Harry and I met at a Valentine dance in the crypt of Greenwich Naval College in 1984. I was 19 and he was 23. A helicopter pilot in the navy, he was frequently away at sea, which just made me all the more keen. He proposed a year later, having cooked an ambitious 3 course dinner and I agreed to marry him instantly.
I loved his family and felt very accepted by them but Harry was often distant and seemingly uninterested in me. I sort of felt loved by him some of the time, so his proposal sealed the deal. He MUST love me!
I’ve asked myself countless times, why I glued myself to a man that was emotionally closed?
Not sure I’ve ever really worked out the answer. Maybe he was like my own Father, introverted, highly intelligent, socially awkward but nice and loyal. I decided, somewhere deep in my subconscious that Harry was more of a safe bet than the cocky, confident, flirty guys I met all the time.
We married on the only sunny weekend in June 1986. A classic English country wedding with stacks of bridesmaids, a large marquee and steel band playing in the shade of a huge cedar tree. We left in a helicopter, swooping on our family and friends before disappearing over the horizon to the most glorious first night married.
Married life was pretty good, however I was often really frustrated by the lack of friendship and interest in me.
We moved to Hong Kong to start what was to be a 9 year adventure in Asia; partying , travelling in living the life of Riley as expats. Harry was tricky. He could be unfriendly and sharp if he wasn’t in the mood to be with people. At home I felt cross and lonely a lot of the time because Harry did just him.
We moved to Bangkok 2 years later. And our first daughter Rosie was born. We LOVED her so much and worked well as parents, managing the various routines together. Harry was endlessly attentive, kind and caring with her, which made me so happy. However our marriage, our friendship was dry. The range of conversations that would keep Harry open and friendly towards me was narrowing. So as long as we talked about Rosie and what she needed, we were fine.
Harry was called back to the office in Hong Kong 2 years later, I was pregnant with our second daughter and our relationship was merely functional at this stage. He worked, provided a wonderful standard of living and I loved being a mum and nestled into the role with ease. Harry was always happy to help when asked. Trouble was I had to ask whenever anything needed doing. If a baby was crying for example, he wouldn’t do anything unless I asked! He wouldn’t think to take the girls out to give me a break unless I suggested it, planned it. He would give his attention to the girls in small bursts and then get back to doing his thing.
I felt lonely, frustrated and was becoming more and more closed to him. We were flat mates and co managers of children. We rarely chatted together about anything except the children, there was no cosiness from me and Harry didn’t seem to notice.
Then I fell for someone who started showering me with songs and poems. I didn’t mean to and was certainly not looking for it, but I had a crush on this man, a married vicar!
Desperate and confused I told Harry who didn’t seem at all concerned, especially as I hadn’t slept with him. A friend tried to get Harry to go to counselling because he didn’t seem remotely bothered about his wife being in love with another man!
I didn’t go off with the married vicar, even though our feelings became mutual. I made a conscious decision that to do so would bring disaster on my little daughters. I grieved for a long time.
Resigned to a loveless marriage with Harry, I wrote him a letter. It was a job spec for the position of wife and mother of his children. It went through terms and conditions, hours and perks and ended with: ‘But what I really want is our friendship. Will I ever get it? Who knows. WHO CARES.’
Spelling out my real need for friendship, for relationship, was giving Harry one last chance. Harry read the letter and it struck a chord. He felt sad and sorry and promised that he would do anything to make it better.
The letter was the turning point.
We both did some counselling, attended marriage enrichment courses and things got better. Our relationship would take a hit, but the peaks and troughs became less pronounced. We learnt to talk to each other, being more aware and careful to be kind and not critical. We learnt about “love languages”, shedding light on what makes us feel loved. We both put in effort to work on our relationship and gradually things changed.
25 years and 4 more children on, we continue to work at being kind and attentive to one another, forgiving when things go ‘pear shaped’ and knowing that we are happily married whether it feels good or bad for the rest of our lives.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
- How much do I want to make things better?
- Why would it be good to change the dance and improve our relationship?
- What could I do to help bring about positive change?
Sometimes making small changes can make a big difference in a relationship. “Love Languages” can help you identify the ways you and your partner ‘give’ and ‘receive’ love, which are often different, causing misunderstandings and a feeling of lack of love. Understanding and knowing the Love Language of your partner can help you show them love in the way they need it, and vice versa. Check out Toucan’s Loving Module to learn yours and open up communication in a new way.