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How Petra Bagust saved her marriage

The high-profile TV personality and her camerman husband reveal how marriage counselling has helped them revive their marriage.
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With three gorgeous children, a high-profile TV career, and her tenth wedding anniversary not far away, it looks like Petra Bagust has a picture perfect life. And the bubbly TV host is the first to agree that, from the outside, she appears to lead a charmed existence with her husband Hamish Wilson, daughter Venetia (6), and sons Jude (4) and Theo (2). “It sounds like we’re wonderful and have got it all, but we haven’t,” says Petra with typical candour. “We’re constantly working on our relationship and learning about each other, our marriage and the children.” So it’s not all smooth sailing for this talented duo.

“That’s something we had to accept early on – that although you parent differently or disagree with one another, you’re on the same team. Even when we argue, I know he still believes in me, and the same goes for him.”Sitting on the sunsoaked porch of a beautiful Auckland boutique hotel, Petra and Hamish are making the most of some time alone. Unlike many match-ups that have failed under the often-harsh media spotlight, this is one partnership that has worked for a decade, successfully weathering the ups-and-downs of raising a young family and succeeding in their chosen careers.

So what’s the secret? “We have marriage counselling,” says Hamish (39), who works as a freelance cameraman. “We started a year ago, and then we decided to keep having it because we realised how important it is to put good stuff back into our relationship. It’s healthy to have an outside influence to help us – someone who knows more about relationships than we do!” Petra nods. “That’s the journey we’re taking, something we are consciously working together on. We argue, and in the heat of the argument, it can be so hard to get that perspective. You marry someone who comes from a different family, with different experiences of relationships, and it can be hard to make it work. “I was raised in the city and Hamish grew up on a farm. I have a noisy family and his is very well-mannered and polite. But any married person will tell you there has to be compromise. And we have enough in common to give us something to build on, and enough differences to keep it interesting.”

One of the best tips Petra and Hamish have learned from marriage counselling is how to use a code word to stop a fight when tempers become too frayed.”If we’re out and one of us gets frustrated with the other, that can snowball into an argument,” explains Hamish. “Using the code word is like saying, ‘Hey, I’m behaving like an idiot just now but we’ll sort it out later’.”

“And no, we’re not revealing what the code word is,” laughs Petra.

The couple used to help maintain their solid bond with “Mum and Dad Monday” dates, but these have fizzled out recently, with Petra busy working on her new TV3 series What’s Really In our Food? and Hamish filming overseas.”It’s feast or famine, being freelancers,” says Petra. “We can be together a lot at home, which is fantastic, but then each of us might go away for long periods. Thank goodness for the internet. Hamish will be away in China soon and, with the internet, I can get the webcam so he can see the children and they can see him.

“When the family is all together under one roof, Petra and Hamish’s different parenting styles can make life interesting, but they’re learning to cope.”Hamish is very pro-discipline,” says Petra, smiling at her husband. “our house is chaotic at times, and he takes action sooner than I do. He’s definitely more goal-focused, like when we’re trying to get the kids to bed on time. I’m more fun-focused so if we’re having a great time, I let things slide. It’s a perfect combination – love, empathy, healthy boundaries and discipline.”

But that discipline no longer involves smacking, a decision the couple reached when the recent law change came in. “I was smacked and got the cane at school quite a few times,” reveals Hamish. “I wasn’t a bad child and I didn’t come out of it scarred, but it wasn’t fun at the time.” Petra also grew up in a “smacking household”. She remembers, “Being the eldest and a girl, I was very well-behaved and hardly ever got smacked. “oum says, ‘If you were naughty and I gave you a smack, you were good for the next six months.’

It was a typical Kiwi upbringing for the time. “So when I became a mum, and got to the end of my tether, my options were shouting or smacking. But somehow, it didn’t feel good to me.”I didn’t like losing my temper and shouting and I didn’t like how I was using smacking either – it was a last resort. It is very hard to give a ‘positive’ smack and I didn’t want my kids to do what I said simply out of fear. The law got us thinking and we found new options.” They now use time out, in combination with positive communication – where one parent sits with the child and talks through other ways to handle conflict.”It’s so much better and the children learn to make good decisions for themselves,” says Petra.

The couple say they adore being parents, and even though they face many challenges with three small ones, there has been talk of a fourth baby. “Yes, I keep hearing from other people that we’re going to have a fourth and I go, ‘Wow, that’s interesting’,” says Hamish, looking pointedly at Petra, who concedes that news of a possible fourth baby has come from her.

“I’ve been thinking, ‘Now, is our family complete or do we try for another?’ “Having three is fantastic, so it’s not as if something is missing. But what if we leave it too long, and think, ‘Now we can’t go back!’? I’ve kept all the baby stuff, just in case. I’m such a hoarder!” Hamish also has a confession – he has been clearing out a bit of the hoard. “Not all of it. The kids recently put the bassinet together, though. What’s that all about?” he laughs. “I do get really clucky and love that baby phase.”Petra (37), who had good pregnancies and home births, says the deciding factor for number four will simply be her age. “If it does happen, it will be before I turn 40.”

That milestone is just a few weeks away for Hamish and, not surprisingly, he and Petra have very different ideas when it comes to marking his fortieth birthday.”We’ll celebrate with family and friends, nothing particularly different, maybe a family holiday,” he says with a shrug. Petra interrupts with a heartfelt, ‘No, we need to plan something big!” Whatever they do for Hamish’s birthday, the children will be involved in making sure it’s an unforgettable family event.

“It’s incredible how different the kids are,” says Petra, her face lighting up. “Venetia’s very creative and Jude is very detail-orientated and enjoys books. Then there’s Theo, who is gregarious, loves to laugh and is keen to help, especially when it comes to baking or cooking.”

Petra and Hamish have also seen their parenting styles change and adapt as each child arrives.”For instance, Theo’s never been told to eat his vegetables and he likes them, while Venetia negotiates how much broccoli she will have to eat,” explains Petra. The couple also try hard to expose their kids to lots of different flavours. “We’re adventurous eaters,” says Hamish. “A treat for our family is yum cha or Japanese. “Even though he’s young, Jude will eat a fiery curry and go, ‘Whoa, that’s hot and spicy, but I like it!'”

Working on What’s Really In our Food? has definitely had a lasting influence on family eating habits. “I’ve learned so much about food,” says Petra. “Take a potato, for example. It’s got an incredible ability to satisfy hunger and if you cook it certain way, it’s virtually fat-free. on the other hand, it’s shocking how many hot chips we eat – millions of them! Now I just wash a potato, cut it up and throw it in the oven with a bit of olive oil. It’s about training ourselves to eat better.”

The show also inspired the couple’s decision to create a vegetable garden complete with irrigation system at their Auckland home – or rather, for Hamish to create it, something he’s keen to point out when Petra declares how easy it is to make a garden. “okay, it’s not that easy,” she laughs. “But it’s boom or bust. We love popping out to the garden to get fresh veges like rocket and tomatoes. Like everyone in New Zealand, we’re good at growing silverbeet but not so good at using it up. But our freelance lifestyles mean it goes through times of being bust.”

With the TV show now screening, Petra says she can finally start planning not just Hamish’s birthday, but their 10th wedding anniversary. They’ve survived a lot and know they’re on the right track. “Ten years, wow!” Petra says with a smile. Hamish raises his eyebrows. “It’s more like 27, isn’t it?” Petra throws him a pretend glare then laughs. “You watch it, you. This is going to be a big celebration. I’ve been planning this for the past five years. And we’ve got lots to celebrate!”

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