Marriage as an Institution

Marriage. What does it mean? Who gets married and when?
In DM we have none of the issues of cultural differences or religious differences that can often impact marriages and decisions to marry. What we have are two older adults who have never been married falling in love and trying to decide whether to marry. Marriage is a bond between two people and should be a lifetime commitment; some sites link the term marriage to permanence. For many men and women marriage is a difficult decision and marriage rates reflect that. This show not only illustrates the problems confronting this particular couple, but also couples in general. Finding the right man or woman is the first step and the longer one waits, the harder that gets. Apparently Martin had once thought he wanted to marry Edith, but that possibility encountered likely opposition from Aunt Joan and then Edith chose her career over marriage and moved on. Once burned, twice shy as they say, which is to say that Martin is certainly not about to jump into marriage too fast next time. He’s also not much of a lady’s man and wants someone with a combination of attractiveness, intelligence, and sensitivity. We know he wants all of these traits because no one of these is sufficient to get his attention. Mrs. Wilson is pretty but narcissistic, Mrs. Tishell is intelligent but not attractive, and Edith is certainly not sensitive (or attractive, if you ask me). Louisa has not had many good prospects from the looks of things, and she’s smart to be selective, but after a while it may be harder for a woman to know when she’s met the right man. Louisa appears to want a man who’s accomplished, not too religious, and a little unique. As with many couples these days, their own parents have not been good role models for successful marriage. Neither marriage was happy and Martin and Louisa have born the brunt of that. As a result, they are both probably looking for someone who will be faithful and reliable.

The first reason that prompts Martin to ask Louisa to marry him is that he has spent close to two years yearning to be with her, and dealing with intermittent intrusions in his efforts to get together with her, until he finally can’t stand it any longer. The show deliberately puts Martin in situations where he foils his own chances, e.g. he tells Louisa she has bad breath after their first kiss, insults Danny to Louisa because of jealousy, compliments Louisa and tells her he loves her only later to accuse her of being infatuated with him, and ultimately ruins a date and passionate kiss by telling Louisa she’s being too emotional. That comment finally causes her to tell him she doesn’t want to see him anymore, which deeply troubles him to the point that he can’t sleep and can’t concentrate at work. Somehow we keep rooting for Martin and Louisa to get together despite the obvious miscues, or maybe because of them. It’s not until Louisa’s friend Holly hurts her back and then falls on a glass bottle that Louisa and Martin join together in an effort to rescue Holly, and they are given an opportunity to lower their guard. Even though this is an awkward time, Martin asks Louisa to marry him and tells her he can’t bear to be without her, and we finally have a romantic moment. On the other hand, the proposal of marriage occurs at a point when both Martin and Louisa are frazzled. Louisa accepts and they spend the night together without regrets, however, the proposal and acceptance seem very impulsive. In addition, the time they have between the decision to marry and the availability of the church is so short (maybe 3-4 weeks) that there really isn’t a lot of time for them to fully contemplate the implications. Could that be enough time? I’m sure it’s worked for some people, but making a lifetime commitment to someone is probably more likely to work out well if both parties have had enough time to think it through. We do see a few sweet moments while they plan the wedding,e.g. dinners with both loving exchanges and occasional slips (like breathing strips for snoring), a kiss on Louisa’s balcony.

There are no hard and fast rules about how long to date before marrying, but there seems to be some consensus that 1-4 years works best. The first time they plan the wedding, they call it off claiming that both of them are unsure they would make the other happy. On the day of the wedding they have been bombarded with all sorts of reasons to have reservations: the usual vicar is a drunk and falls and breaks something; the other clergyman Martin approaches hates weddings and forces Martin to check a pig’s anus before he’ll agree to do the ceremony;the dry cleaner gives Martin the wrong clothes; Louisa’s maid of honor hurts her eye and gives birth to her out-of-wedlock baby; several friends of Louisa give her reasons to hesitate; and ultimately both Martin and Louisa have a brief chance to catch their breath and come to the same conclusion that they should wait. The die seems cast throughout the episode. Beyond the absurdity of all of the obstacles here in the way of a successful wedding, we should probably give some thought to the notion of how best to prepare to be married. Maybe even if a couple is in love there should be a sort of cooling off period so that they can be under less pressure.

The next time comes when Louisa returns to Portwenn 6 months pregnant and Martin, being the moral man he is, reflexively asks her if she wants to get married. Louisa immediately says no as she has no intention of trapping Martin in a marriage even though she wants him to demonstrate an interest in her. It is only after the baby is born and they live together for a few months that they finally decide the time is right. Once again an emergency medical procedure brings them together: Tommy’s methanol poisoning and then the birth of the baby. And once again their relationship makes another step forward as a result. (Is this any way for a couple to keep reconciling?) Of course, their relationship goes through one more crisis when JH is abducted by Mrs. Tishell before another reconciliation during which Martin seems to understand that Louisa needs some affection and expression of love from him. In my opinion, women universally feel insecure and like to have some affirmation of love periodically. Men probably want that as well but aren’t quite as needy perhaps.

In DM, Martin and Louisa are traditionalists concerning marriage in that they get married in a church, Louisa adopts Martin’s last name, and neither has ever been married previously. They are modern insofar as their baby is born before they get married (in the United Kingdom 47.3% of births were to unmarried women in 2011), Louisa breastfeeds but plans to keep working (she expresses milk so she can give the baby breastmilk when she’s away), and they share the responsibilities of caring for JH pretty equally and hire a childminder for when they are at work. Martin is somewhat retro in that he wants Louisa to quit her job and stay home with JH, but her strong objection to that makes him adjust quickly and he is remarkably willing to share the responsibilities of taking care of JH. There’s no doubt that their first months of marriage are more difficult because of the demands of having a baby and all of the stresses that accompany that. For Martin and Louisa, JH both brings them together and causes some strife as they deal with getting him to sleep, feeding him, determining which of them should sacrifice time from their job, and finding a childminder they both like. All very typical married couple problems.

We don’t see too much of the household duties causing difficulties. They seem to share the grocery shopping and cooking to a certain degree, they both do some cleaning up in the kitchen, and they both change diapers. We don’t see any bathing of the baby, washing clothes, folding clothes, house cleaning, or other mundane chores except for buying nappies and some pharmaceuticals. They are also lucky that they can walk most places because they only have one car, something that could be a source of discord. They don’t seem to have much closet space (or space of any kind), but that hasn’t been a problem so far either. In short, many of the typical marital disagreements are not a part of this show.

But the biggest source of marital difficulty is what causes their greatest turmoil: lack of communication. We’re all aware that women like to talk more than men and that’s been proven by research. (I think you could ask most women and they would say that their husbands universally have trouble talking about things that bother them. It seems like the Y chromosome contains the gene for being taciturn.) However, communication comes in both verbal and non-verbal forms. With Martin, Louisa gets neither much of the time. And as his hemaphobia and insomnia become more problematic, he gets more withdrawn. She’s already told him how important it is to her that he tells her something nice now and then, but Martin has so much trouble expressing those feelings. How wonderful it would have been for him to tell Louisa how he considers her and James his family (as he tells his mother), or how much he, too, misses her once she goes back to work. How much would it have meant to her for him to tell her that his hemaphobia had returned and it was really upsetting to him. He could still say, as he does to Ruth, that he expects it to go away again. But Louisa would have felt that he had confided in her. And wouldn’t it be nice if her kiss on the cheek when they’re in bed would have been reciprocated? These are the little things that mean so much for every marriage.

Martin has never told Louisa much about his childhood, nor has he told her what his mother said to him the last time she visited. What Louisa knows about Martin’s childhood comes mostly from what she’s discerned from the side comments he’s made throughout the years about being punished by being paddled or locked in a confined space. She’s also seen the pictures of a morose little boy and heard about his being sent away to school at a young age. Without much information, she is hard-pressed to grasp his constant battle to overcome his hesitation to open up to her. Martin really doesn’t know much about Louisa’s childhood either, although he knows her mother is something of a loose cannon and Louisa and she have had trouble relating before. As with many marriages, both of them find it hard to remember they both bring a lot of baggage into the union. Their ability to communicate with each other would be greatly enhanced by setting aside some time each day to be together. In season 6, E1 we saw them interact congenially, if at odds at times. This episode is a good microcosm for what marriage can be like and how it can all be resolved lovingly in the end. Sometimes Martin takes charge, sometimes Louisa does, but in the end they walk arm in arm meeting adversity as a team. Unfortunately Martin is not likely to suggest time together, and Louisa tries to pierce his armor to no avail. Therefore, it’s not too surprising when they have a blowup in E7.

The first year of marriage is certainly one of major adjustments for any couple. For an older couple with a baby it’s even more fraught. Marriage consists of constant adjustments and compromises, and it’s those who accept that and roll with it who have enduring relationships. Martin has shown some pretty impressive willingness to try to accommodate Louisa’s wishes when it comes to the care of JH and even her position as headmistress, and Louisa has made an effort to be sympathetic, express concern, and try to draw out Martin. Martin wants to learn to be a better husband and Louisa seems to be open to making another effort to keep their marriage together. Plus, we have another medical complication that brings them together. It can’t get much worse than Martin having to operate to save Louisa’s life! Marriage requires work and theirs requires possibly more work than most. Their travails have been condensed into a short span of time which makes it all seem so disconcerting, but their vows to each other were made with seriousness and will most likely help them persist.

Originally posted 2013-11-04 14:58:47.

11 thoughts on “Marriage as an Institution

  1. Santa Traugott

    One of the ways in which I think that the writers will bring them closer to reconciliation in S7 could well be the aspect of working as a team, to save someone or some situation. We know that this usually brings them together. So often — as in the midwife scene, e.g, they are shown as a team, united in opposition to something, as well as in working together.

    To your post on Jack Lothian — he is a marvelous writer. I love his deft touch.

    Yes, to all your points about communication. I know that Martin will try — I hope that Louisa will listen, and is not so discouraged that she can’t really believe in any changes that she sees. I feel that that will be the major tension of S7 — will she be able to hear him, before he decides that he needs to give up on trying to roll the rock uphill, and move on to another stage of his life. Ultimately, she almost certainly will, but it will be a near thing and last minute! Reaching the conclusion that after 7 series, they really don’t belong together, would be entirely anticlimactic and a huge, huge letdown for loyal fans, who have invested so much in these characters and their relationship.

    Communication — also nonverbal. And sometimes, our own issues get in the way of our hearing messages that are being broadcast loud and clear by our partners. I admire the way that Caroline Catz has portrayed Louisa as a fully developed character, with strengths and flaws, but surely one of her flaws is that her insecurity leads her to believe that his funk is about her, is a kind of rejection of her, instead of reading the signals that this is a deeply distressed man, in well over his head into emotional terrain he doesn’t understand and can’t cope with, and try a little harder and more urgently to reach him, instead of giving up on him (at least temporarily and I suspect that permanently was also an option in her mind).

    Of course, by the time his erratic behavior led to a situation in which she incurred a life-threatening injury, it was too late for that option. But everything in me wants her to say in that hospital room, “listen , Martin, this can’t go on. If we’re to stay together, we need to address together what’s wrong and what makes you so unhappy” — instead of, I need to think about this. By myself.

    But then, there wouldn’t be a story line to continue, would there.

  2. Post author

    I think there could be lots of story lines they could pursue if Louisa is allowed to accept Martin’s interest in being a better husband. Louisa’s propensity to question Martin’s love for her is natural, which is why I think the writers include it. But they both are devoted to JH and they both really want to stay together based on what I see in so many episodes. It wouldn’t be so hard to imagine Martin telling Louisa that running away can’t be the solution to every bump in the road. As he said at the end of S5, he knows he’s hard to talk to sometimes and can be an idiot. He could just reiterate that! I also think that the show would end on such a downer if the two of them were to break up, and for a dramedy whose loyal fans root for this couple, that would be a bad move. Martin Clunes is known as a comedic actor who can obviously demonstrate a range of emotions (Robin Williams comes to mind), so I’d like to see the show have more of the comedy it had in the earlier seasons and even in the beginning of this latest one. Here’s an idea: Louisa and Martin take ballroom dancing lessons as a way to reconnect!

  3. Santa Traugott

    Couples counseling can really help in reframing the issues, and helping them find solutions, as a team, to the difficulties each of them bring to their relationship. I hope they show us some of that (speaking as a former therapist).

  4. Post author

    Couples counseling is a great idea, but do you really think Martin would agree to that? Did you see Hope Springs with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones? I really can’t imagine that sort of scenario in DM. Now Ruth giving them some counseling could be a possibility. Or they might just try various things on their own with mixed results. What we think is the best way would probably be unlikely on the show, although you know I see all sorts of realistic circumstances throughout the series.

  5. Carol

    Hey everyone! Loving what I am reading here. I have to say that I don’t think Ruth will agree to counsel them for two reasons: one is that, at least here in the US, most psychiatrists just do meds – they work with counselors, but they don’t usually do it themselves and from what I understand it is mostly the same in the UK. (I checked it out with a British friend before writing a counselor into my last fanfic story.) Two, I think she would know that being personally involved with them would likely make any counseling less effective.

    Of course, they don’t have to stick to total realism and it could make for some hilarious scenes if she does in fact end up as their counselor. But, as much as I love the character of Ruth, I hope she recommends someone and doesn’t do it herself. I want to watch her try to work with Al.

    I do think Martin will agree to some sort of counseling at this point because the look on his face when he tracked Ruth down in the last episode was, to me, the look of a desperate man . I think he realized that when she said he has to change, he knew it was true. And they are both going to have to talk about their families of origin, Martin especially. I believe that Louisa will be a lot more patient with him if she knows the whole story. I think we are all more patient with the people we love when we know their whole story.

    I do absolutely LOVE the idea of dancing lessons together! That could be fabulous. That was one of the few things about the first episode that I didn’t like – the dance was too short! Would have loved for it to have been longer so that the villagers could have seen a bit more of the Doc’s romantic side. Obviously he has one or there would be no James Henry, and it will help them see him as more human to see more of it.

    A vacation would be great as well. Let’s get Clunes out of those suits (although he does look SWEET in them) and into a polo and some khakis at least. There is a fanfiction story about them going to Disney World. Wouldn’t mind that either.

    But just to see them talk, heart to heart, is what I want to see. During episode 1 of this season, when they were discussing the honeymoon when they were lost in the woods, it was so frustrating. I wanted to say, “Louisa, you should have told him you really DID want a honeymoon and tried to come up with a compromise of a length of time and place to go” instead of just agreeing not to have one and resenting it. And when Martin said he didn’t think she was being fair and he didn’t understand, instead of “no, you never do,” wouldn’t it have been nice to hear her say, “I know we have to find our way out of here right now but let’s talk about this together when we get back home” and hear Martin say, “Yes, I think that is a good idea.”

    Maybe that doesn’t make for good television, but I for one think there are a lot of fans who want to see just a bit of this. It is painful to see them butt heads over and over. They are both intelligent and quite capable of the tweaking needed to make their relationship better.

    And let’s have a bit more romance. Two of the loveliest scenes, to me, are the ones where they are at the concert by Holly and her friends and the time they are discussing the first wedding and he kisses her out in her back garden. Just the two of them, together. They have such great chemistry. (Frankly I don’t know how Phillipa or Caroline’s husband can stand it.) They just look so right together somehow.

    Ah well, we are all assuming here that there will be a series 7. Let’s hope so. If not a whole series, at least one final two-hour movie where we can see them making a go of things. I don’t even want to think of the crying jag I will have if they don’t close this out!!

    Have a good one everybody,

  6. Post author

    My turn to say “you’re back.” I know you’re right about psychiatrists mostly using medicines now, and in my imagination Ruth wouldn’t be taking them on as actual patients. She’d just be an ear for each of them and give them some of her wise and witty advice. I guess I can see Martin agreeing to go to counseling because he’s almost willing to do anything at this point, but I can’t really see it going well. It’s more likely she would tell him she saw his mother in the airport and he would tell her what happened with his mother and that would lead to really coming clean about what his childhood was like. She could possibly talk about her childhood at that point too. Even if she didn’t, she would have a much better basis for truly understanding his introversion, his hemaphobia, and even his hesitancy with physical affection. (When he took Louisa’s hand as they were leaving the concert on their first date, he looked so proud. I really thought she should have let that be, but she couldn’t contain herself and then it was too much for him and the moment was gone.)

    I thought of the dancing lessons because it’s a couples thing and we know Louisa could use some and it would be amusing. I don’t know about getting Martin out of his suits, but at least they could go for a walk with JH or a drive somewhere. He’s worn a T-shirt before (under a suit jacket), so maybe he would do that. They have definitely had some good conversations over the years, and I see no reason that couldn’t happen again. But I really liked their repartee while crossing the stream. They’re tired and wet and you can’t blame her for being a little out of sorts. I’m just putting together a post on the humor in that episode and it’s so much fun watching it again, especially since it ends so well. I like the head butting on occasion because that’s what couples do a lot.

    I have to agree that MC and CC have great chemistry. They do such a good job of being convincing about their relationship in DM that we believe they belong together. I do wonder how hard it must be for actors to work together for so long and “act” like they’re in love without feeling something. But I guess they’re professionals and it is acting with feeling, but nothing that would take them away from their families.

    The word is that series 7 has been ordered, how many episodes and when is the question now. I’m with you on wanting some sort of good final act. Thanks for the comments!

  7. Santa Traugott

    It would really be unethical for Aunt Ruth to formally treat Martin and Louisa. I do have hopes that we’ll see a scene between Aunt Ruth and Louisa that will be (almost) as pivotal as the one between Aunt Ruth and Martin.

    Very few men in couples counseling are really happy to be there, and it’s very tricky to get their real buy-in. But perhaps Martin has learned something in the time since he was so dismissive of Dr. Milligan and his “psychobabble.” And I tend to agree that if he’s desperate enough, and Louisa suggests it, he will at least start down that road.

    But this is Portwenn, and Martin and Louisa, and for sure, they won’t do the simplest and most obvious things. and we will probably see them stumbling through one missed opportunity after another, until something finally clicks!

  8. Post author

    It would be great to see Ruth have a serious conversation with Louisa. After all Ruth has known Martin all his life and seen the damage done by Margaret, and even her own brother. She also admits that she was brought up not to show emotion and fights that at times (e.g. When she hugs Martin after he tells her she doesn’t have lupus). But you’re also right that this wouldn’t be DM if we saw couples counseling that went smoothly, etc. and we wouldn’t really want that either. I will be sorry if they don’t have a finale something like the end of series 5, but I would also be disappointed if we had too much harmony.

  9. KR

    While I’m so happy there will be a S7 — and look forward to it immensely — I think it really will be the last one. Martin Clunes has repeated many times that they are tired of the “will they – won’t they” theme; however, S6 seemed to carry that along on a grander scale. He’s also said that they’ve done almost everything, and don’t want to trot the show out just to do it. So, this is their big chance to go out in style. In the end, I think they really need to fix Martin and Louisa (and do it way before the close of S7). So, why not listen to fans who ask for better communication, more romance — or at the very least a solid sense that all will end well. As many have commented above, there is plenty of story line and opportunities for humor even as they attempt to patch things up. Fixing Martin and Louisa sooner rather than later also gives them the opportunity to focus on other funny situations — Al, Bert, Jenny, Mrs. T., Morwenna, Penhale –and, of course, medical humor.

    I’m just hoping that if S7 is the very last, that they leave us fans with something we can savor for a long time to come. On the other hand, if S7 isn’t the last — I’m always going to be a true fan of this show, and watch it for as long as they produce it.

    PS: The idea for a two hour movie was genius — wish they would do that between the series. Yes, I’m very selfish for my Doc. Can’t get enough. And love this blog for all of the well-written and thought provoking posts/comments. Cheers.

  10. Post author

    Karen, thank you for your comments and compliments. I agree with everything you’ve written. If MC is tired of the “will they, won’t they” theme, they should stop having Louisa choose to leave as the answer to any marital/ couple difficulty, realize that being married is filled with rough patches mixed with lots of good times where the two of you care about each other and your child(ren), and address her own psychological issues. Both of them need to put work in to change how they tend to react and those scenes could be very charming, amusing, and stretching for the actors.

    I still have several more posts I’m working on, so please keep checking back. I’m away this weekend and won’t have time to write, but I am always thinking about what I plan to write and making notes. This show is very thought provoking and I love analyzing it.

  11. Roxanne

    Couple counseling could offer some funny situations or “activities” that are assigned. I think Martin being given an “assignment” has comedic potential!

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