How we stay together: trust, boundary setting and pushed comfort zones | Life and style

Names: Danielle and Anthony Hayes
Years together: 28
Occupations: Former school principals, now relationship consultants

They had only known each other for four weeks but in the moment Anthony Hayes asked his now wife, Danielle, to marry him, he knew that she was the one for him.

Initially she laughed it off. It wasn’t an auspicious occasion: there was no ring and the pair were watching the Bathurst car race on TV. Danielle remembers saying: “‘Ask me again if you’re serious one day and I’ll probably answer.’ He said, ‘No, I am serious.’ I went, ‘Oh. OK. Well, yes why not.’”

Now, 28 years later, she laughs at the memory. “If we analyse it now, we think ‘What the hell?’ Like, it’s crazy. If our daughter, who is 26, came home and said ‘I’m marrying someone I met four weeks ago’, we would probably have said, ‘What?’”

But she also sensed he was the man for her from the start: “We were like best friends straight away. Just an amazing connection, so we never, well for me personally, I never ever questioned it. We just did it.”

The couple met in 1990 on a night out in Adelaide when she was 21 and he was 24. Initially one of her friends tried to chat Anthony up. “[My friend] came back later and she said, ‘I’m sorry, you need to meet this guy, he’s just not interested in me at all, he’s just staring at you’,” Danielle remembers.

The two got chatting but it wasn’t the usual pub banter. They covered religion, family – and education. They were both teachers, interested in the wellbeing and mental health of children. “It was really interesting to have [that] connection with someone rather than just trivial stuff,” Anthony says.

‘We were two separate people within a relationship, we didn’t need to be the same and we didn’t need to have the same views on everything,’ Danielle Hayes says.

They spent the next three weekends together and then they were engaged. They were married a year later. They come from different family backgrounds and, although they shared an interest in education, most of their other interests were quite separate – and that was a good thing. “We worked that out pretty quickly that we could be quite different and have very different upbringings, but actually our values were very similar,” Danielle says. Anthony says they understood that each needed to accomplish their own goals, with the support of the other. Daniele adds: “We were two separate people within a relationship, we didn’t need to be the same and we didn’t need to have the same views on everything.”

Money for instance can be “a sore point”. They have different approaches to money, which they put down to different upbringings: Anthony is more conservative, Danielle is less so. They know it’s a sticking point for them although they’re getting better at recognising situations that could cause conflict. “The more aware we are of each other’s triggers with it, we can work around how to have a discussion around it and being sensitive to how the other person might respond to that,” Danielle says.

It comes down to trust, Anthony says. Whenever he’s concerned about money, he’s learnt to trust his wife. “That’s where we’ve complimented each other too, that sometimes I’m a little bit more cautious, and Elle is more prepared to take risks.”

Initially they also had different approaches to raising children. This was put to the test when Danielle suffered from postnatal depression after the birth of their first child. “I just remember that first six months being a real blur, but Anthony stepped up and seemed to handle everything,” she says.

Once she recovered, they talked deeply about parenting. “We talked about the type of people we wanted to raise, and what our hopes and dreams were for them. As much as we were busy, and we definitely got on autopilot for a lot of those years, we always continued to have those deep conversations and challenge each other when we felt like we were just parenting from our parents, like our past, our parental history, and not being conscious about what we should be doing right now for our kids.”

The couple with their daughter Caitlin

‘I just remember that first six months being a real blur’: Danielle and Anthony Hayes and their daughter Caitlin.

When it came to family responsibilities, they didn’t rely on traditional roles. “It was just whoever was there had to get in and help out,” Anthony says. They were both working full-time, so whether it was cooking, cleaning or painting the house, one of them stepped in. “It was defined by what was good for each other, and the kids at the time.”

The fact they had similar – and very demanding – jobs helped: both were teaching or working as school principals. “[Teaching] is a very giving job and you can be really drained by the end of the day, or on the weekend, there’s nothing left emotionally,” Danielle says. “We had that empathy for each other, that you could come home completely shattered, and the other one would step up in those times and help out a bit more.”

There were challenges to being in the same profession. Each time they worked at the same school, they swore never again. “When you work at the same school, you tend to come home and it’s really hard to let it go. You continue those conversations about this and that after school. We had to really set some boundaries at times and say right, that’s it. We can come home and debrief until six o’clock and then we really need to switch off and try and have more family time.”

However, they had to rethink their lives a few years ago when Anthony had what he initially thought was a heart attack. He was a principal of a Catholic school in a small town, living hours away from his family and under enormous stress. It was a frightening moment for the couple, and although it turned out to be an acute anxiety attack, they knew they had to take a break. They’d spent time in Bali and so they decided to get away from it all.

But while they were away, Anthony had a horrifying recollection. During the meditational practice, memories of being abused as a small child came flooding back to him. He chokes up as he tells the story, his pain still evident today. “It was a massive shock to realise the abuse had happened, because it was a Catholic priest. We were a very religious family, and we didn’t think anything like that could happen,” he says. “I felt really strange that I couldn’t believe that my subconscious had kept that suppressed so much.”

He pauses to clear his throat. “There’s been times that I’ve been in the absolute depths of despair [and] Elle has been there, and it’s given me the courage to get up and go again, because ultimately I had to do something about it myself … The love from Elle and the kids has helped that a lot. You really lose a lot of your identity, I’ve associated my identity for 48 years as being a Catholic, and to be able to come to that and still have the relationship that we have has been pretty eye opening.”

Anthony and Danielle Hayes have built a home in Bali

Anthony and Danielle Hayes have built a home in Bali.

After that initial recollection, more memories resurfaced, and the family pulled together to deal with the trauma. Anthony left his position and then, after a few years, with both children at university, the couple decided to move to Bali permanently, where they now live. “Bali for us had always been really healing, and it was actually a very healing place for me personally,” Anthony says. “And, it just seemed to be another one of those risks that I didn’t really want to take but I think that Elle saw the opportunities here, and it’s been pretty amazing. It’s deepened our relationship even more, [even though] we’ve had some really tough times while we’ve been here, missing the kids, and missing family.”

Initially they taught in local schools but now they have set up a business togetherleading retreats and workshops on conscious parenting and creating conscious relationships. They’re excited by the opportunities but they know to keep work and family life separate. Danielle says: “[After] being in an industry or a profession that does encompass your whole being, we know that we need to set those boundaries, and so far so good.”

Anthony says throughout their relationship, whenever they’ve found themselves in a lull, they’ve looked for something new and different – something Danielle is very happy to come up with: “I’m a bit of gypsy at heart, so I like to move around and I like to try new things. Anthony likes stability, so sometimes I feel like I might be dragging him out of his comfort zone but I don’t think that’s been a bad thing either, because I think you’ve learnt a lot about yourself, and we grow together that way.”

They’ve never tried to change the other: “It was more of an acceptance. Even if there was something that we didn’t necessarily like about each other, there was a way of… talking about it, and facing it ,” Anthony says. “There was always an understanding of mutual trust and respect of the fact that sometimes I needed to do something different, or Elle needed to do something [different] … there wasn’t an expectation to change, there was an expectation of us working together.”

Their commitment to each other has remained unbreakable. Danielle says: “That commitment was never about [staying] together forever now because we’re married. It was about this is a human being who’s growing and evolving, and I’m a human being who’s growing and evolving and we can do that together.”

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