Brace yourself if you never went to boarding school but your spouse did


After many outbursts in this journey of marriage, I have learnt that what matters most is to observe the boundaries as a unit.

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I am one of those eighties kids who was enrolled into a boarding primary school when boarding schools were prestigious and the quality of education and child protection was guaranteed. At 10 years, I had my own locker for storing personal items, a cubicle shared with others but each with their own bed. We were taught early on to strictly observe personal space and boundaries. We each had our own soap dish, spoon, plate, cup, wash basin and combs. In High School, it was pretty much the same thing.

It was in college that my first roommate who had never experienced boarding school gave me a mini traumatic experience. We were just beginning to get acquainted, but one Saturday morning, I was stunned when she appeared from the showers with my washbasin, her towel and washcloth soaked in, evidence that she had used my basin to take a bath. She did not understand why I was upset. We had such arguments during our short-lived relationship as roommates. I would leave for an early morning lecture, then bump into her in the streets of our campus wearing my jersey. Other times I could not find a hair clip, only to spot it on her hair. While she thought that I was stingy, I thought she had thieving tendencies.

“You know you can always use my stuff too,” she would protest when I asked why she was wearing my belt.

“I cannot do that. I have my own,” I would retort, irritated. Can we just say that come the following semester, we were both more than eager not to share rooms again? And then I got married to someone who had never experienced boarding school at all. Can we also just say that I am still on a journey of unlearning and learning? Boarders have peculiar habits, most of which grate their non-boarder spouses the wrong way. If you were not a boarder in primary school, please learn to make peace with the peculiar habits of your spouse. These habits were inculcated during a critical formation of the child that is today your spouse. They, the behaviour, and your spouse, are not going away soon.

Boarders abhor sharing personal items. We have stringent requirements about sharing our stuff. If your wife was the boarder, I can bet you my next income that she buys her items and yours but creates a clear boundary on their placement. For example, your soap, toothpaste, towel, slippers are never shared but placed in your corner of the bathroom. My now adult daughter was stunned when I got upset after she raided my closet for a jacket without informing me. Now, she calls to ask if she can use my scarf. Before you call me a bad mother, read on, it gets worse.

Boarders easily and joyfully zone out their spouses, children and even colleagues. We can watch paint dry amidst the noise of our kids and the drawling voice of our spouse. Boarders are also fiercely, albeit foolishly, independent. We can live in our space for months and not need anyone. We sweat, fret and get overwhelmed when we must ask for help, whether emotional, psychological, or financial. DIY (Do It Yourself) is our second name. While independent thinking is great and makes one great at problem solving and innovation, the downside is that we can often be emotionally detached. We learnt very early on that hugs and kisses do not take away the pain of a scrapped knee.

Those boarding primary school matrons did not have enough parental bandwidth to attend to tens of children’s emotional needs. We made do. We washed our little faces off the tear streaks. We faced life with a stiff upper lip and bleeding knee and punched back anyone who bullied us. We often look fine, we mostly are, but we could do much more if we included other people, you know, the social net worth? Our spouses get frustrated because we plan our stuff only to go, “Oops! I forgot to include you.”

Boundaries and independence is a delicate balance for a healthy relationship. After many outbursts in this journey of marriage, I have learnt that what matters most is to observe the boundaries as a unit. When you are on the same wavelength about boundaries, you face the world with one voice. The personal space is about your union, not against your spouse, and you guard the marriage space together against external influences.

Karimi is a wife and mother who believes marriage is worth it.