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Staying Power: Archive

Advice from couples around the Beltway and beyond on keeping the love alive

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A perfect mix: Ann Hand

After 57 years of marriage, Ann Hand says, "Find someone you respect deeply." The long-time jeweler for politicians and presidential first ladies is married to lawyer Lloyd Hand. "If you respect your mate and love and cherish them, that's a magical combination." The couple lives in the District and have raised five children, two of whom are deceased.

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The sweet life: Warren Brown

It's been almost a year since CakeLove owner Warren Brown tied the knot. So far, marriage has been -- what else? -- a cake walk. "It's all good," he says. While Brown doesn't have any specific words of wisdom, he has a newfound appreciation for the emotional and legal connection he now shares with his wife. "There's even more depth of feeling since we've been married. I think it's something that should be available to everyone regardless [of sexual orientation]," he says. "I don't think anyone should be refused the opportunity to express and receive unconditional love."

And that form of expression doesn't have to be extravagant. Giving each other a high-five after a workout or cooking dinner are all forms of 'I love you' in his household. Brown and his wife Pam are expecting their first child in January and live in Washington.

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A sense of self: David C. Driskell

For renowned painter and art collector David C. Driskell, focusing on personal growth is just as important as spending time nurturing a commitment to your partner. "Have a centering which is based in faith and general civility," he mentions. One's journey for self-improvement, however, shouldn't trump spousal or family needs. "It's important to look at your time in the sense of how scheduled activities [relate] to family, to faith based institutions, to education and health issues."

Juggling so many of his own goals in addition to being a husband, Driskell and his wife of nearly 58 years, Thelma, find that communication is vital to staying on the same page. The couple has two children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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Staying grounded: Caron Butler

For a professional athlete like Caron Butler, co-captain of the NBA's Washington Wizards, the best thing about marriage is knowing that you have someone that sincerely loves you for who you are -- and not your profession.

Butler proposed to his wife Andrea after one year of dating. And now four years later, he feels it is their knack for open communication and honesty that helps hold them together. For couples just starting their lives together, Butler reminds them that it's important to "continue to communicate," long after saying 'I do.' The couple has one child together, and Butler has two from a previous relationship. They live in Fairfax.

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Lessons in love: Rosalind Wiseman

Rosalind Wiseman has been with her husband James Edwards, a documentary producer, for 20 years, 13 in matrimony. And after all that time, the author of "Queen Bees and Wannabes," inspiration for the movie "Mean Girls," is still very much in love. Like any couple, however, they've hit some rough patches. For Wiseman, those missteps have helped remind her just how lucky she is to have Edwards.

She's also grateful for her less than perfect wedding band, which once glistened with 10 diamonds, but is now down to seven. "It shows how hard we've worked, and [that] I'm still as committed to James as I was the first day, probably more so, than the day that we made our vows."

What advice would she give her younger self about love and marriage? "Be grateful to have this person in your life," Wiseman says. The couple lives in the District and has two sons.

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Quality time: Robert J. Lamb

While networking and schmoozing with colleagues and potential clients is important to Washingtonians on the move, the relationship with your partner is the one that deserves the most effort, says Robert J. Lamb, executive director of Friends of the National Zoo. Lamb, who's been married to his wife Amy, a fine art photographer, for 36 years, believes that marriage can only work if both people focus on the relationship and engage in what he calls personal sharing. "The more you can really share your experiences and life with your loved one, the richer the experience is," he suggests. The Bethesda residents have two children and three grandchildren.

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Put it all out there: Diane Rehm

Having been a bride at 19 and divorced less than three years later, radio host and author Diane Rehm is all too familiar with the highs of wedded bliss and the lows of realizing your marriage is coming to an end. "I became the first in my Arab community to get a divorce, which shocked the entire community," Rehm remembers. "I was somewhat ostracized for a while." Luckily, she was embraced by the man who became her second husband, John. That relationship has lead to 50 years -- and counting -- of a loving partnership.

So, what's the best way to establish a strong relationship? Know what you're getting into before walking down the aisle, Rehm suggests. Ask lots of questions: "What kind of background did your lover have [before you met]? How did his parents handle finances? How did his parents treat education? Did his parents talk to each other? How did they raise him?" are just a few she recommends.

Rehm and her husband John reside in Washington. The couple has two children and four grandchildren.

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Find shared interests: Mary Cheh

On paper, Mary Cheh appears to be very straight-laced. She's the District's Ward 3 councilmember, a law professor at George Washington University and married to Neil Lewis, a journalist who wrote for the New York Times. In person, however, her left hand gives away her rebellious side -- she doesn't wear a wedding ring despite having been married for 30 years. Cheh describes her path to marriage as being "out of order," having lived with Lewis for several years before marrying him.

Nearly 40 years later, she believes two things have been critical in helping to make her and Lewis's marriage a happy one: "Not only do we have a respect for each other's activities, but the other thing that I think has worked well for us is that we have common interests that have gone over the course of time . . . having that common interest is an important part in keeping people together, whether it be a marriage or even a long-term friendship." For them, those interests lie in sports and public affairs, and a conscious effort to let each other pursue individual endeavors.

The couple has two daughters and lives in Washington.

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Make the extra effort: Ted Gibson

Mixing business with pleasure wasn't such a bad idea for celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson. He solidified his union to business partner Jason Backe in a commitment ceremony 14 years ago. "We were married gays before it was cool," Gibson says. He and Backe came together at an ideal time in Gibson's life. At 29, he was ready to settle down and the couple fell in love after six weeks of dating.

After more than a decade with Backe -- and having experienced the many ups and downs of being in a committed relationship -- Gibson offers these words to couples who've hit a rough spot, "As rewarding as relationships are, a lifetime commitment to someone is not always easy. [A] relationship is work." He continues, "And when you give up on the work, that's when you have divorce." Trusting your partner and allowing him to have some freedom is also vital, Gibson says.

He owns Bethesda's Ted Gibson Salon, and spends his time with Backe in Washington and New York, where he owns another salon. While the couple has no kids yet, Gibson says it's "in discussion."

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When the time is right: Mark Rhea

Mark Rhea, founder and producing artistic director for the Keegan Theatre, was only 20 when he married his first wife. Two years later, the pair divorced. Maturity was lacking on both sides, Rhea says. "When you are young, everything's going by really fast. You're not thinking as clear. You haven't had a chance to appreciate what you've got," he continues.

Now at 45, Rhea, who's been married to his second wife Susan, 40, the associate artistic director for the Keegan Theatre, for nearly seven years, believes that being honest with his spouse and trusting her unabashedly have been instrumental to their success.

And while 20 wasn't the right age for him to take the leap, Rhea feels that marriage can still work for other young couples as long as they take the time necessary to truly get to know each other before making such a serious commitment. "Don't hold stuff in," he advises.

What else has worked so well in Rhea's second marriage? The couple's constant reassurance that they are still hot for each other: "There's not a day that goes by that we're not . . . telling each other how much we love each other."

Mark and Susan Rhea live in Alexandria. He has one child from his previous marriage.

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Something in common: Eun Yang

Out of her circle of Korean-American friends, NBC4 news anchor Eun Yang, 36, was one of the few to actually marry someone within her own race. "Neither of us expected to marry someone of the same nationality," she says about meeting her husband Robert Kang, 37. "I was open to dating, marrying someone from any race, nationality or ethnicity, and so was he. And then, we ended up finding each other."

She admits, however, that while the benefits of marrying within her culture are plentiful -- they both enjoy traditional Korean foods and have relatives who share the experience of being immigrants -- the act of sharing her life with someone else hasn't been made any easier. "The issues of raising a family, balancing your work and your home life -- it doesn't matter who you are, where you're from and whether or not your spouse shares the same nationality, culture, history [or] family background. I think you're going to still face challenges," Yang insists.

To help counteract those challenges, she and her husband, who does non-profit work in Asia, try to spend one night a week alone nurturing their union. And because both are in careers that keep them on the move, Yang leans on technology, such as webcams and e-mail, to let Kang know he's in her thoughts when distance gets in their way. The couple also likes to write each other love notes, strategically placing them in a briefcase or on the kitchen counter to surprise the receiver at the right moment. "Those little things go a long way," she adds. "You can look back at it again and again on your travels and say 'Yes, this person is thinking about me and we are not that far away from being reunited.' "

The couple has been together for 10 years and has three children. They live in Washington.

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A changed man: Elgin "Ginuwine" Lumpkin

If Elgin Lumpkin were to give his daughters any dating advice, he would narrow it down to six words: "Stay away from guys like me." For Lumpkin, the R&B singer better known as Ginuwine, that means the smooth-talking type of guy he used to be. "I was that guy that was just trying to get with you and not be committed." And when it comes to telling his daughters the warning signs to look for, "I would tell them the things that I would do and the things I would say because nothing's new [when it comes to the dating scene]... but the person that I was, I would never want them to fall in love with someone like that."

Now, a more mature Lumpkin maximizes time spent with his wife Tonya, formerly known as the rapper Solé, a task that can be difficult because of his career. To help balance being a husband and an entertainer, whenever Lumpkin is home he pitches in with household tasks that normally his wife would handle, such as cleaning the dishes or doing the laundry. When he's on the road, Lumpkin frequently flies Tonya out to whatever destination he may be in when his singing career keeps him away for extended periods.

And since travel is such a large part of what Lumpkin does, having trust in his wife's ability to stay monogamous (and vice versa) and a strong religious faith are two components that have kept their relationship solid since 1999. "You can stumble along the way. But if your commitment is to God, a God that you trust in, then it just makes that commitment and bond that much stronger," says Tonya, who's now an interior designer.

The couple lives in Prince George's County and has six children from previous relationships and two together.

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Giving it another try: Elizabeth Gaither

In order for Elizabeth Gaither to marry the man of her dreams, he had to turn their six-year, long-distance love into a same-city union.

For the Washington Ballet dancer, dating someone thousands of miles away had its down side. Patience helped her get through the bumpy stages of her courtship with Theo Kossenas, her Greek husband whom she met while on tour with another dance company in Athens. Months after they first met in 2003, Kossenas proposed -- but the couple ended their engagement almost as quickly as it began. The toll of a long distance relationship, fueled by Skype and e-mail, became too stressful. Five years later, the pair reconnected ready to put more effort into making their relationship work.

"Relationships -- I believe -- are all about timing," Gaither says. "It was a whirlwind but, you know, I was 30 and I was like yeah this feels right. I'm ready. But I think if it [the marriage] had happened then... I really don't think I would have been ready for all of this."

And as if the distance early on wasn't enough, once they reunited and finally married in 2009, Gaither and Kossenas also had to overcome a few cultural differences: "The way Greeks say things is very different from [Americans]. They're in your face and, you know, loud. Sometimes he's talking to his mom on the phone and I think they're fighting. So I've had to learn with us it's a constant work in progress." She advises couples in similar situations to be open-minded. "Always remind yourself to love those things -- the differences -- and embrace them."

The couple lives in Washington. Kossenas, a photographer, has a son from a previous relationship.

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It takes two: Esther Aguilera

Some parents schedule at least one child-free night per week to reconnect, rekindle what's fizzled or simply relax. Esther Aguilera, a mother of two and the CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, and her husband Mac Snelgrove have a slightly different routine they do each week.

"We each have a night where Mac can catch up on his projects and work late and then I have another night where I can do the same thing," says Aguilera. These "guilt-free" moments allow the couple to take care of non-household duties without feeling like they're neglecting their kids -- or relationship. "Taking one night to catch up so that the stress [of work] doesn't build up really helps," she continues.

Giving each other an evening off is just one tactic they use to make sure their 10-year union reaches the golden years. Aguilera credits much of their success, however, to another skill they've mastered during their decade together: compromising.

"We both like to support each other and come up with ways that will make all of the demands on our time easier and try to have more quality time at home. So it's compromising on how we can achieve that together."

Aguilera and Snelgrove, who runs a construction firm, live in Silver Spring.

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A tag-team approach: Geoff Tracy

When Geoff Tracy's then-girlfriend Norah O'Donnell brought up marriage, he wasn't at all enthused: "I never thought marriage was all that big of a deal. I was like 'why would we want to get married?'" says Tracy, owner of the Chef Geoff's and Lia's restaurants. In the late-1990s, he and O'Donnell, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, already had a house and a cat together. To him, walking down the aisle seemed unnecessary.

But after some discussion, marrying his college sweetheart felt like the right thing to do. When Tracy looks at his wedding ring, only one thing comes to mind: "It's meant to be there." It's been almost 10 years since he put it on, and he believes that giving each other space to grow as individuals has aided in the success of their marriage.

He encourages her to never become complacent in her journalism career, while she also pushes him with professional endeavors. And when Tracy goes on "guy trips" with his friends, O'Donnell doesn't bat an eye.

Tracy also says playing to each other's strengths has also helped to keep their marriage and household in order. "I do 100 percent of the cooking," Tracy adds, noting that O'Donnell's focus doesn't lie in the kitchen. "[But] I'm not good at organizing stuff and she is," he continues.

Even though their tag-team approach has worked well so far, he admits that marriage has its ups and downs: "You throw in kids. You throw in stresses of careers. I can see how people can find it overwhelming," Tracy mentions.

But his commitment is unwavering, despite any relationship bumps that might come along the way. "Marriage is about giving 100 percent . . . You have to be very engaged with it," says Tracy.

He and O'Donnell have three children and live in the District.

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In it for the long haul: Rea Carey

For Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, being married means no longer having to carry around documents proving that she and Margaret Conway, her partner of 10 years, are in a lifelong commitment and able to make health decisions for each other. Although they weren't legally married until September 2008 when they exchanged vows in California, their commitment to each other happened many years before, giving them plenty of time to figure out what makes their relationship a success.

"Among the things that really make [my relationship] work, particularly with working in D.C. which is a very work-focused town . . . is to make time for each other," says Carey. "In Washington things move so quickly and there's so much going on and people are so focused on work that you really have to make sure that you spend the time paying attention to each other and having fun."

In the Carey-Conway household, having fun means going out to dinner or taking an evening stroll to see the spring flowers in bloom. Carey does these activities while continuing to discover new reasons why her life is happier with Conway, a political communications consultant, than without.

"I think when you're with someone . . . enjoying each other and getting to know each other and falling in love with each other is a lifelong experience," she says. "It just doesn't happen and then it stops. You continue to get to know how your partner sees the world."

The couple lives in Washington with their daughter.

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His biggest supporter: Andy Shallal

Andy Shallal knew that the woman he shared the rest of his life with would have to make two commitments for their relationship to work: She must be dedicated to him and his career.

"As I explained to my wife . . . the business is going to come first," says Shallal, who owns the Busboys and Poets and Eatonville restaurants located in Washington's 14th Street corridor. "So if we have a plan and the business calls [for an important reason], the plans have to be set aside. And that's not easy."

Shallal admits his approach to marriage may sound selfish, but believes it has helped strengthen the bond between him and his wife Marjan, to whom he's been married for 25 years. While he enhanced the city's dining scene, she has kept things in order on the home front. She pays the bills, cares for the kids and attends PTA meetings, he says.

While Shallal's busy schedule doesn't permit much down time with his wife, he views their limited time alone as a plus. "When you're together all the time you sort of run out of things to say or you get bored. But when you're [spending quality time together], you really do have a much higher appreciation level," he explains.

To the newly united, Shallal recommends making sure your spouse is also your friend. "The falling in love part is just an initial phase. After that it has to become more of a friendship and people I think lose sight of that . . . You're not going to have romance every day. That's going to wear out at some level."

Shallal and his wife have two children and live in Adams Morgan. He also has two children from a previous relationship.

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The learning curve: Lindsay Buscher

Within their first three months of marriage, Lindsay Buscher knew she wanted her husband Chris to be more than just her life partner. She wanted him as a business colleague, too. That choice, however, would make the life of newlyweds a bit more complicated.

"We learned a lot about ourselves, especially the first few years," she says about her work and personal relationship with her husband, who runs payroll for the clothing boutique. After nearly seven years of marriage, they now have a better understanding of which battles are worth fighting and which to let go, she adds.

For other couples considering running a business together, Buscher recommends keeping an open dialogue about the challenges that come along with it. Plan for how you'll communicate during hard times, not just happy moments, she says.

To help make working with her husband a little easier, when she's at home Buscher tries to disconnect from Urban Chic, which has locations in Georgetown, Annapolis, Bethesda and Baltimore. Simple things, like having a conversation with Chris on their patio after a hard day, Buscher adds, are a reminder of how fortunate she is to have a successful marriage and business -- under the same roof.

The couple has two children and live in Woodbine, Md. Chris also works in commercial and residential real estate.

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Making it last: Paulette Walker Campbell

Paulette Walker Campbell couldn't predict what would happen to her marriage eight years ago after her twins were born. She was laid off from her job as a journalist and her husband, Russell, became the sole provider for their family, which also included a then 3-year-old daughter.

"We went through a rocky period," she says. "It was like he would walk in the door and we would look at each other and [I would] think 'I wish he would say something wrong.'"

To get through this challenging time -- and others that have come along the way during their 13-year union -- Campbell reminds herself that marriage is a partnership that should be resilient. "If you sort of pick the right person, someone who's compatible with you, you'll be able to weather those storms. But you have to have the commitment to marriage because otherwise you'll very easily say 'I don't have to deal with this.'"

In addition to commitment, she believes faith has played a role in their success. The family attends church weekly and at least one parent prays with all three children each night.

Campbell and her husband also set aside time in the evenings to enjoy each other's company. They play cards and watch TV together several nights a week after the kids go to bed. Being night owls works especially well for them, she says. "If I had to be in bed by 10 o'clock, I would never see him," Campbell adds.

She is a writer for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and her husband Russell is an associate director for the Food and Drug Administration. They live in Burtonsville, Md., with their children.

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Keeping things laid-back: Constantine Stavropoulos

After 13 years as a restaurateur, Stavropoulos is proud to say he and his wife don't need designated date nights. In the early years, he made a commitment to Djinn that despite his hectic schedule, he would make time for their relationship. "My promise to her was that if I invest all of my energy and time into building the places, then I would be able to get it to the point where I don't have to be crazy, seven days, 24-hours a day."

And he has accomplished that goal. Stavropoulos went from popping home for an hour after spending two days straight at work to eating dinner every night with his family. He credits the addition of a home office six years ago for that change but admits it required some adjustment. Simply being at home wasn't enough. "I think I was taking everybody for granted. The fact that I was here, it was like, 'Okay, I'm here now -- before I wasn't.' " Looking back, he knows that wasn't quality time. Stavropoulos decided he had to be present mentally with his family in order for the new arrangement to work.

At this point in their marriage, Stavropoulos and his wife are on the same page. Their laid-back approach can sometimes lead to a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway or grabbing drinks close to home.

He believes that having made a life-long commitment to someone who adds perspective to his life has helped keep their union solid -- even when he's overwhelmed with work responsibilities.

Constantine and Djinn Stavropoulos live in Washington with their two children.

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WRITTEN BY: Delece Smith-Barrow, AUDIO BY: Delece Smith-Barrow - The Washington Post
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Caron Butler, Rosalind Wiseman, Ted Gibson, Cindy Bertaut - Glogau Photographers, Moki Media, E. Gaither and E. Aguilera, Rea Carey, Paulette Walker Campbell, Constantine Stavropoulos, The Washington Post; WEB EDITOR: Andrea N. Browne - The Washington Post

© 2009 The Washington Post Company