A couple of years ago, my husband Geoff and I were in a bad way in our relationship. As much as we both loved each other dearly and were both committed to our marriage and raising our children together, things just didn’t seem to be working. We were grumpy with and hostile to each other and constantly felt that the continual focus we both had on the relationship was just such hard work. For me personally I was feeling like a failure, because this wasn’t the way I felt a marriage ‘should’ be. Geoff (who has read this blog and is okay with me sharing our story - in fact he publishes my social media posts, so may 'edit' it without me knowing!) pretty much felt that he couldn’t do anything ‘right’ and was constantly trying to live up to an ideal I had of what a husband ‘should’ be. There was no ‘big stuff’ going on like infidelity or nasty secrets; Geoff was and always has been my biggest supporter and cheer leader and I knew how lucky I was to have the most generous, honest, loyal and supportive man as a husband. But it still felt ‘broken’.
This wasn’t new by the way. We had both been ‘tolerating’ a less than ideal marriage for a few years. When I think back to the early days, when Geoff and I were both sooo different to who we are now, we had a great connection, a sparkle and loved just hanging out with each other. But over the years the changing focus in our respective lives meant we both grew in entirely different ways and weren't really compatible anymore. We are completely different people, and that can be a good thing, but in our case, we found ourselves resenting each other, as much as we tried very hard not to. We take our marriage vows very seriously, but it just seemed that the harder we tried the more we hurt ourselves, and quite frankly we were both pretty miserable.
One day in December 2015 after a very honest conversation with a supportive friend I decided that it was time to confront the issue head on. It makes me sick to the stomach when I think of how I felt saying to Geoff that we needed to talk. And what I said was…
“Maybe it’s time to have a conversation about our marriage like we have never had before. Maybe it’s time for the both of us to quit trying so hard, and call it a day”.
Fast-forward to today 21 months down the track, and Geoff and I are very strong as a unit, happily co-habitating and co-parenting our two delicious boys...
Geoff is my rock, still my biggest supporter, the most amazing father to my children, but he is not my husband, he is my ‘wasband’ (sorry Mum, I know you hate this term!). I am not his wife, I am his ‘werewife’. It is confusing for a few people, and we certainly don’t shout it from the roof-tops, but with some very open communication and honesty with each other and some incredible support from relationship coach Lorna Patten, we have found an arrangement that works for us and our family.
Our present situation is not currently considered to be a societal norm and there is no real definition of what it is and what it isn't.
I think society has a long way to go in broadening the definition of marriage or relationships. It still seems pretty much defined as boyfriend/girlfriend, defacto, married, separated, divorced or widowed. And as someone who was transitioning from married to separated, I immediately assumed that one of us had to move out of the beloved family home and set up a second house for the kids. There were interim options thrown around like ‘bird-nesting’, where instead of the kids moving between two houses, both Geoff and I would do the switching, while the kids continued to live at home. ‘But that never lasts long term’, we were told.
We have come a long way however as a society in the last few years by broadening our definition of gender, so why can't we change our definition of marriage? Whereas it used to be gay, straight, bi-sexual and maybe transgender, we now define a broad spectrum of genders including a-gender, bi-gender, bi-curious, cis-gender and gender fluid. There will be some people who roll their eyes at such definitions and wonder ‘how or why the world got so complicated’ but evidence suggests that there are many individuals who now feel that they can identify their gender whereas earlier they could not. Maybe there is now an opportunity to define some new relationship forms.
Lorna really helped both of us challenge the norms and simply change the form of our marriage, and do what worked for us, rather than what ‘everyone else did’ or thought we should do.
Firstly, we moved into separate rooms. Next, we drew up and agreed a handful of guidelines around child care, finances, holidays, Christmas, socialising and dating other people. That all happened without drama.
Then we both got on with living our ‘separate but together’ lives, and over time, it just became ‘what we do’. And now, nearly two years down the track we make pretty good flatmates and co-parents. The energy in the house is way better than it was, and that’s because neither of us are trying to make this something that it’s not.
But what if either of us meets someone else?
That’s the question we are constantly getting presented with. And of course, if one of us meets someone else, then things might get a bit awkward.
Check out this blog by Mark Manson, who I think is bang on with his thoughts on the subject of romantic love. He states that Romeo and Juliet was written as a cautionary tale! Passionate all-consuming love can in some instances wreak havoc, but I think the ideal of it, and society’s obsession with ‘finding the one’ is what's actually harmful. This brilliant blog talks to how we are so pressurised to be ‘happy’ that it can actually contribute to depression. I think our feelings of failure around how our relationships don’t measure up to the movies are another catalyst. The expectation that one person meets many needs is bound to be unfulfilled, particularly over time. Relationships are extremely hard work; it takes something to be in a functional partnership and as much as there are some massive rewards, there are also some big costs. I know more and more people who are simply choosing to remain single and who feel very fulfilled with their life. Selfish? Maybe, but maybe also it is time to wake up to the fact that we have way more choices now in how we live than previous generations.
Laurel’s pop psychology model for ‘partnership love’
I am no expert, believe me, but based on anecdotal evidence of observing relationships over the last 30 years, I am offering my simplistic model. I think that we hook up long term with someone else to fulfill three basic needs and I think most of us get one or two, with some very lucky people getting all three (and I think it can change over time as the relationship grows or withers).
#1 – support for each other.
Being on your own can suck. Having someone beside you, to give you emotional support, to share the responsibilities of parenting and living makes a lot of sense. Someone you can rely on, who is loyal, who has your back and who you can trust.
#2 – companionship and growth.
Sharing interests, discussing ideas, making each other laugh and enjoying doing nice normal everyday things together and special things together. This is where your partner is also your best friend if you are lucky.
#3 – spark and romance.
Not the 'when you first meet' kind (I think that it’s fairly widely accepted that the shelf life on that is generally limited) but the chemistry, energy kind. I think it’s wonderful when I see couples who have still been together for years get a little kick out of seeing each other. Yes, I think you probably have to work at it, but I also think there are some partners that naturally fit better together than others.
If you believe your partner provides you with all three of these, then I think you are super lucky, and I can imagine why you would think that you have found 'the one'. I certainly know a few couples this applies to, but I think it’s rarer than we would like to believe.
If you have two out of three, then I think that’s still pretty good.
Geoff and I are big on #1 but both agree we don’t score highly in #2 or #3. I feel so super blessed to have Geoff as my rock in my life particularly when it comes to our family. And for me, right now, that is totally enough! I get my #2 from amazing friends and communities, and for now have no interest in #3 (a far cry from the romantic idealistic 20 something I once was). We do still drive each other insane, quite frequently, but way less than when we were ‘together’ and separate socialising and holidaying gives both of us enough freedom to balance things out.
So to answer the question, if someone else comes along for either of us, then our arrangement could very well change. I don’t think it would be driven by either of us (I won’t know for sure unless it happens) but there are probably few partners who would be okay with their new boyfriend or girlfriend living with their ex! I do know of some amazing couples who holiday or spend Christmas day with their exes and their respective partners for the children's benefit so never say never.
Our kids are the big winners out of all of this. I do realise kids are resilient, and so many now live between two houses, but we love that we can continue to raise our children in the family home. And it's worthwhile mentioning the pragmatic angle here; our present housing crisis means that there are new configurations of home dwelling, eg over 65’s flatting together. One of the smart reasons to make it work staying together is because there is no way in hell we could afford to live in central Auckland if we had to purchase/rent two properties.
I have questioned my motive for sharing my personal relationship story on this blog, but I think the key message I want to relay is to challenge the norms of what society expects today, particularly in terms of relationships. The last thing I want is for people to see this as ‘an easy way out’ and if you can save your marriage in its original form, then that is fabulous. I do realise that I am very lucky to have a wasband that has the emotional skills to pull this off. In fact Geoff is pretty bloody extraordinary in so many ways and there are just so many cool things about him still being in my day to day life.
I was prepared to ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’ by splitting up our little family unit and I am so grateful that we tried a different version of marriage and it has so far paid off. In a way nothing has changed drastically, it’s simply that we are being super straight with each other and not trying to pretend we are something we are not. In the main, we are significantly happier and more harmonious and that’s the best gift we can give to each other, and our boys!