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How To Have a Perfect Marriage is writer Nicholas McInerny's autobiographical drama about a gay man who comes out after 19 years of marriage. This five-part drama can be heard from Monday 12 August.

Radio 4 Drama How To Have a Perfect Marriage

I’m Nicholas McInerny and the writer of How To Have a Perfect Marriage.  I was married for nearly 19 years, with two children, before I Came Out at 45. My children were 16 and 12 at the time.

Obviously this was a huge transition in my life. I was caught between two great forces. One was the overwhelming need to be authentic, the real person I felt I had to be. The other was the terrible knowledge of the pain I was going to cause to people I cared about most.  Looming over all of this was the elephant in the room – the undeniable fact that I was gay and could no longer avoid it.

After I Came Out I realized I wasn’t alone. There were lots of other ex-married men who were gay and a strong support network for all gay married men, whatever their status. I also discovered this fascinating organization in America called the Closed Loop, which promoted another model where, in order to preserve stability in a marriage, and with the wife’s consent, the husband is allowed contact with a single gay man. A very modern kind of ménage a trois!

Having left my wife and also had my first significant gay relationship, I eventually found myself with someone I was very deeply in love with. This gave me the courage, along with sufficient time and distance, to reflect on what had happened. Naturally it was something I wanted to write about. It felt timely and relevant, and not just as a gay issue. I believe it touches on all kinds of long term relationships where the desire for commitment and security struggles with the need for adventure and self discovery.

Three years ago I was introduced to Mel Harris of Sparklab Productions and we started a conversation about how to approach the subject. We quickly agreed it should be told from the wife’s point of view – our main character, Karen. After all, it was she that was being confronted by a huge change in her life over which she had no real control, but had to come to terms with. We wanted Karen to have a strong voice which caught the impact of what was happening to her – raw and real and honest. We also wanted to try and capture the great conflict that lies in the heart of all of us – our imagined ability to react decisively and rationally whilst dealing with those things that strike deep into our very being – messy and confused and volatile. Above all I wanted to try and depict Karen as not being a victim, and to show her having choices too.

Actors Julia Ford and Greg Wise recording on location

I found this both the easiest and most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Sometimes I felt like I was transcribing my life, as conversations with my ex-wife captured every accusation, assertion and plea in those agonized attempts to be brutally honest. They brought up powerful emotions of shame, guilt, entitlement and self-loathing -  and finally self-acceptance. A great example of that is the final scene where Karen first gets to meet Tom, who wants to be her husband’s lover.  I felt physically sick writing that scene and yet it sprung fully formed onto the page, needing no revisions.

We always knew, right from the star,t that we would get a strong reaction to this subject.  Mel and I were lucky to thrash out what we felt over the drafts I wrote, but even when we started recording with our wonderful cast - Julia Ford as Karen and Greg Wise as Jack - we’d often find ourselves in passionate debate.  Should Karen chuck Jack out? Is it really possible to love more than one person? Does sex mean something different to men than women?

Julia and Greg take a break from the drama

What I realized was that in moments of great personal intensity we naturally fall back on our instincts, and yet in the shifting sands of emotions, even those instincts become deeply unreliable, even alien. And that’s where Karen finds herself. Jack’s revelation about his sexuality doesn’t just provoke her need to find some certainty in her marriage. It becomes her struggle to find the language necessary to articulate that need for certainty – the right way to speak her truth.

I’m delighted with what Mel has produced.  I’ve written over 30 radio plays and this is the one I’m most proud of. I really hope it will speak not only to people in the same situation but all couples in a committed relationship dealing with what is the only real constant in our lives - change. 

Julia Ford and Greg Wise on location

We’re led to believe there is only one kind of marriage. What I’ve discovered through my own experience is that there are many kinds of marriage being successfully negotiated up and down the country.  But that in order to happen, it requires a degree of absolute honesty and willingness to communicate, that we as human beings often seem to find more difficult than the idea of monogamy.

Nicholas McInerny

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Listen to How To Have A Perfect Marriage

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by Hilary

    on 26 Aug 2013 07:51

    I only caught a few minutes of the play whilst driving and would love to download and listen to the whole play. It is no longer available on I player. Is there any way of downloading it?

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by md

    on 19 Aug 2013 22:16

    I have not yet had the opportunity to listen to this play, but I am so pleased that this has stimulated awareness and discussion on this " modern phenomenon".
    I have to say though that I get extremely tired of listening to the bleating of the "GAY" voice justifying their actions, and clinging to the old story of having to live their lives in secret.
    Aloyalheart is the perfect example!
    How shallow to imagine that our "true hurt" comes from knowing that we cannot compete with our husbands wanting another man! For goodness sake! Have YOU ever gone through childbirth? When you have borne children with a man you love and know very intimately, struggled through a long and often difficult marriage, the true hurt is when your husband can simply wipe all that away and say; "sorry mate, i'm Gay and i'm off!"

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  • Comment number 17. Posted by Dr Sean

    on 18 Aug 2013 13:37

    A sensitive and beautifully acted drama. I could relate very closely to the storyline as it mirrored my own coming out journey very closely. In my experience closed loop relationships are generally a transition phase. In my case it very soon became unsustainable to my then wife and my boyfriend, though I think the children probably benefitted from the continuity it gave them in that phase. Ultimately though it has been to all our benefit to end the marriage, my ex-wife to find a lovely partner and for me to marry my boyfriend! We have a great relationship with each other and have formed an extended, blended family which allows everyone in it to be authentic to themselves AND be part of a loving family. Well done Nicholas for producing such a thought provoking piece of writing.

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by A N Other

    on 17 Aug 2013 15:40

    Why does Jack want to make his marriage "work"? What does he even mean by this phrase? I'm not sure that it's ever made clear. Is it because he loves Kate? Is he selfishly seeking to assuage some form of guilt? And what about Tom's motivation - we know he 'gave up' the promiscuous gay scene, but having a relationship with a married man (whose stated intention is to stay married) is not his only option. At the end, poor Kate appears to reach a state of acceptance - but of what? Of the fact that Jack is gay, or of his determination to take a lover?

    Ultimately, these are not criticisms of a play which I found to be very well-written, sensitive, and extremely listenable. I do have reservations regarding some of the notions that under-pin the closed-loop or polyamorous relationship depicted here. The playwright's observation of a potential contradiction between communication and intimacy is valid. But surely the type of communication required in an instance such as this can only evolve when both partners are equal. The power-balance between Jack and Kate is not clear - Jack (who takes trips to foreign conferences) appears to be the wage-earner, while Kate is described as a stay-at-home "yummy mummy" whose sole employment appears to be managing the logistics of family life, walking the dog, doing yoga and meeting friends. She does not appear to have any immediately useful job-skills, hence her final comment about the possibility of 'retraining'.

    Communication alone is not enough. We are usually poor witnesses to our own motivations; a self-centred and manipulative individual is likely to be a good communicator - they rely on these skills to attain their own ends. If their partner is emotionally or financially vulnerable then that partner is unlikely to be able to be sufficiently assertive when seeking to communicate their own needs. It would be interesting to speculate on how differently Jack and Kate may have approached this situation had Kate been more obviously Jack's financial equal (or even his superior).

    My feeling is that the proposed solution to a dilemma such as Jack's is only likely to 'work' for a very small number of materially secure well-educated middle-class couples who have the capacity to be financially independent of each other (i.e. an infinitesimally tiny fraction of 1% of the couples who might ever face this sort of dilemma). The most obvious 'third party' in a relationship should be a couples-counsellor, long before a 'closed loop' or other polyamorous arrangement is discussed.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by sunny15

    on 17 Aug 2013 07:08

    'Also,given the statistics that 90% of marriages dissolve once a husband has come out to their wife, most men don't want to gamble with those odds.'
    So it's OK to hide behind your straight wife/husband instead of being honest? These secret gays give their partners no option to live their own lives. Far better to divorce however painful (and I have been through it and may never recover however hard I try as I believe marriage is for life) yet I would not wish to stay with someone who didn't love me as I truly deserve to be loved.

    'But it is a fine line, there was no lie told, one is not lying when one doesn't say that he/she thinks or feels.'
    It is worse than a lie, it is being thoroughly dishonest not just with yourself but with the person you profess to love most in the world. In an honest relationship, yes, he/she DOES say how he/she thinks or feels, even if it may be painful to the other person. You appear to know very little about honest loving relationships, I feel.

    'The damage to the wife's self esteem doesn't come from the so called lies. The true hurt comes from the wife not being able to compete and fight back.'
    Yet again you are wrong. The damage and pain comes from the lies, betrayal, deceit as well as the knowledge that you cannot compete because you don't have a pxxxs, and the dreadful belief that one is not sexually desirable.

    'A closed loop relationship is an option for some men, some couples, not all. But it beats many other alternatives.'
    I personally find your closed loop group an aberration. This so-called 'solution' means that the straight partner is complicit with the gay one, and if he wants he can stay hiding behind the marriage to all intents and purposes. It doesn't beat the only true alternative which is divorce, even when young children are involved - why should they be party to such deceit? - and the straight partner free to find someone who truly loves her/him as she deserves.

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by aloyalheart

    on 16 Aug 2013 20:00

    MJRo, you wrote it is OK to be gay in 2013....this is very true and it is about time, but the generation that is facing these challenges did not grow up in this generation. I, for one, was born in a rural town in upstate ny in 1960. The town was composed of farmers, truckers, red necks, it was not new york city. I tried to come out to my mother when I was 16 and she cried, my father later almost disowned me (rest his soul). So many of us in that generation only wanted to be normal like every one else. Getting married was almost expected. Plus, you also need to remember the role of churches in the 60's, 70's and 80's, most churches taught homosexuality was a sin and dis-ownership of the church and god would happen. Society played a huge role in this twisted circle. I wish I had not lived for years in that lonely, dark, unhappy closet.

    As far as your sarcastic remark, no there is no fee to join the group. Excludes women, yes, it is a man's group, there are other groups available to and for women that are married to a gay or bi man. And you mentioned secretive, when my wife left me, she didn't tell me she was planning on it, it was a secrete, she gave her employer two weeks notice, she walked into our home and told me the marriage was over and walked out the door. Do you tell your mate every thing you think and feel? I wouldn't be so fast to judge until you walk in an other man's shoes.

    Yes there are groups out there to help in the coming out process. But one first has to believe he/she needs help, just like there is AA for those who admit to a drinking problem. Most men do not believe they need or want help (plus it is a secret, our own private closeted secret that no one can find out about). Also,given the statistics that 90% of marriages dissolve once a husband has come out to their wife, most men don't want to gamble with those odds.

    Yes I do agree that lies hurt, 100% in support of that statement. But it is a fine line, there was no lie told, one is not lying when one doesn't say that he/she thinks or feels. Wives normally don't look at there husbands and question them by saying "do you think you might be gay?" or "honey, I saw you cruising that waiter, does he turn you on?"

    The damage to the wife's self esteem doesn't come from the so called lies. The true hurt comes from the wife not being able to compete and fight back. If a man had an affair with an other woman, the wife will many times fight back, she might change her hair color, go out and buy sexy lingerie ( that is if she is going directly to a divorce attorney) but she has no clue who to compete with a man.

    A closed loop relationship is an option for some men, some couples, not all. But it beats many other alternatives.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by brianstheman17

    on 16 Aug 2013 18:48

    I did enjoy the drama but really wanted Karen to say, No ! this is too painful! Jack , if that is what you want then you must leave. Jack probably could not believe his luck that Karen was willing to cover for him, to save him from having to be the reason for the marriage breakdown, telling the children etc. Too much pain in the future for Karen I fear.

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  • Comment number 12. Posted by MJRo

    on 16 Aug 2013 17:39

    I have read aloyalheart's comments and I am in despair .

    What century are we living in? What absolute hypocrisy - being "honest and true to yourself" as a gay man - surely one must also apply the same to those you respect and are in a close and trusting relationship with - to your loved ones male or female!
    A website that excludes women, male and secretive, is there a membership / joining fee for this exclusive secret club any chance?

    It really is OK to be gay in 2013, there is no crime nor the risks and consequences Oscar Wilde faced, especially in the US and UK . It is just some males prefer to keep it secret and keep the little wife in the dark, whilst retaining all the perks of married life. Most wives will accept the gay husband as an equal human being and will respect their honesty, yes they will be confused and hurt, but more than anything they want equal respect, honesty and a choice.
    Nicholas McInerny had the moral integrity to be honest and acknowledge his desires and sexuality , giving his wife a choice before he commenced a relationship.

    Of course "us Ladies" know our husbands don't want to leave us that is why some of them lie and cheat and cover their track to preserve the bits they like and want to keep whilst at the same time justifying it to themselves about the need to be whole........It is their personal loss they fear
    There is tremendous support out there to help men and women come to terms with their sexuality and will support the coming out process. At the same time these organisations stress thee need to be for honest with others not just self and to accept if you do come out to a partner they have a choice as well.
    It is the lies that hurt most and do the most damage to a wife's self esteem.

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  • Comment number 11. Posted by MJRo

    on 16 Aug 2013 16:10

    A brief and accurate snapshot of a painful and confusing situation, but rarely is it this dignified and restrained. Nicholas McInemy's situation and his coming out is I would say rather uncommon.

    Frequently the real pain and hurt comes with the exposure /revelation of the lies and cheating which has been going on, often for years, frequently the partners has been physically engaging..... the partners is found out, as opposed to comes out , and usually prefaces with " I think I may be gay" or "bi sexual". This ambiguity gives false hope to the straight partner but psychologically buys time for the offender.
    Once the secret is out, it becomes the partner's secret ( referred to in the play and by HK) for months this is a slow burning poison. Who wants to acknowledge to others they are not attractive or good enough, so much so their partners has turned to the opposite sex,. How does one face the incredulity of others- that you didn't know or the possibility they may pity you for being that naive and stupid. Partners let their trust override their instincts. The straight partner may have know something was not right; they may have had to deal with the partner's verbal abuse , depression and/or erratic behaviour which could be a manifestaction of the gay or bi partner's guilt and frustration.

    Whilst our society is supportive and offers help for individuals coming out or wishing to explore their sexuality ; counselling, sexual advice , networking, legal and workplace support is widely and freely available .The help for straight partners' is likely to be in the form of a trip to the STD clinic and/or a bemused GP with a prescription for antidepressants. There is only 1 UK website Straight Partners Anonymous ( loads of American ones and literature on the subject) .

    There are hundreds and thousands of straight women and some men struggling alone in this situation.They are attractive, intelligent and articulate individuals who have had their lives shattered and self esteem wrecked. Many do not have financial freedom to make the choices which might help them recover, and so continue to live out a very unhappy existence in an open or closed loop relationship. Many partners stay for the sake of the children.
    Frequently those coming out in later life are professional middle class men, who for years have had the love and support of a wife and the pleasures of family life. Somehow cheating with another man is not considered to be unfaithful, especially if it is casual sex and no money exchanged .
    Once a gay partner steps outside the marriage , despite a desire to keep the good bits........ there really is no going back (the survival statistics are NOT good). He/she has been living with the lie so is better prepared for change and even ready for it. On the other hand, the straight partners has to deal with the an unknown past, present and future. The balance is not even, the hurt greater and recovery very slow and there are big dilemma to deal with. It is akin to a bereavement, the loss of a loved one, a life and a future anticipated, it is long and painful .

    Like a bereavement it is important to focus on happy memories and plan a positive and purposeful future, a different life .Most importantly tell someone you can really trust or contact the SPA . This is NOT your fault whatever your partner might say ; focus on yourself and plan your future , put yourself first.

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  • Comment number 10. Posted by Idcam

    on 16 Aug 2013 15:02

    The antithesis of love is complete and utter self-indulgence,

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