Dr Jack Dominian, Catholic psychiatrist and husband, is an acknowledged expert on marriage. In the first in a Catholic Herald series on marriage, he talked to Lucy Lethbridge about the importance of staying together.
DR JACK DOMINIAN looks a shade sheepish about the title of his latest book, The Definitive Guide to Marriage.
"It was the publishers, they Insisted on the 'definitive' bit", he says.
Nevertheless, there are few people who are better qualified, were such a thing possible, to write definitively about the increasingly thorny topic of married love.
As a Catholic and a psychiatrist, Dr Dominian has made the study of marriage his area of expertise for over • 35 years. In an age of uncer tainty and individualism in partnerships, he has committed himself to researching the reasons why people still want to stay together and the pressures that split them apart.
To this end, 25 years ago, he founded the charity One plus One, which is devoted to research into marital relationships. Dr Dominian's concern through One plus One is not to counsel those whose marriages have come unstuck but to look into the reasons and impulses behind the institution. As he says: "I couldn't see how we could make sense of counselling without understanding what was going wrong with modern relationships".
It has been a struggle to convince the Government of the importance of this research although, as Dr Dominian points out, the country's rising divorce rate (currently 40 per cent) is costing the taxpayer D billion a year in benefits, legal aid
expenses and so on.
Dr Dominian would like to see education, support and preparation for marriage replacing the last-ditch salvage attempts that currently attempt to stem what sometimes seems like the inevitable separation of the modern married couple.
He is personally, as well as professionally, well qualified to talk about marriage. He has been married to Edith for over 40 years. They met at Cambridge, through the Catholic Students' Union, and they have four daughters in their 30s.
The Dominian marriage has as its background a modern house, (designed by their old friend and fellow Catholic Austin Winldey) in the attractively leafy suburb of Croxley Green in Hertfordshire.
An interview with Dr Dominian necessarily involves Mrs Dominian, who sits beside him on the sofa, holding the cat on her lap. They might be a dustjacket illustration for The Definitive Guide. Where he is serious and even a touch tetchy, she is humorous, warm and lively. She has not worked, he tells me, since they married. Edith interjects here: "Darling, I have worked, I haven't earned".
When she leaves the room to answer a telephone call, the conversation flags, and Dr Dominian keeps looking towards the door where we can hear strains of her conversation.
He can remember the "critical moment" when he decided he was in love with Edith and wanted her to be his wife. It was at a students' Easter meeting. It is a relationship that is palpably successful a perfect example of the "companionate" love that Dr Dominian sees as the key to permanence in marriage. It also rests on a bedrock of the shared Christian commitment which has been his guiding principle all his life: "Being human gives us an idea of human love but being Christian deepens that idea through the love, death and resurrection of Our Lord because it says something about sacrifice in love.
"Love doesn't come easily there are no short cuts to love and Christianity really spells that out."
IIe was born in Athens in 1929, son of a Greek mother and an Armenian father. His childhood experience of his parents' marriage were "turbulent". His "powerful" mother, he recalls, was "frustrated in her own time. Nowadays, she would have been a business magnate, but in those days she took her frustrations out on me". His father was gentle, intelligent; he worked in a bank and collected stamps. "My interest in people arose out of an atmosphere of great tension."
Dr Dominian's Catholic faith has never lapsed. He remembers telling a Jesuit priest, when he was 16, that he wanted to be a psychiatrist. The priest, horrified, told him that if he followed that path, he'd lose his soul. "Now I think if I hadn't become a psychiatrist, I'd have lost my soul".
Obviously, for both Dominians, the faith that sustains them personally is also crucial to the success of their partnership. Modern couples, as Dr Dominian acknowledges, rarely share the confidence of this kind of religious belief. The modern partnership is fraught with all the potholes left in the wake of the social upheavals of the last 30 years. "Enormous changes have shifted relationships from the 'roles' of breadwinner and mother to an emphasis on relating as companions".
The result of course is not necessarily that marriages are more companionable, but that expectations of love have been raised unrealistically..
Those who pick up The Definitive Guide to Marriage hoping to find a self-help manual, with a clutch of helpful hints on Staying In Love, will be disappointed. The book is the product of years of academic research and the sometimes inpenetrable thicket of its prose offers no easy answers. Nonetheless, it is worth persevering because Dominian offers fascinating and Illuminating insights into what makes human beings fall in love, what makes them want to be together and what makes them stay together.
And, in an age when we are witnessing the vast psychological and social problems created by family breakdown, that's got to be worth examining.