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Till death us do part

What does it take to make a celebrity marriage work when you live your life under the glare of the public spotlight?

Barely a day goes past without a celebrity marriage hitting the rocks. We’ve all seen the big-news break-ups. Paul MacCartney and Heather Mills, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, Eddie and Nicole Murphy to name but four. In fact, so many famous couples have called time out on their marriages you’d be forgiven for thinking that the words celebrity and marriage don’t belong together.

‘One of the contributory factors to celebrity marriage breakdown is that because of their status, everybody has an interest in and therefore an opinion on what’s going on in their lives,’ says Relate relationship expert, Denise Knowles. ‘When you’re in the public eye so much, it’s very difficult for you to lead a “normal life” because whatever you’re wearing, whatever you’re saying, whatever you’re eating, however you look at your partner when you’re out together is scrutinised to the nth degree and the smallest thing can be blown out of all proportion.’

Making it work
However, what we don’t always pay as much attention to – perhaps because they don’t get the celebrated coverage – are the successful marriages. If you look closely you’ll find some very happy, enduring unions that have lasted despite the pressures, the temptations, and the ups and downs.

Rock star David Bowie and former supermodel Iman have been wed for 15 years, Police front man Sting and Trudie Styler have been married for 14 years, while actor Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have chalked up almost 19 years of wedded bliss. And then there’s Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, who’ve been together since 1984, and Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, who met on set of the sexy baseball flick Bull Durham, who have been together 19 years (and counting). While neither couple has officially tied the knot, they’re as good as married.

So what exactly is the secret to their success? For presenter, Sheree Murphy, 31, it’s about putting family first. The ex-soap star has been married to Liverpool footballer Harry Kewell, 29, for three years. She was playing Emmerdale’s sexy reformed temptress Tricia, when she decided it was time to leave the show in order to spend more time with Harry and their two children, two-year-old Taylor, now five, and six month-old Ruby, now three.

‘The birth of Ruby made up my mind for me,’ she says. ‘I just felt that leaving my job on Emmerdale was the best thing to do for all of us.’ For Sheree, the decision to put her acting career on hold didn’t come easy. ‘It was always going to be a tough decision,’ she says. ‘When I had to make the choice between family and work, it had to be family first. ‘It’s very difficult being a mother and still maintaining a career as an actress in a soap.

I decided that [it was] more important for me to be a good wife and mother. I think that having a second child really brings the responsibility of home to you, and the size of the job you have to do.’

Sheree remembers the moment when a choice had to be made. ‘The kids were crying and restless, and we were trying to get them back to sleep by laying them both on our bed all night. Harry just looked at me and said, “How do we do this?” We weren’t getting any rest, and honestly we are a couple who loves our sleep. The sensible decision was the obvious one. It had to be goodbye to acting and to Emmerdale.’

Across the pond, Deja vu star Denzel Washington, 52, and his wife share similar values to Sheree and Harry. For the Washingtons, family time is key. While there’s no sign of the sexy Oscar winner shelving his career as yet, Denzel tries to negotiate weekends off during his demanding filming schedules so that he can spend quality time with Pauletta, 56, his wife of 23 years, and their four children.

Your life in public
‘Many celebrity marriages flounder when they confuse the roles they are playing with who they are. Or when there’s a miss-match in the success rate of a couple’ says Denise Knowles. ‘Within the marriage, this can create some kind of tension unless, as a couple, you’re very strong and supportive and you don’t have any resentful or envious feelings towards the success of your partner,’ she explains.

Sheree and Harry may have a celebrity marriage – pretty soap star married to a handsome footballer – but they’ve worked hard at keeping it real, and making tough decisions as a couple. While Sheree may have put her acting career on hold, there’s no doubt they’re in it together. ‘I’m lucky,’ says Sheree, ‘because Harry is so supportive. He’s a fantastic dad.’

Inevitably, Sheree and Harry have been compared to the Beckhams, but Sheree resists these suggestions. ‘I see Posh and Becks and we are such different people,’ Sheree says. ‘Our lifestyle is nothing like theirs. They can’t go anywhere at any time without being photographed, but we’re not like that at all.’

‘When you’re living in that kind of gold fish bowl everything becomes much more intense,’ says Denise Knowles. And while Victoria, 32, and David, 31, have weathered the very public storm of David’s alleged affair with Rebecca Loos, 29, their seven-year marriage still has its up and downs, with reports of their rows constantly making headlines. Yet, the couple, who will be moving to America in the summer, when David, 31, joins his new team, LA Galaxy, is obviously working hard at making the marriage succeed.

It’s pressures like those faced by the Beckhams that force them to hone their survival skins, which can help to keep them together. For celebrity couple Samuel L Jackson, 57, and LaTanya Richardson, 65, struggling with adversity has helped to knit them together. They have been married for 26 years and their struggles gave them strength – not only at the start, as they built their acting careers, but also as they tried to free Samuel of his early drug and alcohol problems. ‘I made a promise to God that I would be there,’ LaTanya has said. ‘I wasn’t going to let him die.’

Working together
Many celebrity couples keep their marriages strong by avoiding the glitz and glare of public life, yet others like the daytime TV duo Richard Madeley, 50, and Judy Finnigan, 58, married for 20 years, and Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, also hitched for 20 years, make their marriages last by joining forces and working together.

The Prince of Darkness and The X Factor judge may have broken new ground when they opened up their home for the reality TV show, The Osbournes. But long before their lives became the property of the small screen, Ozzy and Sharon worked together. After their Hawaiian beach wedding in 1982, Sharon became Ozzy’s manager and she continues to negotiate million dollar deals for her family. And Ozzy, 58, has famously said of his wife: ‘She’s not allowed to die before me, I couldn’t live without her.’

For Sharon, 54, the secret to their enduring partnership is a simple one: ‘Our marriage has had its ups and downs. But, you know, we love each other. We have a great family that bonds us together.’

Beyond all else, the successful celebrity couples seem to know that flexibility and communication is the key to continued bliss. You have to be able to talk and compromise.

Even if that compromise is reached at the end of an argument. ‘Arguments are inevitable and successful couples know there’s nothing wrong with an argument; in fact, it can be healthy. The trick is to learn how to make it as constructive as possible says Denise Knowles.

8 steps to a long and happy marriage

Is your marriage going through the mill? Relate relationship expert, Denise Knowles has created this guide to help you and your partner work through your problems and get you back on track…

Check in with your partner on a daily basis. Talk about what’s gone on for you during the day – not a timetable of what you’ve done, but what you’ve done or read that’s affected you. This way, communication becomes absolutely essential.

You only have to spend 10-15 minutes together to have that very attentive listening and talking session with one another.

You must not only like, but also love, one another. Remind yourself of what it is that you do like about one another. Particuarly in long-term marriages, we tend to start remembering the things that haven’t gone right. Remind yourself about what you like and love about one another and your life together.

If you argue – and that’s almost inevitable – it’s important that you make your arguments as constructive as possible. Try and avoid calling each other names or pointing the finger of blame, which is destructive and less likely to resolve any issues.

If you have family, make sure you have couple time. It’s easy for a couple to be lost under the weight of looking after children, running a home and going out to work. Everything else seems to take priority over the two of you and then either one if not both of you soon begins to feel unimportant in the relationship. And it’s when that feeling starts to creep in, that maybe one or the other is tempted by somebody else’s attentions.

It’s unrealistic to expect your partner to provide all your needs, which can become rather burdensome, particularly if you’re trying to hold down a job and run a family. That doesn’t mean finding another intimate partner, but if you’re interested in calligraphy or book clubs or if you enjoy going to the gym or meeting your pals down the pub once a week for a chin wag, it’s important to do that. You then bring the outside world in to your relationship and stop it becoming insular and stagnant.

It’s important for individuals within a relationship to maintain an interest in themselves and not become dependent on the other person. A lot of people like to be needed, but over a period of time that can be quite a heavy thing to carry around. You need to reach a point where you can say: ‘I don’t need you but I want you.’ This indicates a level of independence, and there’s no co-dependency on one another.

Don’t forget to have some fun together. It’s about allowing your little man or little girl out to play now and again, particularly if you’ve got children. We’re such a risk adverse society. Go out a climb a tree with your kids. Take them to park and get on the slide with them. And if you haven’t got children go to the park anyway and take out a rowboat. Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be hugely expensive. Spend time getting back to the simple things when it comes to having fun.

Don’t forget to keep touching one another. Touch or intimacy doesn’t have to be about penetrative sex. Giving each other a loving hug in the morning, enjoying a cosy kissing session when it takes your fancy, greeting each other in the evening with a cheeky tap on the bum, sitting on the sofa together snuggling or holding hands, getting into bed and caressing one another are just some of the ways to connect.

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