At the end of July, my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. This year, it really feels like a celebration for having survived. This year has been a really hard one for me, mentally and professionally, and thus hard for him. There have been intense highs followed by deep lows. My husband has been there every step of the way with me, with our children, while making sure he stays on track to earn tenure. So wrapped up in my own head, I forget sometimes how hard he works, how trying it must be to be a married to someone who isn’t a good faculty wife, who is full of as much anxiety and dark thoughts as I am.
We are, and have always been, husband and wife. I understand that it’s controversial to call ourselves that, especially in academia, especially in an English department, where I am. Partner, people say, or significant other. But, like other terms that have been used to oppress and repress in the past, I guess I want to reclaim “wife”, redefine “wife” and “husband.” If the role of “wife” is being redefined continually, the role of “husband” too is filled with uncertainty and fluidity. What makes my husband a good husband?
There is no one prouder than my accomplishments than him, and no one who gets more upset at the injustices that I am confronted with in my career. He encourages me professionally while supporting me emotionally. When the opportunity of a lifetime fell into my lap recently, he quickly realized that I needed to take it, even if it meant living apart. Although I was wracked with guilt because I thought he would think I valued my career over him, he never even considered that as a possibility. We may have agreed early in our relationship, before we were married, that we would never live apart, he understood that rules were meant to be broken, especially when the mental well-being of the person he loves hung in the balance.
Our children get more visibly upset when he leaves for his trips than when I leave for mine. They adore him, having spent so much of their early years being cared for by him. He has infinitely more patience with them than I have, and knows when to step in, but also when to step aside. I see mothers fretting about their kids in the care of their husbands’ when I am traveling; I enjoy my trips all the more because I know I don’t have to worry about them. And even if things aren’t going well, he won’t tell me, as not to spoil my time away.
A year ago, our immediate and more distant future seemed set and secure. Embarking on our eighth year together, things are less sure. Academia, especially when you are a dual-career couple, can be hard on a relationship, when the work never seems to leave us, and the stresses of being in higher education seem to multiply daily. On the one hand, we understand what the other is experiencing, facing, and as a team, we approach our careers, mutually putting our own strengths to the other’s advantage. On the other hand, there is no escaping academia, even at home. When I talk about my need to find a better work-life balance, I actually mean “we” because I can’t find the balance without his help, and vice versa.
I am forever grateful that I met my husband 11 years ago. I am grateful for our marriage and our two wonderful children. I am grateful for his influence and support, just as I am grateful that he is someone that I am proud to influence and support in turn. We are making it work, and we will continue to do our best to make it work going forward. Higher education doesn’t do much anymore (did it ever?) to support what we have worked hard to grow.
Here’s to making it work.
Morehead, Kentucky in the US.
Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an Edupreneur. You can visit her blog at College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.