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Comment > Golden Couples: Karl and Susan by Kate

You should never take anything for granted, and Susan Kennedy learnt this the hard way recently when she separated from her husband Karl. In thirty years, they’ve overcome trials that could have caused even the strongest of relationships to break and, I for one, thought they could survive anything. For a couple that has seen its way through affairs, amnesia and erm...Africa, this latest crisis should have been a walk in the park. But, for now, the Kennedys are no more and as they head their separate ways, I take a look back at those crucial moments in the relationship and consider what’s next for one of the show’s favourite couples.

After meeting and falling in love at University, Karl Kennedy and Susan Smith married young, choosing to have their wedding before either had graduated. Over the next few years, Susan gave birth to three children – Malcolm (Mal), Elizabeth (Libby) and William (Bill), and set aside her teaching career to raise them. Karl began his career as a GP in the small country town where they lived, and eventually came to take over the practice. But when the children were in their teens, the Kennedys were forced to exchange their rural home for a life on Ramsay Street as rumours spread that Karl was responsible for the death of a patient.

Through becoming involved with projects such as local drama society productions, Susan grew content in her new surroundings, so when Karl confessed to longing for another child, she immediately dismissed the idea as it would undoubtedly mean giving up her newfound freedom and prevent the return to teaching she’d been considering since the move. After discussing the issue further, Susan agreed to have a baby with the condition that Karl quit his job to take care of it – an idea that Karl himself thought ridiculous. Massive arguments between the pair ensued but they eventually backed down and settled their differences, and Karl went some way towards healing the rift when he arranged for Helen Daniels to produce a painting of the three children, which he presented to Susan on her birthday. A birthday outing with the family was enough to make Karl realise how lucky he was, and he told Susan he no longer felt the need for another child, as he already had everything he wanted in her and the kids.

The marriage was tested again soon after Susan accepted the chance-of-a-lifetime offer to chaperone Brett Stark on a trip to Kenya. While she was away, Karl spent increasing amounts of time with Kate Cornwall, a patient who was suffering from an incurable disease. When Kate decided to leave Erinsborough to spend her final days with her parents in Cairns, Karl realised how much she had come to mean to him and when she went to kiss him goodbye, he got caught up in the moment and kissed her back. A few weeks later, after Susan had returned, Karl got news that Kate had died. He took time to come to terms with his loss and, feeling shut out, Susan confronted him as he made preparations to travel to the funeral. Hurtfully, he accused her of being unable to understand how he felt at losing a patient, before eventually conceding that he had had feelings for Kate. He assured Susan that he was entirely committed to her, but this did little to put her mind at rest and the tension had not dissolved by the time Karl left.

On his return, Karl remained distant, and upset Susan by forgetting that it was Valentines Day. When the situation came to a head with a heated argument, Susan stormed out of the house to Chez Chez where Karl later found her and began to open up. He assured Susan that she and the children were the only things that mattered to him and both agreed that they would make the effort to repair their marriage.

Unfortunately, the next time Karl strayed, the repercussions were to be much more serious. Having accepted a job as principal of a school in Wangaratta, Susan was spending the week away from her family, returning home only at weekends. While she was away, a growing attraction between Karl and his receptionist Sarah Beaumont was allowed to develop. As he comforted her following her break up with Matt Compton, they kissed. Realising what a terrible mistake he’d made, Karl tried to distance himself from Sarah, but she grew fonder, before finally admitting that she was falling in love with him. Karl was forced to explain that, although he was attracted to her too, there was no chance of a relationship as he was committed to Susan. Sarah coped badly with the news and decided to leave Erinsborough, but when Karl heard of her exit, he took it upon himself to track her down, uncomfortable with being responsible for her fleeing her home. He caught up with her at a caravan park and managed to convince her to return, and on the way home they stopped for dinner. As Karl had had wine with his meal, he decided it would be best for them to stay over, in separate rooms, and drive home in the morning. But as they set out for Erinsborough, and the wedding of Philip Martin and Ruth Wilkinson, the car broke down and they arrived late.

When Jarrod Rebecchi, who knew of the kiss that Karl and Sarah had shared, heard that Karl was away for the night, he immediately jumped to the conclusion that Karl and Sarah were resuming their affair, and let this slip to Billy - who then took on the unenviable task of breaking the news to Susan. At the wedding, Susan acted coldly towards Karl, who simply assumed she was angry with him for being late. It wasn’t until he arrived home and was confronted by Billy that Karl realised his secret was out. Susan was furious at Karl’s admission that he had kissed Sarah and slapped him forcefully across the face, before throwing him out of the family home. The arrival of an old friend of Karl and Susan’s, Martin Chester came as a blessing in disguise. Martin, who had once carried a torch for Susan, comforted her over the break up of her marriage, and she was clearly flattered by the attention. But after they kissed one night, Susan realised that her heart was with Karl and decided she wanted him back. Eventually, he moved back in.

When Sarah became engaged to Dr. Peter Hannay, Susan was relieved to finally put the past behind her, and agreed to attend the wedding. On the day of the ceremony, Susan and Libby set off for the church, leaving Karl to follow on behind. When Sarah’s transport to the church failed to show up, she was forced to ask Karl for a lift, as he was the only person who hadn’t already left for the wedding. Although Susan and Libby were visibly shocked by the sight of Karl and Sarah arriving at the church together, they were very understanding once the situation was explained to them. However, when Karl went to wish Sarah good luck before the ceremony, they kissed passionately. The wedding went ahead and Sarah and Peter left Erinsborough, but the strain on the Kennedy marriage remained. When Susan suggested they see a marriage guidance counsellor, Karl agreed and things between them noticeably improved.

On the night of a charity calendar launch, Susan slipped on some spilt milk and hurt her head. When she didn’t show up at the launch, Karl went looking for her and on hearing of her accident, took her straight to the hospital where she was given the all clear. The next morning, however, Susan woke up and remembered nothing of the last thirty years of her life. Finding herself in a “strange” house, she made her way out into the street where Stephanie Scully saw her and phoned for Karl to come and make sure she was alright. When Karl arrived, Susan didn’t recognise him and ran away. It was only when Libby appeared that she began to respond (due, in part, to Libby’s resemblance to Susan’s sister Carmel) and agreed to be taken to hospital. There, she claimed she was 16 years old and that the year was 1972. Doctors diagnosed Susan with retrograde amnesia.

All attempts by Karl and Libby to jog Susan’s memory only served to upset and infuriate her, and once she was left alone, she went in search of her parents and more familiar surroundings, and stumbled across Erinsborough High’s 70s-themed disco which confused her further as - although she recognised the fashions - the students were referring to her as ‘Mrs. K’. It was only when she caught sight of herself in a mirror that she realised there was no other explanation and that what her family had told her must be true.

Susan endured several months of counselling, but nothing could help her remember her life with Karl and, worryingly, she had no desire to. Instead, she channelled her energies into finding her childhood sweetheart Craig Benson and set off to his farm without telling anyone where she was going. She was declared missing and Police even suspected Karl of her murder. Three weeks later, she returned to Erinsborough with Craig and proceeded to tell Karl that she was moving to the country. However, Craig felt uncomfortable at coming between Susan and her family, so he told her he was leaving without her and suggested she give Karl a chance. Susan had no choice but to take his advice. She remained distant towards Karl and spent most of her time with Libby’s husband Drew who made attempts to talk her through her life in Ramsay Street without pressuring her to remember anything. In time, Susan began to experience flashbacks – the first being her wiping a blackboard, followed by Libby as a child, and Drew holding Ben. Eventually, Susan became more accepting of Karl and even developed an interest in his University band, ‘The Right Prescription’. But just as it seemed they were getting closer, Susan suffered another flashback – and this time, the memories weren’t so happy. She saw herself slapping Karl and was confused as to why that would have happened. Consequently, Karl had to explain all regarding his affair with Sarah, and Susan was angry that she had been given an edited version of her life. She made the decision to divorce Karl and sought legal advice from Tim Collins. She then proceeded to lease a flat on Bennett Street, but when she returned to No. 28 to collect a few of her things, she experienced a flashback which was a lot more pleasant than her last. It was of her first time with Karl. Karl walked in during the flashback and heard her say that she loved him, but Susan belittled the importance of this development. Nevertheless, Karl asked her to mention it to her counsellor, just in case it was significant, and was devastated when Susan confessed that although she had a vague memory of being in love with him, she didn’t feel that way anymore. However, she did seem to soften towards him after that and the relationship gradually improved. Susan even offered to accompany Karl to his annual medical ball.

Tragedy struck the family when Drew died after falling from a horse during a visit to his hometown of Oakey, and Karl was left with the task of comforting Libby, as Susan still felt unable to be there for her daughter. Gradually, Susan became more aware of her place in the lives of her family and began to see more and more sides of Karl’s personality that she liked. One evening, whilst looking after Ben for Libby, Karl and Susan shared a kiss, and Susan agreed that they should start seeing each other again. She eventually moved back in, but into Billy’s room, and was closely followed by Libby and Ben. When Karl asked Susan to remarry him, she happily agreed. The ceremony was held at Lassiters hotel, on the day of their wedding anniversary and, amazingly Susan regained her memory as she delivered her vows. On the evening of the wedding, however, the ‘newlyweds’ were brought back down to earth by an unwelcome blast from the past. Karl answered the phone and heard Sarah’s voice at the other end, causing him to hang up and tell Susan it was a wrong number. But the next time the phone rang, it was Susan who answered. Realising that it was Sarah who had phoned earlier, she lied that Karl wasn’t there. Karl assured Susan he had no idea why Sarah was ringing him, so Susan made him phone her back and he discovered that she was in need of a reference and that the call was perfectly innocent. Susan attempted to make light of the situation, and make Karl see that she didn’t have a problem with him writing Sarah’s reference, by making some adjustments and including details of a drinking problem and bad timekeeping. Unfortunately for Susan, Karl didn’t read the reference before he put it in the mail, and was furious when Susan confessed. A few days later, Sarah had her revenge by sending several bags of manure to the house.

When Susan bet Karl that he couldn’t go for two whole weeks without having a drop of alcohol, she had no idea what repercussions it would have. When Karl had a few drinks at a medical conference and then went to pick Susan and Libby up, they came across a police checkpoint where Karl was breathalysed and charged with drink driving. And although he was also faced with a ban, he decided to keep this from Susan and Libby and only told them of the fine. But during an argument, Karl lost his temper and blurted it all out to Susan. She was shocked, not only over the incident itself, but also that he had kept things from her. They put it down to stress and Karl vowed to give up alcohol. At the court case, he was banned for six months and his fine was doubled.

When Isabelle Hoyland moved to Ramsay Street, Susan took an instant dislike to her, but Karl was instantly smitten. Following past behaviour, Susan suspected Karl of having an affair with Izzy, and was alarmed to discover that he had skipped a medical conference to spend the day making chocolates with her and then lied about it. Then an anonymous note came through the door asking Susan if she knew what her husband was up to. Susan confronted Karl about Izzy and felt terrible when it was revealed that Sky Mangel had posted the note after hearing Izzy call someone ‘Doctor Love’ on the phone. Susan was forced to apologise – to Karl, and to Izzy.

A couple of weeks later, Karl whisked Susan off to their old hometown of Greendale for the weekend, but once there, he was reminded of his dissatisfaction with life when he met up with the successful GP who had taken over his old practice. With Susan thinking he had gone for a jog, Karl went to the local pub and had a few drinks, before Izzy appeared. Karl feared she’d tell Susan of his drinking but when he discovered that Izzy was in Greendale with her young lover Jack Scully, the two agreed to keep each other’s secrets.

But, one evening, Susan arrived home early to find Karl finishing a bottle of red wine. What bothered her most wasn’t the alcohol consumption, but the fact that he felt he had to keep it from her. Karl told Susan that it was the first time he had fallen off the wagon and she calmed down leaving Karl relieved that he could now enjoy a glass of wine in her company. But Jack bumped into Susan in the Coffee Shop and mentioned that he’d seen Karl in the pub in Greendale. Susan stormed home to confront Karl and, flustered, he knocked over the decanter on the cabinet. Susan realised it wasn’t scotch in the decanter, but tea – which Karl had filled it with after drinking all the scotch. The couple arranged for Karl to attend counselling sessions, but Karl omitted to tell Susan that the first hadn’t gone well - due to his insistence that he didn’t have a problem – and allowed her to think he was attending the sessions when he was in fact holding secret rendezvous with Izzy, and confiding his deepest feelings in her.

When Susan found out that he had not been attending the counselling, and Lyn had voiced her concerns, Susan had no choice but to confront Karl. This time, he admitted that he had a problem – telling her that he was unhappy with his life. Susan immediately assumed that his problems lay with his career, so was devastated to hear that he was also unhappy in his marriage. Karl assured Susan that he wasn’t going to leave her and agreed to go to marriage guidance counselling. Susan seemed content with this and set about organising a family get-together in Adelaide, hoping that Christmas with the family would be just what Karl needed. But, when she found Karl’s gift for her – an expensive watch – she realised that they were just trying to buy their way back into each others affections and decided to make the trip alone. Karl took off to a café to clear his mind and, whilst there, he took his wedding ring off and placed it on the table. When he received a call telling him that Harold Bishop was seriously ill, he accidentally left the ring on the table as he rushed off to the hospital.

While Susan was away, Karl took little time to pine for her and instead revelled in his newfound freedom by dancing around the house in his underwear and arranging to meet old friends for drinks. When his drinking partner followed Izzy’s friends out of Lou’s Place, Karl and Izzy were once again left alone and, after a few drinks, they stumbled out of a taxi and into No. 28, witnessed by a shocked Lyn, who was up giving Oscar a night time feed. Someone else who was suspicious of Karl’s behaviour was his son Malcolm, who surprised Karl by turning up unexpectedly. He followed Karl as he left the house one evening and came across he and Izzy sharing a cosy drink. The next morning, he furiously demanded that Karl tell him where he had been and Karl lied that he had been with a colleague. Later realising that he had failed to pull the wool over his son’s eyes, Karl confessed to no longer loving Susan.

When Susan returned she was hopeful for the future – sure that the time apart had helped, but Karl remained distant towards her and when Malcolm had returned to London, he asked for a separation. Again, Susan insisted that counselling was the way to go and Karl obliged her by attending the sessions. The first renewed her hope, as they seemed to make progress, and went home to share a takeaway afterwards. Sadly, that evening, Susan’s attempts to seduce Karl went unnoticed and she went to bed alone as Karl fell asleep on the sofa. At the next counselling session, Karl told her that he didn’t love her anymore and she was heartbroken.

Unsure of where she stood, Susan approached her counsellor and Izzy, both of whom were intent on making her realise that her marriage was over. The next time Karl came home, Susan asked him to leave. Steph, Lyn and Lil rallied round in Susan’s hour of need and helped to raise her spirits momentarily but, once they’d left, Susan fell asleep on the sofa and woke to a catalogue of disasters as a cupboard door came off in her hand and her car developed a flat tyre. Having managed to bite her lip until now, Susan couldn’t resist a dig at Isabelle later that day. She told Izzy that – of the two women – she was the winner, as although she had lost her husband, she at least knew how it felt to love someone that deeply and to raise a family with them, implying that this was something Isabelle herself would never experience.

Since the separation, it’s Susan who appears to have suffered most, with Karl embracing the single life. Though a new look has boosted her confidence, it’s clear that she has not given up hope of a reconciliation. But with Karl still on a quest for happiness, it could be a long time before this happens – if it happens. I just hope that - when Karl finally figures out what it is that makes him happy – it’s Susan. And that, by then, she’s still prepared to take him back.