Melanie Schilling is a relationship expert. But the psychologist (whom you might know from Married At First Sight) was single throughout her thirties. Then one day, she came across Gareth Brisbane’s profile on dating website eHarmony.
RELATED: ‘I spent every Saturday night alone’
Schilling says it was his larger-than-life shots that first drew her in.
“I could see the values and character traits that I’m drawn to being played out in these funny entertaining photos,” she tells 9Honey.
“He’s someone who’s very sociable – a lot more extroverted than me, believe it or not. He really comes alive around other people, drawing them in and making them feel comfortable.”
But six weeks of messaging (and one phone call) later, when they finally met in person, Brisbane surprised her with a softer side.
“It was a very powerful moment,” Schilling says.
After ten years being single, she’d put a lot of pressure on herself in the lead-up to the date. In her words, she “went into full-blown anxiety mode”: talking non-stop, unpacking her entire life story as soon as they sat down.
Then Brisbane quietly leant across the table and put his hand on hers.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You don’t have to prove anything here.”
It was a foundational moment in their relationship (and one Brisbane recalled in their wedding speech) – where both realised they could truly relax around each other.
WATCH: Mel Schilling and Gareth Brisbane’s stunning Bali Wedding. (Post continues below.)
“When he was first getting to know me he saw the facade, the very accomplished external side of me, but he knew there was this vulnerable little girl inside,” Schilling says.
“That was pretty exciting because it was a side of myself I kept very, very private, particularly from guys I was dating. So to meet this guy, to connect on this intellectual level, but also have him get there’s this other side to me was quite overwhelming.”
RELATED: Mel Schilling’s dating tips for people who are done with apps
This was Friday night. Their second date was Sunday and several weeks later Schilling was flying from Melbourne to visit him in Adelaide. She says they both knew very soon that it was serious.
“It just flowed very naturally from there.”
Eighteen months into their relationship, Schilling fell pregnant. She was 40, and now living with Brisbane in Melbourne. During her thirties, she’d always dismissed the possibility of motherhood and even after she and Brisbane had decided they were going to try for a baby, she wasn’t prepared for it.
“I think it took about ten minutes,” she says. “Bang! I was pregnant. And not ready at all.”
Still, she began to come to terms with it. One Sunday afternoon she went to buy a gift for the baby, to greet it properly, in a way. Tragically, she miscarried the next day.
“It was quite a traumatic event; I needed to actually have contractions and go into labour, and go through this incredibly physically and emotionally painful process. But it definitely brought us closer.”
WATCH: Mel Schilling recalls how her devastating miscarriage brought her and Gareth closer together. (Post continues below.)
The family is now based in Bali, which means plenty long-distance communication when Schilling’s working on TV projects in Australia. They spend as much time together as they can, but inevitably a lot of it’s virtual.
“It becomes all about getting those quality conversations when we can, because often it is sort of transactional,” Schilling says.
“Maddie’s about to turn 4, so when we FaceTime, we’re just talking about what she’s doing in that very moment. It’s gorgeous, but it’s really important for Gareth and I to have those moments of proper conversation when she’s asleep, to really download and connect.”
LISTEN: On this week’s episode of the Honey Mums podcast, Amelia Phillips tells Deb Knight how to get into shape on your own terms. (Post continues below.)
Schilling freely admits she finds it hard to transfer her professional expertise into her personal life.
“It’s so different – and I do often tell myself I should practice what I preach, but I’m too close to it. I make all the mistakes that everyone else at home makes, and pull myself up on it, but often when it’s too late.”
Her solution is plenty of reflection – and then making the effort to adjust.
“But I’m certainly not perfect,” she says.
As well as their Australian commitments, Schilling and Brisbane have businesses in the UK, and about to launch in the US.
“So the future is all about travel,” she says. “Spending as much time as we can while Maddie is still little being completely mobile; we don’t even own a car at the moment.”
They’ll eventually make the call on somewhere to settle, and for Maddie to go to school, but for now Schilling says life is “up for grabs”.
“It’s all unknown,” she adds. “It’s really exciting.”
To watch more stories from 9Honey’s How We Met series, head here. If you know someone with a beautiful love story of their own (or you have one), email me: email@example.com