Not the mother-in-law's fault

While Ashley Cole claims that his mother-in-law's presence put a strain on his marriage, Henry Green describes how he lives in happy harmony with his.

I may have to break off suddenly while I am writing this. I have got a lot to say about the presence of mothers-in-law in the matrimonial home (which Ashley Cole is now feebly and implausibly blaming for the breakdown of his marriage to Cheryl). But, at any moment, my own mother-in-law could knock at the door and wander into this room to ask if I would like a cup of tea and a slice of her wondrous, home-made, fruited bran loaf. Then she'd see what's on my screen. I'd rather she found me looking at internet porn.

Like Ashley and Cheryl, my wife and I (and our children) live with my mother-in-law. Unlike the Coles, however, our domestic ménage did not come into being because the mother-in-law moved in after the husband had been up to no good. She came with our active and enthusiastic agreement when, after six years of widowhood, she finally decided to sell the house that had been the family home. Then she put a substantial sum into our property and paid for an extension to be converted into a self-contained flat.

We all share the definite intention that this should be her last home, and that she should be with us to the end. This extremely happy arrangement, which everybody greatly enjoys, is very unlikely to be the root cause if our marriage should ever fail. In fact, it's one of the elements that bind my wife and me indissolubly together. I certainly couldn't face the horror of having to explain to my mother-in-law that I had broken my marriage vows, as Ashley so sordidly has. Ritual disembowelment would be more desirable.

According to friends, Ashley now says that he and his wife "haven't had room to breathe", and he complained that his mother-in-law "took her daughter's side in everything".

"We couldn't even have a proper row," he said.

Those shortcomings do not arise in our set-up. My mother-in-law's flat is attached to our house but consists of entirely separate rooms. She is more like an immediate neighbour than a presence in our house. If she takes her daughter's side in everything, then they keep it to themselves. I have never heard her views on our relationship, and I am pretty certain that she will never have heard us have a row – primarily because she is as deaf as a doorpost. Or perhaps she is just pretending for diplomatic reasons.

Apparently, Ashley is now complaining that his mother-in-law's presence in their (nine-bedroom) marital home put a crimp in the Coles' sex life. Cheryl would stay up watching television with her mother while he went to bed. "It's a bit of a passion killer having your mother-in-law in the house," he said. Is this actually what he felt? My own experience is nearer to the opposite. It fractionally heightens the pleasure for me to think that my mother-in-law might come wandering through from her apartment on one of those rare occasions when we've got the house to ourselves without our children. I rather relish the sideways look she sometimes gives me, as if to say "I do, as a matter of fact, fully understand what you are doing with my daughter". And I feel quite proud of the fact that, from time to time, she is completely right.

Surely all parents like that their children are enjoying the pleasures of married life, and want nothing more than to keep out of the way and let them get on with it? We don't know why Joan Callaghan, Cheryl's diminutive mother (known as "the pocket rocket") thought it might help her daughter's marriage if she moved into the Coles' house but keeping the couple from coupling certainly won't have been among her intentions.

In any case, before he goes off and marries again and acquires yet another mother-in-law, Ashley should learn from the old joke about the two High Court judges dozing in armchairs in their club after dinner. One asks the other: "What do you regard as a reasonable penalty for bigamy?" And the other peers over his spectacles and hems and haws for a second before answering: "It's two mothers-in-law, isn't it?"

(C) The Telegraph Group London 2010

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