How we stay together: 'Understanding the other person is trying to do their best is important'

Alexandra Spring

Names: Tania Parkinson and Aled Hoggett
Years together: 33
Occupations: former dairy farmers turned professionals

Ask Tania Parkinson and Aled Hoggett how their relationship has survived for more than three decades and they have a simple but profound answer: they want to be together.

That’s what they decided at the start of their relationship and they’ve stuck to it. Says Hoggett: “Tania agreed to marry me on one condition: that we would only stay together as long as we both wanted to be together. And we have never stopped wanting to be together, even in the most desperate times.”

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They met as teenagers in their final years of high school through mutual friends. There was an instant attraction but both were involved with other people. The timing just wasn’t right – when one was single, the other wasn’t. Finally, after a series of complicated events, they came together, first as close friends, then as partners.

Within a year they decided to get married. Or rather, he decided – but he had to convince her. Parkinson’s parents had separated when she was young and she questioned the value of marriage. Initially she turned him down, but Hoggett was “absolutely infatuated” and didn’t want to take no for an answer. “Aled was quite persuasive,” Parkinson says with a smile.

The couple share many interests but there are plenty of differences. Says Hoggett: “I just love doing things with Tania, whether it’s going out walking the dog, or sitting down together in the evening, or raising children, or whatever. I can’t spend enough time with Tania. And the time that we spend apart, I don’t rue; it’s important and it’s enjoyable, and I have other relationships; but my primary focus is Tania.”

Yet he was drawn to her very different personality: “I’m very black and white and Tania tends to see the whole rainbow. I’m more directed, more go get things, more judgmental, more rational. And Tania’s more relaxed, more forgiving, more loving.” Parkinson agrees: “I think the way that we go about things is quite different at times. That can be really positive, and it can also be a point of friction as well.”

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Initially they decided not to have children. Then after years of studying and travelling they agreed to have a family. It took some time for Parkinson to fall pregnant and Hoggett says watching his wife go through a 40-hour labour with their first child had a profound effect. “I’ve never really experienced such a violent and traumatic thing in my life, and I just came out of it with this hugely changed view of this person that I was with. To be able to go through that whole pregnancy, to produce a child at the end, and also to actually go through that birthing process – I looked at my wife in a very different way.”

They now have four children and admit raising them together can be challenging. But they’ve always made sure to save time for each other. “We’re very much of the opinion that we are the core of the relationship, of the family, so it’s really important to keep that strong,” Parkinson says.

Raising children made Hoggett reconsider the way he approached life. “I began to realise that a lot of the frictions in my relationships with my children had to do with the way that I was dealing with things. Perfectly natural complications and difficulties associated with trying to run a business, trying to be the head of the family and do all that sort of stuff. But in the process of trying to do all that stuff well, I was doing a bunch of other stuff not very well. I was creating a lot of problems for myself and in the process of doing that, creating problems for the people around me.”

He has since become a Buddhist. “[Buddhism] basically says you can’t change the world. What you can do is change the way you respond to the world.” Parkinson has also moved towards Buddhism although she has a different take. “I don’t really sit down and read lots of books and try and nut it out in my head. I feel it in my body. Aled always tries to nut it out in his head; he’s very much logical and follows things through, whereas I tend to go ‘Ah, does that feel right?’ ”

Just before 2000, after living in Canada for a few years, the family started a dairy farm in the foothills of the Barrington Tops and became cheesemakers. They’d never farmed before and had never made cheese but they were excited about the opportunity. With plenty of hard work, the Capparis cheese business was a success but it placed enormous pressure on the family. Hoggett remembers almost hitting breaking point: “There was one point there where we were standing in the dairy at four o’clock in the morning yelling at each other over something really trivial. We realised then that something had gone wrong and something had to change.”

He knew he had to lighten up. “I had to accept that this person that I was with was trying the best they could in the best way that they knew how. And I could really see that. We were both working flat-out, we were both putting in 110% in order to try and make this big thing that we created together work, and I realised at that stage that my angst and my dissatisfaction, the conflict that I was generating around that, was all based around unreasonable expectations on my part. That was a real turning point for me.”

Those experiences taught them a lot about conflict. While they were reactive when they were younger, they’ve figured out how to deal with things. “We can do that pause in between when you have the feeling and then when you react,” says Parkinson. “Understanding quite deeply that the other person’s trying to do the best thing that they can is really important.”

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A point of contention has been what Hoggett describes as extramarital friendships. He says he struggled with the idea that he would cease to have meaningful relationships with other women after his marriage. Despite some painful experiences, they learned how to navigate that. “Just trying to find an acceptable place that allows me or Tania to explore the full range of relationships in the world without overstepping the commitment we have to each other. Without undermining that commitment and that sense of closeness and specialness that our relationship has.”

Tania says it’s been a painful journey for her at times but she trusted her husband and the relationships have never become physical. “In the long run, if Aled finds someone that he would prefer to be with, then it’s far better that he goes and does that than hangs around with me and wishes he wasn’t.”

Hoggett says that was never going to happen. “I came to the conclusion fairly early on that yes, I could have a good relationship with other people, I could have probably got married and had long-term relationships with other people, and they would have been different, but they wouldn’t have been better. The grass wasn’t greener on the other side of the fence. The grass was as green as I was willing to participate in making [it].”

The couple sold the farm a few years ago and these days they live in Broome, working in conservation and local government while running community gardens in their down time.

Ultimately that long-ago decision to remain together as long as they both wanted to be together has underpinned their whole relationship. Knowing that they could always seperate has helped them stay together, says Hoggett. “We don’t feel trapped. Our motivations are always heading in the right direction. We’re together because we want to be together. We’re not together because we have to be because of something we said all that time ago. And from my perspective, it keeps the relationship fresh, keeps me focused on what’s happening now, [and] keeps me focused on the positive things that we do.”

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