By Jodi Bryant
With four marriages each, including two to each other, and tens of thousands of kilometres of ocean's divide, it's been quite the journey for Alex and Richard, who finally reunited with a ceremony in Whangarei this year.
And this time round, their relationship is a lot more harmonious with the benefit of hindsight, experience and wisdom.
"It was a wonderful time (the first marriage to each other) but it was also quite fraught because I don't think we had the maturity to deal with some of life's problems," reflects Alex, 64. "I think you learn some things are very important in a relationship and it's about not being so self-centred. Rather than getting irritated with each other, perhaps actually hear each other more and be a bit more loving and kind to each other."
Alex and Richard, both from the UK, were divorced with kids when they met in their late 20s. Alex had taken part in a 'life changing' university course that Richard was also on and the participants subsequently formed a social group, which partook in annual family camps.
Alex and Richard met on this camp and noticed a spark. Alex, who had a son and Richard, two daughters, married in a registry office and ten years of marriage ensued. However, after various life struggles typical of that stage in life, such as working full-time jobs, kids, a large mortgage, and not having the support to work on their issues, they separated.
"Friends and family were surprised," says Alex, a social worker. "As, to some people, we had been seen as the 'perfect' couple. One friend commented that we restored his faith in relationships when he saw us together. However, pressure and stress and a lack of knowledge about how to 'fight for a relationship', won the battle."
They married other people and those marriages lasted over 20 years, producing another two children each. But both Alex and Richard agree, in amongst the happy times and family richness, were difficulties.
"We'd both be quick to say we'd never wish those times not to have been, not when there are four beloved adults that came from those relationships. But you feel a sense of failure. There was always some strength in our marriage and I missed his kindness and gentleness."
During their long time apart, they had no contact and, in 1991, Alex moved to New Zealand, where she had lived as a teen and fell in love with the country. It was after her separation, during a visit to England in 2008, Alex decided to attend one of the camps and was reacquainted with Richard and the same friends from the beginning.
"I had got in touch with him first to check if he was ok with me being there, because he may have felt uncomfortable," says Alex. "We caught up there and both got on really well just as friends. Our friendship started from there."
Through this friendship, they rediscovered the mutual kindness and support they had enjoyed with each other in their previous time together.
Years later, Richard's marriage had ended and, with a growing awareness that his love for Alex was still real, he moved to New Zealand where they eventually decided to give their relationship another go.
Alex and Richard, now 67 and retired, moved north to Whangarei and began a new chapter in their lives when they married in February this year in a ceremony that grew from a 'cup of champagne in a tea cup with a slice of cake', to a full marquee at Alex's oldest son's small business in Marua for over 100 guests.
"It's embarrassing having your fourth wedding," confesses Alex. "We were aware that four marriages sounds a little excessive – almost 'flighty' – and you don't want to make a big deal of it. But many of our friends and family were very pleased about us being back together – some think that we should never have parted – and we wanted to make it more of a celebratory occasion.
"Knowing that life is sometimes complicated and disappointing, it is none-the-less a testament to the love and kindness that we have for each other, our seven children and friends and family. It was about every one that was there, the contribution of their very presence and their laughter. There was so much goodwill, so much kindness, it was just a wonderful day."
The wedding played out in front of a backdrop of Totaras, tropical rain, pasture and pigs. And, like most weddings, it wasn't without its unexpected events.
"At one point, the rain hurtled down, the pig on the spit caught fire, due to the rain knocking out the motor, and then the kids' tent blew away and wasn't seen for days. Relatives helped to stop the marque collapsing in the torrential rain by using broomsticks to hold the roof up whilst cascades of water narrowly missing the chairs and dressed top table. The walk-in chiller, where all the food was being stored, almost flooded. It was a contrast to the first wedding all those years ago in a dingy registry office with a meal for a select few in a very smart restaurant.
"Yet, somehow the life and the hope and the love at this wedding was like a rich warm soup on a cold day."
Life today is 'hugely different' to the first time round as a couple, says Alex. "We've learnt stuff but we're still learning. I think we were looking for the answers in the other person when we have to be our own answers and, if you can share that life with someone, that's great.
"I think when you're older, you are more accepting. You don't fight the small battles and have more gratitude for what you do have, rather than what you haven't got. Certainly, Richard and I are full of gratitude for each other. We all want to come home to somebody but perhaps it works best when we learn to come home to ourselves first.
"Our story could be seen as one of failures and disappointments, or you could look through the lens of love, second chances and forgiveness, knowing that nothing in our lives is lost or wasted. The fabric of our lives is sometimes richer for twists and turns."
Adding a humorous take also helps.
"As Richard said: 'They used to save the smaller tier of the wedding cake for the christening, I suppose we could save ours for our funeral'.
"Some things just seem funnier when you're older."