Eileen Couturier doesn't mince words about the occasional bumps in her marriage.
"We do argue. I'm not going to tell you we're all lovey-dovey all the time," she said. "We both are strong people. We have strong opinions about things. I'm not one to say ‘OK honey, whatever you say.'"
Yet she and her husband, Al, haven't let those bumps throw them apart. On Jan. 8, the West Toledo couple celebrated their 61st anniversary.
It's quite an achievement, especially at a time when high-profile cases of infidelity are distressingly common — golf superstar Tiger Woods, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, North Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, and former presidential candidate John Edwards, to name a few.
Locally, 1,782 couples filed petitions for divorce or dissolution last year in Lucas County Domestic Relations Court. That's down from 1,839 in 2008 and way down from 1,968 in 2005.
"We had some very bad times," Mrs. Couturier acknowledged. But they took their "I do's" seriously: "There was never any talk about getting a divorce. It just wasn't anything we ever discussed," she said.
"You have to work together. There's no getting around it," her husband said. "You can't have your way all the time. The other person can't have their way all the time."
And the good times have outweighed the tough ones.
"We always enjoyed each other," Mrs. Couturier said, adding that she wasn't interested in girls' nights out and he preferred to come right home after work rather than stop for a drink with the guys.
"If we were lucky enough to afford to go out we wanted to do something together, not with anybody else," Mrs. Couturier said.
Their attention to each other is something that therapists say is one of the keys to a successful marriage.
"Typically marriages die of malnutrition, not of a single blow to the head," declared Mike Roehrs, a clinical social worker in Perrysburg who does marriage and family therapy. Couples who have drifted apart because of the demands of work, raising children, and life's other responsibilities need to make an effort to reconnect, Mr. Roehrs said, in ways that can be simple or special, practical or romantic.
"The important part is the effort in putting that person in the forefront of your life, and they perceive they are important to you and in your thoughts."
Busy with two careers and two young children, Ben and Lauren Snyder of South Toledo say they try to carve out a little time for each other as soon as he comes home from work every day. They've been married for eight years.
Mr. Snyder said he greets their children, ages 3 years and 9 months, then tells them it's mom's time. "My dad did that when I was a kid," he added. "Even though I was dying to play with my dad when he came home from work, it was totally cool because I knew my mom and dad were connecting, they loved each other, and everything was right with the world."
One simple way for couples to work toward a deeper connection, suggested Kevin Anderson, a local psychologist, author, and speaker, is to replace the usual question "How was your day?" with a better conversation starter such as "Tell me a highlight of your day." It should be "something that goes beyond the routine. Couples get into a shallow way of interacting," he explained.
He thinks society's romantic model of marriage misleads couples. People assume once they fall in love they can turn to other matters, thinking the relationship will take care of itself. "Then people look back and wonder what happened. How do we get that loving feeling back?"
Marriage is difficult and requires attention, "and if we would accept that we might develop a model that's actually up to the challenges," he asserted.
Disagreements are inevitable, and how a couple deals with them is another significant difference between marriages that succeed and those that fail, Mr. Roehrs said.
Those who eventually split up tend to be more critical of each other, more defensive, and — worst, he said — contemptuous. Insults and foul language are "the rust on a relationship that eats away at it over time," he said.
Tom and Suzanne Marciniak of West Toledo, married for 19 years, have developed a process for working through differences of opinion.
"We don't argue in our house," Mr. Marciniak said. "We sit down and in a very quiet, civil manner we explain how we got from A to Z. There's absolute respect and reverence, no interruptions, and there's no judgement."
He said he usually asks his wife to go first, "and I would say 99 percent of the time I agree with her logic. We still want the same end point, but sometimes we have different ways of getting to that end point."
In Mrs. Marciniak's definition of a solid marriage, "the two people really need to know each other. There has to be great communication, there has to be honesty and respect for each other's differences."
There has to be laughter, too, she said. "Life's problems get out of proportion if you don't have a sense of humor."
One of the techniques the Snyders use to resolve particularly stubborn issues is to turn to trusted older friends for another perspective. Both know and respect their spouse's mentors, they said, and often encourage each other to talk out their feelings and get advice from them.
As their marriage matures, Mrs. Snyder said, she and her husband are moving from a "‘me' to a ‘we' mindset" — letting go of what the individual wants in favor of what's best for them as a couple and a family.
Newlywed Darcy Tindall of Fremont said she and her husband, Mike, knew each other pretty well before they married last September.
They had dated for about three years, off and on, Mrs. Tindall said. "I think all the little quirks and kinks got themselves worked out early."
On the bigger issues, they're also in step, she went on. "When we went through our premarriage counseling, we had to talk about topics, and guess what the other person was thinking. We were together on most of the issues, or knew where we didn't completely agree."
Marriage isn't always a 50-50 effort, and spouses need to accept that, Mr. Tindall pointed out. "Some days it's 60/40, and being able to balance that makes it successful. A lot of it has to do with understanding each other and what each other needs at that time, something as simple as a bad day at work — what I can do for her and what she can do for me to make those days better."
Mrs. Tindall said she hopes that as time goes by and their lives get more hectic they can continue to take time out for each other. "I don't want 25 years down the line to know a lot about my kid's life but not my husband's life because I didn't take the time to talk to him."
But communication goes beyond words, she observed.
As a speech therapist at a skilled nursing facility in Bellevue, Ohio, Mrs. Tindall sees a lot of elderly couples together, sharing a bond that's been forged over decades.
"Even if they're not talking you can just see they're looking at one another and you can see the love between them."
Contact Ann Weber at: firstname.lastname@example.org