This article originally appeared in "Her Magazine", so I encourage everyone to visit Her Magazine to check out this incredible resource.
I sat down to write this article as an attempt to set the record straight – to literally pull back the covers on my marriage. It’s a relationship that to many people defies convention; while for others, it belies plausibility. As an elite athlete, and as an international advocate for survivors of sexual violence, I live a very public life, and it’s a life that I’ve written about and spoken about extensively.
My 28-year marriage to Mary-Anne has been a canvas on which my inner demons have exploded, and writ large. There have been my prolonged battles with drug and alcohol addiction, depression, and more recently, the aftershocks of coming to terms with childhood trauma. And throughout the narrative of this personal journey, I have come across, at least to those at a distance, as someone who has bravely weathered the storm – almost mythically, as though I have enveloped myself in some superhuman cloak of resiliency. But guess what… nothing can be further from the truth, as it in no way sheds light on the unbreakable thread that underlies everything we have travelled through as a couple.
When I first met Mary-Anne, almost 30 years ago, I was not looking for a ‘savior’ or a ‘mother-figure’, and that’s probably a good thing because as it turned out, Mary-Anne is neither of those. Instead, she is the strongest person I’ve ever met. Yes, that’s right… my wife is intelligent, career motivated, and unflinchingly loyal to friends and family, and as her husband, I don’t find any of that intimidating in the least. In fact, all of that inner passion is what I’ve grown to love about her most.
I really take exception to that dichotomous mold that has been pervasive in our society for far too long – an attempt to place women into one of two distinct camps: nurturers and power-seekers. Along with being a patently inaccurate portrayal, it leaves women in an untenable position, one in which they are seen as either ‘weak’ or ‘overly-aggressive’. Although in recent years I may have had more of a public profile, Mary-Anne has had much greater success when it comes to a career, entrusted responsibility, and financial remuneration.
So, what’s it like being the partner of such a well-respected, career-driven corporate maven? For almost our entire marriage, Mary-Anne has been either the sole or primary wage earner, and at times, the ‘adult’ in our relationship, the one who held it all together. Despite all of the cultural and sexist bias borne of my upbringing, I have never felt intimidated or ‘emasculated’ being married to such a powerful, confident partner.
A misconception that derails so many relationships is the belief that one partner’s success comes somewhat at the expense of the other partner – in other words, leaving no air or space for that person to thrive. And this is the point at which I take so much exception to the media and cultural backlash towards women who embrace Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In Movement”. Years of systemic patriarchy is not something that is easily undone, so as a husband, and more generally as a man, I need to be vigilant in reminding myself that my wife, Mary-Anne, is not the exception, but the general rule. When our daughters, wives, and mothers excel in their careers, it in no way is at the expense of men’s success.
The longevity, and I would venture to say ‘the beauty’ of our marriage has stemmed from the complete absence of a power dynamic in our relationship. If you recall during the Financial Crisis, there was a belief that some banks and large corporations were simply “too big to fail” – the entire system was dependent on their weathering the economic storm. What definitely pains me most is knowing that over the years, there have been times when Mary-Anne felt an enormous ‘weight’, the pressure that comes with having to ‘be there’ for our family emotionally and economically – in essence, she had become “too big to fail”.
So, if I were to return to that question, “what is it like being married to a strong woman”, I would have to say that I have been graced by the power of example – the opportunity to be present as the one you love pursues her career with a sense of unencumbered joy and elegant passion. But more importantly, Mary-Anne has given me her unconditional love, and at times, that has entailed giving me space to grieve, to fall apart, and to have the faith to put the pieces back together again. And more broadly, as parents, we are a living example to our son that love thrives when we don’t shy away from the discomfort and messiness of uncertainty.