for better or worse: a guide to 23 years and counting

In 1987, I was 21 and I fell in love. In a nightclub. Heavy on the fog machine and even heavier on “The Cure.” It wasn’t the first time I had met the 31-year-old Larkin, but it was the first time I “saw” him. The way we both remember it, through all of that artificial fog, we finally looked at each other and just fell.

Like many couples, you start dating and spending more time together. Lots of phone calls just to hear each others voice. Then you start to have those long amazing talks, swapping all of your stories over long, slow bottles of wine, finding that you connect on a deeper level. You realize you have never felt this kind of connection. And then, as I always tell my girls, you just KNOW.

Is there anything more wonderful, scary, brave, crazy, romantic, insane than falling in love?

We all grow up with an image of what marriage is going to be like or look like.  That image can be quite damning for those who feel a need to itemize qualities or define their future Mr. or Mrs.

For instance, I swore I would never marry someone with kids. And, Larkin said he would never marry again, after his first marriage. Did I mention that we actually made these statements to each other, on one of those aforementioned wine fueled “amazing, long talks”?

Obviously, like most imbeciles in love, we threw all caution, warning, parental feelings, sound advice and genuine criticism to the wind. How could we go wrong?! I was a “Model/Actress”, (which meant equally less in 1987) and he was a cool, nightclub owner. Wasn’t this exactly what Jane Austen was talking about? Or maybe I’m thinking Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. You can see where I’d get confused.

In six months we were engaged, six months later we were married and six months later we were pregnant. It was just like Han Solo making the jump to light speed with the “Millennium Falcon”. We didn’t just fall, we kicked it in to hyper-drive and dove in head first.

Today, we have been married 23 years. “Been married” sounds so casual, like “been there, done that.” No one says we’ve “achieved” 23 years. Or, “earned” 23 years.  Or, even “survived”. That last one may not look as nice on a Hallmark card, but truly, it is a bit more accurate in a world filled with challenges and temptations.

People have always complimented us on our marriage. Our own parents, have recognized our marriage as a standard for themselves. We are lucky, yes. But, it wasn’t given to us. Right off the bat, our chances as a “second marriage” were not good. But, Larkin and I knew what we had, even when everyone else had their doubts.

We’ve survived a near-fatal illness, a 12 step program, failed business ventures and even a fall off a roof.  We have blended a family and made Larkin’s ex-wife, Ana, a part of our family. We have four healthy children, that may or may not need therapy. Together, we’ve buried all of our grandparents. Last year, we lost our first parent and came close to losing another. We are currently making the transition to the “sandwich generation”, caring both for parents and kids.

For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health. Yep, we’ve pretty much covered it.

There are no easy marriages. At every crossroad, there are two opinions, two personalities.  All of the romantic notions such as, “we are like one” or “two hearts that beat as one” will fly right out the window when both of your mothers want you for Christmas Eve. And, of all the challenges that lie ahead, THAT one is a level one on the tension scale.

Communication is key. But, here are a few of my own suggestions to help keep up a happy marriage:

Spend quality time together, but, give each other space for friends or “me” time. It is okay to have separate hobbies or activities. That is how you grow as a person and in turn your marriage will blossom. And, for God’s sakes, let him play golf. Sure, it’s four hours, but it is four guaranteed hours for you.

Keep up date night. Don’t become complacent and just assume you don’t even have to try anymore. There is a time and place for yoga pants and sweats. Make an effort for that NOT to be on Saturday nights, unless, of course,  you are in a workout class together.

Jealousy will annoy your spouse, but it will absolutely destroy you. Jealousy is your own insecurity looking for validation. How crazy is that? You have to love yourself before you can truly love someone else. (Lola voice: “Ya! Let it go!”)

You have to be a team. Together, you can face anything. Especially if you have kids. Don’t ever let them see you divided. They’ll sense the weak spots and go in for the kill. Don’t give them that power. Sometimes you will take turns being each other’s cheerleader. Pumping the other up, rooting them on, picking them up and dusting them off; never criticizing or belittling. Ever.

Best friends, lovers, best friends, lovers. You have to be both. Equally and creatively. (To our children, sorry you had to read that, but it’s true. You’re “adults” now. Get over it.)

And, my favorite, laugh together. Loud and often. Get really good at it. You’re going to need it. Someday there will be so much going unbelievably wrong, that the only thing you can do is laugh. And, therein lies the best part of marriage:

Your best friend is right there laughing with you.


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  1. So happy to have been along for the ride during the last 14 years of the partnership. Darn…just sorry we missed the matching Christmas sweaters in Clear Lake. (One day the photos WILL surface.) Even then I know you were both cool! Love you.

  2. “breaking down the barriers” :))) I think we can handle the lovers part now. It has been about 15 years since that fun conversation hahah love you both! 2nd momma and pop forever

  3. I really enjoyed reading that and the Stallings family will always be in my Prayers as you all have helped me thru some of the most difficult times of my life. May GOD continue to bestow his mercy and grace on you both cause you both or such an inspiration in so many people lives. Congrads…

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