit behind me during the prayer group! Each week, directly after the prayer group, we would all retire to the Coal Hole, a pub on the Strand. It was there that we first got to know each other. We met for the first time in February 2002 but it took me until July that year to pluck up the courage to ask Anna-Marie out on a date. We both knew pretty early on that this was what we had been waiting for. We seemed to connect: emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. We got engaged in August the following year and were married on 3 January 2004.
2) What are some of your memories of your wedding day?
My first memory of our wedding day is meeting my then prospective father-in-law at 8am, looking rather dishevelled and sweaty, as I returned from an early morning run. I also hadn’t shaved yet so I am sure he was wondering what I was up to! My next memory is arriving at the church in Kew Gardens, London, to discover that our bridesmaids were dressed in claret and blue, the colours of the best football club in the world (Aston Villa if you are unsure!). This was a wonderful surprise. I was wearing a claret cravat and sky blue waistcoat but I never imagined that our bridesmaids would be dressed in Villa colours. Anna-Marie says it was her way of showing that she accepted this huge passion in my life – I think she’s struggled with the ramifications of that acceptance ever since! Still, that desire to accept me as I am has remained.
I then recall sitting at the front of the church, waiting for Anna-Marie and feeling pretty nervous. My nephew Francis, who was two at the time, must have sensed my nervousness because, totally unprompted, he came up to me to give me a reassuring hug!
Anna-Marie’s arrival took my breath away. She was early (a first!) and when I turned to the back of the church to see her walking up the aisle with her Dad I was overwhelmed by how beautiful she looked. Tears of joy welled up inside me.
The Mass itself was a joyous occasion. It is very moving to take the vows and to hear Anna-Marie say hers. We had taken great care over the choice of our hymns and were delighted when everyone heartily joined in the singing. We had a fantastic group of musicians who helped us all raise our hearts and minds to God. At the end of Mass, Anna-Marie and I processed down the aisle to ‘Be Thou My Vision’. We were so happy, grinning from ear to ear, and it was wonderful to see the joy on the faces of our family and friends.
Ours was a winter wedding. It was a cold, crisp January day and we had our reception in a permanent marquee which was beautifully decorated, a sort of winter wonderland!
3) Looking back over your marriage so far, what have been some of the most significant experiences which have helped you to really grow in your relationship? What have been some of the biggest challenges?
We were married in January 2004 and our twins, Caitie and Joseph, arrived in October that same year. Suddenly, our lives were turned upside down. It was a wonderful experience but totally exhausting. We were inexperienced parents and I hadn’t appreciated the way in which the twins, at least at first, totally consumed all our time. Anna-Marie had lost quite a lot of blood during their birth and was completely exhausted. Yet she had two hungry mouths to feed and she never seemed to get a moment’s peace. Our marriage wasn’t just about Anna-Marie and me anymore. We were now a family but that took some getting used to. I like things to be organised and found it difficult to cope with the uncertainty and, at times, chaos that is family life. I still do! Also, tiredness can turn one into a different person, or rather expose our inner weaknesses we didn’t realise were there. It certainly does for me! Learning to love each other, build a marriage and raise a family when feeling tired and irritable can be a real challenge. However, as husband and wife you get to experience each other at both your best and worst. There are no barriers and this really helps build intimacy and trust.
Two years into our marriage we went on our first Celebrate Love (now called SmartLoving) Marriage Seminar. This really helped us to understand each other better, where we have come from, the different ways we communicate, and the different ways we need to be loved. We have been involved, and continued learning ever since, from both the materials and the participating couples. It helped us understand that maintaining a healthy happy marriage is an active process, a continuous decision, sometimes very hard, often very beautiful. We have been through difficult times since – having four children under four, a long period of unemployment and financial uncertainty, relocations away from friends and family etc. But we have learnt that perseverance, prayer and reliance on God’s grace to love each other, however hard it may be, is the way forward. In the midst of all this uncertainty we have grown closer together and our relationship has become stronger.
4) How has your experience of marriage helped to deepen your faith?
The love that we experience in marriage gives us a deeper understanding and appreciation of God’s love for us. Knowing another person so deeply, so intimately and sharing your life with that person is a source of tremendous joy and consolation. We also experience the flaws and weaknesses in each other. Living as a married couple makes you more conscious of your own shortcomings and the need to constantly seek and grant forgiveness. It has heightened my awareness of our total reliance on God’s grace. We fool ourselves if we think we can build a successful marriage without God.
5) What would your most important pieces of advice be for couples considering/preparing for married life?
Talk and pray together. You can’t do this enough.
Actively participating in a well-structured marriage preparation course offered by the Church is vital. We particularly recommend the Smart-loving courses which are offered by the Church in Westminster diocese. These excellent courses help engaged couples explore where they have come from and where they are going with their relationship. They introduce you to the sacramental nature of marriage, our need for God’s grace and the need to explore areas of tension or difference in our relationship. When you are engaged and feeling all romantic you might think that you don’t need to undertake any marriage preparation or talk through areas of tension or difference in your relationship. However, you really do, if you want to keep that romance alive. To love is a decision and by preparing properly for marriage one can begin to commit to putting your spouse first in one’s life, despite all the challenges that will inevitably come.
Finally, be open to listening to the churches vision for married love. Accepting this has enhanced all aspects of our marriage, but especially the physical. Natural Family Planning has meant that our lovemaking could become primarily about love: love that is always life-giving in our marriage, whatever our family planning intentions. It has helped to keep all aspects of our love, and respect for each other, alive.