4 married couples share love stories & lessons

A glimpse into four couples’ ordinary, extraordinary lives together.

Bride and groom with confetti

Image via Getty

To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow—this is a human offering that can border on miraculous. -Elizabeth Gilbert (from Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage)

I’d argue that it wasn’t spying as much as noticing. My friend’s 10th floor apartment in New York City gave me a direct view into the building across the street, and specifically into the home of a couple whose steel-gray hair and slow, deliberate movements told me that they were elderly.

I first noticed them when she came into the kitchen, arms loaded with groceries. He turned and hurried to unburden her. They chatted while unpacking the bags, opening and closing the fridge, and arranging fruit in a large bowl. Later they prepared dinner together. He laid out the plates, and she lit the candles on the table. Before they sat down to eat, he drew her close into a tender embrace.

You can see why I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them.

What follows are glimpses into the lives of four married couples, who, like the people I watched in the city, are going about their ordinary, extraordinary lives in loving partnership together.

Keiko and Rob Feldman

La Crescenta, California

Keiko and Rob Feldman

“There’s no pretending with him—I get to be me.” -Keiko Feldman

Marriage and family

Rob and I were married August 2, 2008, and we’ve been friends for 20 years. We met at NBC in Los Angeles. He was a writer and I was the weekend producer. We became friends instantly. Within a few months, we were both promoted. He became the 5 p.m. producer and I was the 6 p.m. producer, and we worked side by side every day.

We are the parents of three sons—I have two boys from a prior marriage and Rob has one son from his previous marriage. Together we have two dogs and two cats.

There’s nothing like a second chance to make you value something you have once lost. And there is nothing like a failed marriage to help crystallize what marriage means to you. I feel like no one has ever seen me, known me, understood me, or appreciated me the way that Rob does. I’m not afraid to let him see the worst in me. There’s no pretending with him—I get to be me.

For us, marriage isn’t about the idea of love and romance. Frankly that’s the easy part. Marriage is about the promise to do whatever it takes and be whatever we need to be in the moment to stay together. It’s Rob’s promise to me that he won’t give up. It’s my promise to him that I won’t give up. And it’s our promise to our children, as well.

Pet names

Rob calls me “Tiger.” He almost never uses my actual name. “Tiger” sometimes morphs into “Tig” or “Tigger.” I call Rob “Robbie”— which he says he hates. But no one else in the world is allowed to call him that, so I love it.

Work

We have the same profession. We both started out as television news producers. We then launched our first business in 2002, a documentary production company. In 2014, we started a second company, a gourmet food company called The Art of Caramel. We run both companies together, so we have the same job titles and duties.

Go-to dinner on busy evenings

Our favorite home-cooked meal is probably a piece of grilled fish and roasted veggies. Our more frequent home meal of late is a plate of arugula with burrata, avocado, and almonds—with some balsamic vinegar on top. On busy, busy nights we have the Japanese restaurant up the street deliver soup and sushi to our door.

Dream trip

I’m half Japanese, and would love to take Rob to Japan to meet my family there. Rob has never been and really wants to go. Once we get through paying three college tuitions, it’s on the bucket list.

Advice for newlyweds

I feel like there’s no generic marriage advice that applies to all couples. My marriage to Rob doesn’t even slightly resemble my first marriage. None of the advice that would apply to that marriage would apply to this one, and visa versa.

Distinctives

I think the most unique characteristic about our marriage is how much time we spend together. We work together, we play together, we raise our children together, and we take baths together—almost every night. We both like a lot of order. We tend to approach problems and challenges the same way.

In other ways, we are so different. He loves science and space and computers and classical music and many other things that I don’t care about. I love all things girly: fashion, decor, cooking, pop culture—and he has no interest in those things.

I love that we have our own interests and passions and we try to make room for each other to enjoy those things.

Ellen Painter Dollar and Daniel Dollar

West Hartford, CT

Ellen Painter Dollar and Daniel Dollar

“… unlike most couples, we never really had a ‘romance’ and so have never had to make that hard adjustment from marrying the person of our dreams to realizing that we actually married a flawed human being.” – Ellen Painter Dollar

Marriage and family

We’ve been married for 18 years and have three children together.

We met because we both attended a small coffeehouse church in Washington, D.C. A friend and I set Daniel up with my roommate. They dated for a year and even got engaged before things fell apart. By that time, Daniel and I knew each other really well. He was devastated by the break up, and as he put himself back together, we started hanging out and doing stuff together. Eventually, it made sense to just start dating.

Daniel is an introvert and gets anxious about some interpersonal interactions, but he has a real gift of getting along with, and having a genuine interest in, all kinds of people. Back when we lived in D.C., he would take this guy, Michael, out for pizza every few weeks. Michael was mentally disabled and could be hard to talk to. Other people might assume that Daniel took him out for pizza to be kind, but Daniel really enjoyed his company. I see that kind of behavior from him all the time.

During all kinds of stressful times, we really try to be generous with each other—to listen well, to give each other a break, to do small kind things—even when we’re worn out and tempted to just take care of ourselves.

Our common faith supports our marriage. It’s this basic glue that holds us together. It’s never a source of conflict and it feeds into our sense of being partners. We’re also empowered as a married couple by humor and respect.

Pet names

I refer to Daniel as “Dinger” or “The Dinger.” We’ll both talk about him in the third person, as in: “Dinger loves pulled pork!”

Work

I am a freelance writer and editor, and Daniel is a librarian (director of collection development) at Yale University.

Go-to dinner on busy evenings

Boxed macaroni and cheese or a burrito bar.

Dream trip

We love the National Parks, and haven’t yet seen Yellowstone. We’d love to go to the Canadian Rockies or Alaska.

Advice for newlyweds

In your interactions with others, from your kids and in-laws to your friends and coworkers, act and speak as a team—always have each other’s back.

Distinctives

I think part of why we’re still happily married is that, unlike most couples, we never really had a “romance” and so have never had to make that hard adjustment from marrying the person of our dreams to realizing that we actually married a flawed human being.

In a lot of ways, we are each very different from the kind of people each of us was attracted to previously. For example, I always was attracted to these tall, outgoing, charismatic, activist change-the-world types, and Daniel is a 5-foot 6-inch introverted librarian. He was attracted to women who were athletic, and into hiking and backpacking. I have a physical disability and simply can’t do that stuff.

So from the start, we couldn’t project our desires onto the other person.

Rowena and Sam Rea

Wheaton, Illinois

Rowena and Sam Rea

“Life isn’t perfect, but the kids are healthy and we are healthy. That’s all that really counts.” – Rowena Rea

Marriage and family

We’ve been married for 22 years and we have three children, a daughter aged 17 and two sons, ages 10 and 12.

We met on a dark and stormy night at University of Illinois. We met by chance on our way to a dive of a bar, and we had our first date about eight months after that.

Sam says I have great insight into other people and that I’m really witty. He’s right! We’re fortunate—we have not had a difficult time, yet. Life isn’t perfect, but the kids are healthy and we are healthy. That’s all that really counts.

Pet names

We don’t use them; cutesy nicknames make us queasy.

Work

Sam is an IT executive which means everyone blames him when their computers don’t work, and I am a stay-at-home mom and chronic PTA volunteer.

Go-to dinner on busy evenings

Tacos! Everyone eats them and they take 20 minutes to make.

Dream trip

Our dream trip is a month-long tour of Europe. Sam loves museums, history and sightseeing. Honestly, I’m not a fan—I prefer sunny beaches and drinks with little umbrellas. For him, however, I will buy a pair of comfortable walking shoes and try to minimize any complaining.

Advice for newlyweds

Turn off the TV every once in a while and listen to what your spouse is saying.

Distinctives

Sam and I don’t fight. We certainly have disagreements, but we do not fight. Sam claims that neither one of us have said a hurtful word in 22 years. I’m positive that is true about him. And, if he says this is true of me, I believe him.

Marlena and Shawn Graves

Findlay, Ohio

Marlena and Shawn Graves

“Every single day we are chomping at the bit for the other to get home because we thoroughly enjoy each other’s company.” – Marlena Graves

Marriage and family

Shawn and I have been married for 15 years and are parents to three young daughters. We met in logic class our junior year of college. I was caught off guard by his brilliance, beauty, and humility. Shawn is often the smartest and most competent person in the room, but he never talks about himself or his accomplishments. I often wonder if, in this dog-eat-dog world, it has cost him. But he follows the way of Jesus when it comes to humility.

Our marriage is empowered by our unswerving mutual commitment to promote the well-being of the other—to see to it that each of us is well situated to flourish, to pursue our interests, and cultivate our talents. This often entails considerable sacrifice from both of us.

Shawn says that one of the very first things that attracted him to me is what he describes as my “profound courage.” He says I’ve seen the light and that this emboldens me to “stare down the darkness.” We’ve had difficulties and stress in our lives resulting from my three pregnancies because I’ve had to be on almost complete bed rest. I’m unable to do much of anything—including earning income—when I’m pregnant. As a result, Shawn has functioned much like a single parent while working full-time and caring for the girls.

During those times, we’ve been sustained by confiding in our friends and by asking for help from them and our church communities. We could never have survived on our own because we don’t live close to family.

Pet names

We have a treasure trove of nicknames for one another and our children. But most commonly, besides “honey,” I call him “Dits” and he calls me “Mims.”

Work

Shawn is Philosophy professor at University of Findlay and I’m a pastoral care minister, writer, and adjunct professor at Winebrenner Theological Seminary.

Go-to dinner on busy nights

Pizza or subs.

Dream trip

We would love to go backpacking through Europe to see the beautiful countrysides, cathedrals, and universities. We’d like also to go on religious pilgrimages. Hopefully we’ll get to do it in this life.

Advice for newlyweds

Stay away from faultfinding and a critical spirit; learn to truly listen to one another.

Distinctives

We feel we hit the jackpot with our relationship. Despite hearing about so many difficult marriages, there are good ones. I don’t mean that we don’t have spats, but we’ve experienced nothing that’s been soul crushing.

Our strong marriage is fueled by our level of conversation and intimacy. We are mind mates and both so utterly cerebral. Conversations happen on hikes, walks, on the phone, and at night.

We’re a mutual admiration society—always so curious about each other’s opinion on a variety of topics including theology, philosophy, culture, and politics. Every single day we are chomping at the bit for the other to get home because we thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. We’d like to think our three young daughters are being positively formed by our love for one another—and, of course, our love for them.

Jennifer Grant
Jennifer Grant
Jennifer Grant is a writer and speaker in the Chicago area, the grateful mother of four teenagers, wife to bicycle-obsessed David, and the author of four books: Love You More, MOMumental, Disquiet Time, and Wholehearted Living. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.

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