As I write this first blog, my husband Baz and I are just a few weeks away from getting on a plane in Australia bound for Europe. Although twelve months ago, our adventure very nearly didn't get beyond a conversation. Here's how it went:
“Absolutely not, no.”
My friends would smile if they heard me uttering those three words together in one sentence. I don’t often say “no” outright and I rarely sound definite (although there are exceptions. Witness my creative decisions or tarot readings and you'll hear certainty). But this time I was answering my husband Barry and he'd just announced an exciting proposition at a major transition stage in our lives: we were on the verge of becoming empty nesters as our only son Luke was toying with moving into a share house with friends in the city.
Baz definitely expected me to say yes. I immediately read that on his face when he held an overly long open stare complete with dropped jaw, before recovering and uttering: “What? ... Why?”
“You want me to sail around the world with you?”
“Yes! We love adventuring!”
“In a tiny sailboat?”
“Yes! Just you and me, together.”
“In the middle of an enormous ocean?”
“Yes! Don’t you want to explore unknown horizons?”
Of course I did. And with Barry. But here it was. Crunch time. The moment I’d anticipated for years where I’d tell this man who is undoubtedly my soul mate, that this was the end of the line. Or worse, tell him how I really felt.
It wasn’t that I really wanted to leave him. Even though, through many difficult marital years I'd promised myself that once Luke grew up I’d hightail it to freedom. In truth, I simply didn't want to hurt my husband.
I looked at Baz, who seemed totally perplexed at the direction of the conversation and I really had to steel myself to continue. Because I knew what I had to say would at the least surprise him, and at worst would devastate this man that I loved so much. I also have to admit to being a bit of a coward when it comes to expressing frustration, resentment or hard truths. Yet that was exactly what I was going to have to do if we were to solve this seemingly insurmountable obstacle. But I knew that while we’d both managed to conveniently distract ourselves from our relationship ‘issues’ while we were being full time parents, take Luke out of the picture and then stick us in isolation on a boat in an ocean, those issues would become so massive, I felt scared thinking about them.
Honestly though, in the overall scheme of things our ‘issues’ weren’t massive and certainly not life-threatening. So what were they? Basically, neither Baz nor I like confrontation. We also didn’t have mature skills at addressing and expressing anger. Baz – because he’d come from a family where anger was overly expressed. Myself – because if you’d listened to my mum talking, you would have thought that anger didn’t exist at all. So both of us had come unprepared into our relationship unequipped to deal with the small daily issues, and over time, as both of us buried these emotions, rather than express them and rock the boat so to speak, those many little issues acted like kindling in a forest. During the last couple of years, our issues which had sat just beneath the surface, often flared up with the smallest of a spark. We’d find ourselves bickering as only two fire signs could, hot, passionately, and dramatically.
Rather than spark a blaze, we would often choose to sail quietly around each other in the house, avoiding any deep and meaningful conversations, and sticking to day to day household running conversations.
We weren’t constantly tense, but this was there, sitting between us.
Back to the present and Barry’s question. Overthinking at this point however, would only postpone what needed to be said. So I took a deep breath and just plunged straight in.
“If you think I'm going to live isolated on a tiny boat with you, the way you’ve dealt with your anger and spoken to me over the last 20 years, you can think again.”
Barry’s expression held shock, hurt and dawning understanding as I remained, unmoving, in front of him.
“I need to do this,” he finally replied. “I’ve done the responsible thing for so long. But I can’t continue on this treadmill for much longer. I’m dying inside. I have to go. I’ll do it on my own if I have to.”
That admission made my eyes misty. He was such a dependable, hard working and stoic man who had indeed done his best to meet our financial deadlines and had never faltered in his commitments.
“I do understand love. And you've done your very best. But I can’t be the scapegoat for your anger and frustration any longer.” In my mind's eye I could see him sailing off alone and I knew in my heart I didn’t want that to happen, but I knew deep down I could manage alone and continued with: “So does this mean we're getting divorced?”
“Is that what you want?”
“Don’t you like the idea of learning to sail, making scuba diving videos and travelling the world?”
“Yes, I love it!”
“So what’s your problem?” He looked irritated and sounded impatient.
“I don’t have a Problem,” I snapped back and felt my jaw tighten. I’d so often gone along with his wishes because it had been easier than annoying him. I really had to get a pair of Big Girl Pants.
I recognised that our reactivity to this irritation could quite easily flare into a bush fire between us and after years of knee jerk temper tantrums, it didn’t take long for the heat of a situation to ignite. Fortunately this time I managed to reign in my touchy ego and stay on track.
“Baz, I want us to be able to talk through our problems like grown ups, without arguing about all the other stuff that gets in the way. That's a really big issue that we both need to address. And honestly if I’m not convinced that we can do that, I will not be joining you on that boat. I love you. But I also love me.”
Baz blew out a sigh and said, “Right.”
So that began a series of difficult, bluntly honest conversations which in themselves proved to me how much we both wanted to be together. We both spent many hours of soul searching, sharing and crying and some of those times were mediated by our amazing son. But through those arduous conversations and the learning ground in between where we put in place strategies to allow us to communicate better, something amazing has occurred in our relationship: we are stronger, happier, more demonstrably caring, inclined to laugh and enjoy more genuinely spontaneous intimacy than we have for years.
As I write this, we have just sold our house and most of our possessions and are about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime beginning on the other side of the world from our Australian home. But what I realise is that even though we haven’t bought our yacht yet, it has already given us several challenges – from which we have unlocked gifts - and I am truly grateful that we're on this journey.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, next time I’ll let you know how I faced a fear of dying and why I continued with the challenge even though I wanted to run away.
To watch the video that accompanies this blog click here.
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