Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Modern Love: Caring and sharing with baby on the way

In the final of seven relationship profiles, Natalie Akoorie finds one young couple who believe communication and an equal footing will cement their new life together

Lewis and Clem say communication and friendship are vital to the success of a stable and loving relationship. Photo / Christine Cornege
Lewis and Clem say communication and friendship are vital to the success of a stable and loving relationship. Photo / Christine Cornege

Part 7 of our 7-part Modern Love series


Clementine Benjamin and Lewis Wallace are young, in love, and expecting a baby.

Twenty-five-year-old Clem thought she didn't want children so when she fell pregnant after a few months with Lewis, it was a bit of shock.

To make matters worse, her father did not take the news well, and Lewis' mother became ill with cancer at the same time.

The couple were still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship and life quickly became serious.

But Clem, a horse trainer near Cambridge, says although it was the worst time in her one-year relationship with Lewis, 27, it was a good test of their resolve and commitment.

"It was quite a stressful time but I just stopped answering all my dad's calls and just focused on Lewis' mum, making sure Lewis could be with her as much as possible because she's down in Dunedin," Clem says.

"So there was quite a bit of time apart which was hard ... I had to stay here and look after all the horses. But we were just on the phone every night and kept plugging away at it."

Clem's father has come around to his daughter's unplanned pregnancy and she and Lewis are engaged.

Their baby girl is due late January and it's the beginning of an exciting future, they say.


Controlling influences

At 19, Clem began dating her flatmate, a man 10 years older than her. They lived together in Wellington where Clem was a radio announcer.

But after a while, she realised her partner was a bit possessive, controlling and jealous.

Although his humour was an initial attraction, the laughs dried up and Clem found herself having to defend decisions to go out, or explain who she was talking to and why.

"He was very 'You can't go to any work functions and do all that' and I was very much like 'Well I have to, it's part of my job'. That caused a lot of tension."

Her spontaneous nature meant Clem felt hemmed in because her partner was not a "risk-taker".

"I make decisions and do it, and I found it almost a little claustrophobic, saying 'Let's go do something' and always being told 'No'."

The relationship began to unravel when Clem was in her early 20s. She broke it off a year later than she wanted but says the experience gave her insight.

"You have to stay true to yourself and not try to fit into other people's ideas, because if you're not happy, you can't be happy with someone else."

Clem says her next partner, a man about two years older than her, was "extremely emotional".

Their values were misaligned - he was focused on job security, she was more of a free spirit.

They split the domestic chores equally initially, but he became increasingly lazy.

"I remember moving house (from Wellington to Cambridge) and he just refused to do anything. My dad and my brother had to come help me. It was really strange."

The move was initiated by Clem who decided to set up a horse training business outside Cambridge in 2012.

Her partner said he was happy to move, but when it came down to it, his silent protest revealed his feelings.

The signs were there - he too became jealous, questioning who Clem chatted to on social media.

"And not just in an inquiring way, but in an accusatory way."

And her father didn't care much for him.

She says starting the new business conveniently distracted her from the wall going up between the couple.

"I think I got more and more shut off from it and he just walked in one day and said 'Do you even want to be with me?' and I said 'No, you should leave'. And pretty much two days later that was it."

It taught her not to be with the wrong person for the sake of it, and to keep the lines of communication open.

"If you're unhappy, you need to say something because otherwise it just festers into this horrible environment."

Lewis, an agronomist, agrees. He spent more than six years with a woman before Clem, but was not particularly happy.

The then-19-year-old fell for a Canadian while they were working ski lifts during the winter at Mt Ruapehu.

They travelled overseas for a bit, including living in Canada together, before settling in Invercargill for about three years.

There, Lewis studied and milked cows during his spare time and his partner worked long hours doing shift work. They were like passing ships in the night, and it became clear their goals were markedly different.

"She was quite career-focused and I wanted to get a degree to get a job in the end, but I wasn't really too worried about the end result.

"I think there was a lot of difference because I'm a Kiwi and she's Canadian. There were a lot of cultural differences. We argued a lot."

Lewis wanted to end the relationship about a year before he did but family intervention - his mum thought he should stick it out - prevented him.

His parents split up when Lewis was about 4. His mother has not lived with another partner, while his father remarried. It's had a profound effect on the way Lewis values relationships.

"I think it's turned me the opposite way and I just want to be there for Clem."


Easygoing

When Lewis moved into Clem's house as a flatmate, the connection was instant. "We pretty much started dating the day he moved in," Clem says.

"We went down to the pub that night and then the next day, we went to the movies and then we made each other dinner. It was pretty quick."

Lewis was attracted to Clem's outgoing and friendly personality and says their compatibility - they both like the outdoors and have other similar interests - keeps them happy.

Clem's supportive attitude toward his career is a change from what he was used to.

"I was in a job I didn't like and Clem was just like 'Go and do what you want to do. Quit and we'll be all right'."

"I'm a lot more conscious of what's going to make both of us happy, and not just me," Clem says. "I really care about him so I want to make both of us happy."

She has taken an interest in motorbikes because that's what Lewis is into and vice versa with her love of horses.

"Horses aren't Lewis' thing and I try and involve him where I can. I know it's quite boring for people who aren't horsey, and they don't get it.

"I just make sure if he wants to come along to a show and watch things, that he does and doesn't feel like a complete outsider doing that."

Lewis believes that as the man he should provide for Clem, who is now on maternity leave, and the baby, though Clem says she will be back at work when the baby is 3 months old.

"I would get very bored just being a housewife, I think. My parents are pretty traditional. My mum is a housewife and my dad is the breadwinner. But I don't really think it's like that any more. I enjoy what I do now so I think that helps a lot."

Auckland University associate professor of psychology Dr Nickola Overall acknowledges there are biological differences between men and women that create different propensities for them to engage in traditional gender roles.

She says the danger in acknowledging the different factors which create those roles is that gender inequality has been exaggerated, resulting in different social positions for men and women.

"The inequality that has existed that women have been fighting against is not because of those biological factors that mean we do have to carry and breastfeed the baby, but the degree to which that is socially valued.

"What we think of equality now is both men and women can go out and work and don't have to be a parent, but real equality is being valued for all of the different things that we might do and different choices we might make," Dr Overall says.

"We've made it about social equality and having power - having a career because that was what was offered as being valued - that being outside of the home is valuable; doing what you personally want is valuable."

But she explains that being a parent is just as valuable and not having a career to achieve that is also worthy.

"When we use the word equality we assume it is about men and women doing the same thing but really, equality is about what we're each doing being fair and being valued."


Gender roles

Clem believes in her independence, but realises she is now reliant on Lewis to support her and the baby, at least until she goes back to work.

She's adamant their parenting efforts will be as equal as possible.

"I think it's important for kids to be close to both parents. Everything should be shared."

The only tension over the baby has come from outside sources.

"The name of the child is causing tension because the grandparents are trying to get involved," Clem says.

Lewis: "My dad's remarried and his wife is talking about names, then our parents are talking about names. We've already got a name. It's not their choice."

One thing the couple did share openly was the sex of the baby.

To celebrate the child's impending arrival, they decided to throw a "sex reveal" party.

The couple kept the baby's sex a surprise, even from themselves, before inviting 40 family and friends to their home to reveal whether they were having a boy or girl.

"When we went to get the scan, my mum came with us and the woman told my mum what the sex was and she rang a friend who made a cake," Clem says.

Lewis: "She (Clem) got her friend to make and ice it and inside the cake was the different colour icing depending on the sex of the baby."

"We had no idea until we cut it," Clem adds. "It was real fun."

The third trimester has taken its toll on Clem's energy levels and she says she feels bad that Lewis - who can whip a dinner "out of nothing" - is doing all the cooking.

Dr Overall says couples often experience conflict over managing domestic chores and childcare with balancing their own individual desires and wanting to have fairness and equity.

She says it is more about fairness than equality because couples often share different loads depending on whether they are both working, or if one career requires more focus than the other.

"It's less about being completely equal and more about having things fairly distributed.

"As long as those different roles are valued and the chores and the childcare and everything that requires to manage a family and a relationship is equally distributed then people will be more satisfied," she says.

Lewis and Clem say they have learned that communication and friendship are vital to the success of a stable and loving relationship.

"If there's something you're not happy with, you need to voice it in a constructive way," Clem says.

"I think being friends is really important," Lewis says.

"And just to be on the same page with everything and not have someone thinking one thing and you thinking something else and not talking about that."

They both want the relationship to stay the same, or as much as it can with a child in the mix.

"I guess I'd be really happy if nothing ever changed," says Clem."If the actual relationship keeps going the way it is, plus one, then I'd be stoked.

"It'll be interesting trying to split our time between managing us and the little one, but I think we'll manage. It's going to be a learning curve."


The series

Part 1: Something old, something new
Part 2: Equal roles in a lifetime shared
Part 3: Love at end of long hard road
Part 4: Better to talk it through than bottle it up
Part 5: Coming out and staying the distance
Part 6: A fresh outlook on love
Part 7 (today): Communication and friendship is key

- NZ Herald

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