Liz and Tom* first met when they were 18 and both about to start at the same university – their parents were friends and suggested that they make contact so they would have a familiar face in a new city. Within a few weeks of term starting, they had fallen for each other, and spent the next two years together.
However, during the lead up to their final exams, they went their separate ways. After university finished, they both married other people, started families with them, and moved abroad. In hindsight, they recognise that they got married to these other partners a little quickly, dismissing the reservations that their family and friends had. Eventually, both marriages broke down.
Liz and Tom made their ways back to the UK, where they reconnected after almost 20 years. They realised their stories in the meantime had been quite similar, and remembering happy times at university, wondered whether they might be a good fit for each other again.
There were many more things to consider this time around, however, not least the fact that there were nine children to think of; Tom came with three and Liz with six, all aged between five and 15. They had to be realistic about the practicalities of combining families, and how hard it would be to trust someone again after being hurt before, although it helped that they already knew each other.
They went into this marriage with their eyes open, and they resolved to do their best. Liz said, “we had to be really certain this was it”. Having realised how important it is to listen to your family’s thoughts about your partner, they were delighted to have the full support of their siblings, parents, and cousins. This warm-hearted reception on both sides was very welcome.
Liz and Tom got married six months later, and thus began the busy period of life Tom describes as “terrific perpetual motion”. They both commuted long distances for work. Then there was the happy surprise that they were going to have a baby together, bringing the total number of children to ten! She acted as a catalyst for the family dynamics, helping bring everyone closer together.
Even through all this busy period, they determined that every Thursday night they would go for a drink together, even if it was just to the local pub around the corner. They knew it was important to get out of the house, just the two of them, and have time together to talk.
They knew it wouldn’t be this busy forever, and as the children grew up (their youngest is now 18 and attending the same university they did!) life got more relaxing. In their “retirement”, they have bought a bookshop together, which they have run for over ten years now. They say this is a lot of fun and has given them more time to talk about their love and affection for one another.
Reflecting on their 25 years of marriage, it hasn’t always been easy – they remember even recently a particularly difficult time where they both had parents nearby who were unwell, and later passed – but it is clear that they are deeply in love: “Of course I think he is charming and fun and has a great sense of humour”, says Liz, “but ultimately it is our shared values and goals that keep us together. We’re a team.” Tom agrees, saying “When things get tough, it’s Liz I want by my side.”
Tom and Liz first started volunteering for Explore out of curiosity, then out of an intention to do something good, and they keep coming back because they enjoy it! They are always really impressed by the perceptive questions the students ask. They say the car journeys on the way home, where they talk about the discussion they have had with the students, are some really special times for them as a couple.
*Names have been changed throughout to protect the confidentiality of the family