I have been told I am lucky to have my husband.
But I did not win him in a lottery.
Michael and I met in our last year of high school. We were friends for over a year before we started going out. I remember why my feelings for him inched across the border of just friends. He was sure of himself, but not arrogant. We never ran out of conversation. He made me laugh.
I kissed him at a service station one night after driving around for hours talking. He kissed me back. I carefully considered my options for another six weeks. And then I chose him over the dying dysfunctional dalliance that had occupied me for the previous couple of years. I chose him over two other Uni boys who had nervously asked me out. I chose him over staying single because I sensed I’d regret not giving us a chance.
For as long as I can remember I never wanted to get married or have children, and I told Michael this repeatedly in the early years of our relationship.
We may have started going out when we were young, but we chose not to shackle ourselves to each other just because it would have been easy. We consciously followed our own paths.
After university we lived at opposite ends of the country for a couple of years. A year of FIFO (Fly In Fly Out) during which Michael worked 28 days west of Mt Isa and flew to Adelaide (where I worked) for his 7 days off. It was hard, but not nearly as hard as the following year of him living in Brisbane and me living in Adelaide. The long distance nearly broke us.
It took those couple of years for me to unclench from my outdated determination never to marry, to recognise it would be my loss to say no to his quiet proposal on our sofa bed one aching night before he headed back to Brisbane from Adelaide.
I knew when I said yes that he was secure enough in himself for us to be co-pilots in life.
When we married eight years after we started going out, our eyes were wide open. He knew he wasn’t getting a wife who would have his pipe and slippers ready for him when he got home from work. And I was never blinded by a desperation to get married and procreate. So, I never set up the toxic precedent of taking on all the housework and mental load.
For the many years I worked in small animal veterinary practice he had dinner and a listening ear ready at the end of my long shifts. The patience, kindness, and strength he showed me in the first thirteen years of our relationship made me reconsider my stance on children. If he hadn’t, I would not have chosen to have any. We didn’t have our first child until six years into our marriage, after we’d travelled together, after we’d each established our careers.
Neither of us could have predicted that parenthood would bring so much more chaos than the usual amount a newborn brings with them into our carefully considered lives.
Some things you don’t get a choice in.
Neither of us chose the episode of Postnatal Psychosis that hit me on day seven, that landed me in the special care unit of a psychiatric hospital while he took our daughter home. And that was just the beginning. We are living the rest of our lives with my eventually diagnosed my Bipolar 1 Disorder.
When people hear about my experience of severe mental illness or even just when I don’t relate to being buried under our family’s mental load, some tell me I am lucky to have my husband, lucky he has stayed, lucky he is so supportive.
I am not Michael’s charity case, and he is not my carer. Him not leaving me doesn’t make him a saint or me lucky.
The survival of our marriage has nothing to do with luck. It has everything to do with making a good choice in each other, and doing the work when things are hard.
This ongoing informed decision making doesn’t confer immunity against a future break up on us, but it does mean we aren’t currently sleepwalking through our marriage or wallowing in decades of resentment borne of drifting along in an uncommunicative, stagnant comfort zone.
I am lucky in many aspects of my life, and I don’t take this for granted.
Among a lot of other luck – I am lucky my husband wasn’t chosen for me and that I am not in a relationship with someone who is violent or coercively controlling. I am lucky my fertility was good when I finally decided I wanted children.
And yes, luck brought Michael and I into the same place at the same time.
But in the 32 years since then it is not luck but many conscious decisions that have led us from the right place at the right time to sharing our lives today.
Your Mental Load = Your Responsibility
The mental load 2.0 : Airing your dirty dishes on socials