We were tested…
I am a clinical psychologist who is married to a clinical psychologist, Joseph F. Aponte and I wrote a book about marriage. Here is our story about our “marriage of equals, in brief.
We were married in 1960, a time of significant social change. Joe had earned his Ph.D. and I had a BS when we moved to Chapel Hill, NC in 1970, where Joe took his first job. Joe was just beginning his first job as a Ph.D. Psychologist and I began making waves.
Until this time, I had not considered seeking a doctorate. It just was not on the radar for most women at that time. Because of the changing status of women during the 1960’s and l970’s, I woke up—I had options I did not think I had. And, I had seen Joe get through grad school, and frankly, I thought I was a smart as he was.
This was a big decision time for us—the first real test of what kind of relationship we were going to have or if the marriage would survive. I wanted to have the option of applying to graduate schools beyond Chapel Hill.
Gulp! She wants me to move and look for another job. Here we were in Chapel Hill. My first job, a new state, a new town, and a new professional role for me. I am no longer a student. I am an Assistant Professor and I am now supervising students, teaching courses, and seeing clients in private practice; none of which I had done before. A time of excitement and of high anxiety for me because of these new professional roles and responsibilities.
Up to this time in our marriage we had both been in school continuously. We encouraged each other to pursue our undergraduate degrees. Once I started my doctoral work our roles changed with Catherine working and supporting my academic studies, and, importantly, helping me prepare for my doctoral exams.
The decision to support Catherine was simple, but difficult, to carry out. She was just as smart, if not smarter than I. We had always supported each other in our academic pursuits. I was supportive of women’s equality. The major issue for me was finding another position close to the graduate school she chose and gained entrance to. With trepidation, I decided that it was in my best and our best interest to move forward with her graduate education.
Grad school for two almost did us in
Joe did not have to give up his first job; I got accepted to grad school at Duke University…a neighbor of UNC where he worked. This began a period in which I was immersed in grad work and Joe was immersed in his first job. I know I was insecure about making it in grad school at such a prestigious university. Both the marriage and our three children “survived,” but neither flourished. While I am regretful about this, I no longer dwell on it—both Joe and the children support me in this.
I took an internship position at the UNC after finishing classes and Joe moved on to a position at the University of Louisville, where he had a productive career for 35 years, providing stability for our family. This meant we spent a year apart, with Joe caring for our three children.
Our roles and responsibilities changed while Catherine attended Duke University and I worked at UNC. Her full-time graduate studies and my full-time work required that we renegotiate child care responsibilities, finances, and household duties. Up to this point in our marriage, Catherine assumed major responsibility for these tasks. It was clear to me that our marriage and children would not survive unless I assumed more of these responsibilities. I also developed an appreciation for Catherine’s prior contributions to the family. This was not easy!
Catherine’s internship year at UNC was difficult for me. In Louisville, my parents lasted 6 months with us. They had a difficult time managing our three kids who were very active and independent. Being in an academic setting did give me lots of flexibility in my child rearing duties during the 6 months I had sole responsibility for the children. Thank Goodness! I was able to organize my child care duties around my university obligations. My income was enough for me to hire help when I needed it—a significant advantage.
During this period of my life I begun to understand and appreciate the difficulties of balancing work and family. Of utmost importance was my gaining experience and confidence in managing the household and in parenting the children. This would be useful when Catherine finished her internship and moved to Louisville to reunite with the family. Another renegotiation of familial and marital responsibilities occurred at this time.
Being psychologist’s matters
Being two psychologists married to each other has had the most impact on our ability to build a satisfying and sustainable marriage. Over time and with much effort we learned how to look at ourselves, at our individual part in conflicts…learned to identify how own issues (insecurities we each brought with into the marriage) so that we don’t take these out on each other. I am accountable for my part in disruptions, etc. in relationship. I must first identify these personal before I am ready to have a discussion of differences, plans, issues, etc.
While our love for each other, the respect we have for each other, and our children have kept us together when times were rough, the insights we gained from being psychologists makes our marriage a real partnership, which allowed our relationship to flourish.
Being educated and trained as an academic psychologist does not guarantee that one will be self-reflective nor that one will have effective interpersonal skills. I learned to be self-reflective by being in individual, couples, and group therapy. Such experiences benefited me as an individual and increased my effectiveness as a supervisor. With hard work, I was able to infuse these experiences and learnings into my relationship with Catherine. I also learned and grew over the years from Catherine’s own growth and her ongoing focus on our relationship.
Managing Two Careers Is Not Easy
Out tendency when we had and have tough times is to drift apart. That was the case when I took on grad school. It was the case when we lived apart while I want on internship. It was the case when I first moved to Louisville to rejoin Joe and the family after finishing my internship. I had not completed a dissertation at Duke, so I was awarded a MS not a Ph.D. I was preoccupied and resentful about being ABD (all but dissertation) and therefore, trained at a higher level than I was credentialed, limiting the kinds of positions I could get. Plainly and simply, I resented Joe’s success.
It took some time to sort out what I needed to do to be a productive and contributing psychologist. I opened a private practice of psychology. With encouragement from Joe and other colleagues, I entered the graduate program in Psychology at Spalding University, a professional psychology program in Louisville, graduating with a Psy.D. in 1994. Now I was a fully credentialed doctoral psychologist. However, I don’t recommend repeating grad school (second grade, yes)! Yet, I have no regrets; Duke provided excellence in intellectual inquiry and Spalding provided strong applied training.
Having two different career trajectories (academic vs private practice) in psychology had its advantages and disadvantages. I always thought Catherine’s professional role and responsibilities were less taxing than mine, which of course was not true. The constant evaluation in my job (e.g., promotion and tenure, peer review of publications, student evaluations, etc.) was at times distressing. I had to work at managing my own anxieties in these situations. Catherine helped in many of these situations throughout my professional career by both supporting me and challenging me to act when needed.
We love being psychologists
Both Joe and I are committed to field of psychology…Joe through academic work (he is brilliant facilitator) and wonderful with students. I found my commitment to psychology realized in my private practice. I began working with couples early in the practice; it became the focus of my practice over time. It is important work and I did it well. I also taught and trained graduate students at Spalding University for over 10 years while in private practice. Working with students was challenging and rewarding and gave me the intellectual challenge I enjoy.
My contributions to psychology at the University of Louisville was mostly administrative. I was hired as Director of Clinical Training at the university and served as Vice Chair and Chair at various times during my career in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. I retired at an early age and subsequently served on several boards and committees within the American Psychological Association and Kentucky Psychological Association for 10 years. Catherine served as a confident, supporter, and consultant through-out my professional career.
We are committed to being of service
As I note in the Preface to my book, A Marriage of Equals, most of the couples I saw sought counseling only after experiencing significant difficulties for a long time. Most had traditional relationships. And, they certainly were not ready to embrace gender equality. Both had become bitter, angry, demoralized, and resentful. By the time they came to see me, they were resistant to looking at their part in the demoralization of the relationship. It was always what the other partner had done. Both my commitment to psychology as a means of understanding marriage relationships and my increasing commitment to helping these couples became the cornerstone of my career.
While much of my career was about administration (important departmental work), I valued supervising graduate students and the clients I worked with in Chapel Hill and Louisville. The service I provided to the national (American Psychological Association) and my state association (Kentucky Psychological Association) after I retired, was particularly rewarding to me. My involvement in boards and committees at these levels allowed me to have a policy and programmatic impact on education and training, on diversity, and social justice issues.
Our young children got a rough deal
Our children got a rough deal in early years. I know I was preoccupied with my career and our society wasn’t and continues to be not well equipped to deal with two-career-oriented parents. Childcare was and continues not to be supported….in the 1970’s it was lousy. We neglected the personal issues our children experienced with lasting effects. Over the years, we have shared with each other the consequences of our neglectfulness. It will always be a regret for me. We all have survived and have wonderful relationships with each other now.
The importance of our children and my role in their lives changed over time. While in graduate school and during the first 5 years of my professional career I was self-absorbed in getting through school and getting my career going. This changed when I had sole responsibility for the children and household in Louisville. I moved from a traditional, single-purpose breadwinner role to one in which I was a house-hold manger, a parent who listened to our children, and a Dad who provided them with appropriate guidance and love. These new roles and responsibilities continued and were refined when Catherine moved to Louisville.
Writing a book about marriage
Toward the end of my career as a practicing psychologist working with couples, it became clear to me that I wanted to share with young people the joys and difficulties of having an equal marriage in which both partners have a career. Sociological research and commentators on the millennial generation began to document that creating and sustaining an equal marriage is “an unfinished revolution.”
My own early attempts at writing a blog about marriage morphed into my quest to write a book about creating and maintaining an equal marriage. Creating a committed and equal marriage is vital because: (1) women today are more likely to abstain from marriage altogether than to live in a traditional marriage; (2) a good relationship in the context of a good marriage is good for us as individuals and good for our society; (3) having both mother and father equally invested (equal joy and equal sacrifice) in raising their children is good for everyone; and (4) women will not achieve equality in society as a whole if they live in gender-defined relationship.
For the last two years of my life, I have been engrossed in Catherine’s book, A Marriage of Equals. We have discussed its organization, reviewed its content, and made decisions about its publication and marketing. The book is the result of her psychotherapy practice, her knowledge of the relationship and marriage literature, and her real-life experiences in a long-term relationship with me. My involvement in this book has allowed to me reflect on my life as well as our relationship, particularly through this piece, She Said, He Said, which we have written together.
As I note in the forward of A Marriage of Equals, “The book maybe the capstone of Catherine’s professional career, but it certainly is not the capstone of our marriage. We continuously look at ourselves, value the other, and negotiate our differences. Through this process, we will continue to sustain and enhance our marital relationship well into the future.”
The book is a challenge to all people to look differently at yourself, your partner, and the relationship you share. Read it—it’s worth it!