Stan Collender and Maura McGinn's 25 years of marriage haven't always been easy

Stan Collender and Maura McGinn at their 25th anniversary party.
Stan Collender and Maura McGinn at their 25th anniversary party. (Richard A. Bloom)
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By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 4, 2010

In the early 1980s, Stan Collender spent six months asking a leotard-clad blonde who worked the front desk at his health club for a date.

She finally relented and they moved in together two years later. He spent the next two years intermittently asking her to marry him, and "the fourth time," says Maura McGinn, "I said yes."

But Collender didn't know what he was getting into. Not really -- and maybe no one does.

"You don't figure everything out as you're living together," says Collender, now 59. "You continue to change."

Which, it turns out, has been a bigger blessing than either expected.

The contrasts between them were part of the attraction from the beginning. He was a Jewish guy from New York City. She was an Irish Catholic raised in Massachusetts. A 5-foot-10 dancer, she was three inches taller, three years younger and far removed from his world of politics and public relations.

But subtler, more complicated differences have emerged over the course of their 25-year marriage. Collender is the type who's quick to take action when facing a problem. "And I'm a little more passive-aggressive," says McGinn.

"It's been a sore spot over the years," Collender says. "Like if we have a problem in a restaurant, I'll go straight to the manager. And Maura's going, 'Oh God, no.' "

Their disparate styles of handling conflict have been, he says, "one of the things we've had to work on most, in terms of understanding each other." The key has been learning not to compound anger around a given issue with anger about the way they're each inclined to deal with it.

McGinn is a worrier and a realist. Collender is an unfettered optimist who faces tough issues head-on. When McGinn had breast cancer diagnosed seven years into their marriage, she fixated on the thought of losing her hair. He took out a legal pad to make a list of things that needed to get done immediately. Still, it tested them.

"One of the things that carried me was my wedding vows," Collender recalls. "I kept remembering 'through sickness and health.' Because you want to run away and say, 'I don't want to deal with this. I didn't sign up for this.' And then you realize that you did."

He didn't run away. He came to the hospital on Easter morning dressed in a bunny suit and was patient in the ensuing years when, even after McGinn went into remission, she thought every headache might be a brain tumor. He mourned with her when she was told she shouldn't have children.

Neither was sure they wanted kids, but when it no longer seemed like a choice, "that was what I resented more than anything," says McGinn, 56. "I wasn't sure that I was going to be a great parent, but I always thought Stan was going to be a great parent."

One thing McGinn didn't predict was the way their marriage, and Collender's support, would shape her. She was risk-averse and lacked confidence when they got married, but, she says, "he's brought out the best things in me." When she was forced to stop dancing because of an injury and started taking acting classes recreationally, he pushed her to give herself a real shot at the craft. She has since been cast in productions with a number of local companies, including Signature Theatre and the American Century Theater.

There have been ups and downs, but the marriage has thrived, both think, largely because of their sense of commitment. "Getting divorced wasn't an option," Collender says. "You can't go into a marriage thinking it's a temporary thing, or something you're just going to try."

"No matter what comes our way, I'm 100 percent sure Stan will be with me," McGinn adds. "Especially as we get older, I'll be there for him. He'll be there for me. Knowing that takes a lot of pressure off, I think."

The two still talk five or six times during each workday. They hike and play tennis together and recently took up ballroom dancing. They're each still evolving, he says, and "I don't feel like we've already had the best years of our marriage. We're just coming into the best part."

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