Cou­ple ex­plores the many mean­ings of mar­riage Tips from cou­ples

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ES­TATE -

weeks to six decades to­gether.

There were the for­mer drug deal­ers who be­came min­is­ters, in Jones­boro, Ga. The new­ly­weds in Alaska. The Hawaii cou­ple who mar­ried young and, over the past 15 years, had five chil­dren and over­came a se­ri­ous ill­ness.

The recol­lec­tions and rev­e­la­tions cap­ture a wide va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences:

“We had to take a bus be­cause he wasn’t 16 yet,” said a Mon­toursville, Pa., woman who has been mar­ried for more than 60 years.

“When [my wife] and I came to­gether, we would agree that we were dif­fer­ent. We could have said, ‘This is my way. This is your way.’ But you can’t lean into just that . ... Just be­cause we came from know­ing it one way doesn’t mean it’s ac­cept­able,” a Colum­bus, Ohio man, mar­ried nearly four decades told them.

“The big­gest ob­sta­cle we have faced in our mar­riage is our own selves. Mar­riage is such a self­less thing. I have to put him first, apol­o­gize first, ini­ti­ate first, love first, and serve first. As a self­ish hu­man be­ing, that is hard. But what a JOY when we get it right from time to time,” said a woman who had been mar­ried just a year in Mem­phis, Tenn.

The project wasn’t as am­bi­tious at the start. With the hopes of pho­tograph­ing and in­ter­view­ing at least 20 cou­ples to show “how amaz­ing mar­riage can be,” the Bow­ers, who will be mar­ried for 10 years in June, launched a web­site in early 2014 with a call for nom­i­na­tions of mar­ried cou­ples with in­spir­ing sto­ries. Within six months, they re­ceived around 60 en­tries from around the world.

“That kind of got us think­ing that there’s so many of these sto­ries, some­one should re­ally go around to try and tell these sto­ries and show that mar­riage is amaz­ing, that there’s so much to learn from it,” said Ryan, who along with Liz, 31, hoped to pro­vide pos­i­tive and re­al­is­tic ex­am­ples of mar­riage for the many cou­ples they pho­tographed on their wed­ding days.

The project was also an ex­cuse to travel, Liz said, so they planned a jour­ney around the coun­try to col­lect at least one love story from ev­ery state in the coun­try.

The duo put their Fed­eral Hill house up for rent, bought a 2015 Win­nebago View and set off in Jan­uary 2015. Fifty states, 41,983 miles, and 98 in­ter­views later, they re­turned with more than enough ma­te­rial to self­pub­lish “Amaz­ing Life To­gether.”

The trip, funded with the help of more than $12,000 raised on crowd­fund­ing web­site Indiegogo, was eye-open­ing, Liz said. They camped out in Wal­mart park­ing lots by night and dis­cov­ered the vast­ness and di­ver­sity of the United States while in­ter­view­ing and pho­tograph­ing cou­ples by day, fly­ing back to Mary­land in between to shoot wed­dings. (Amid all that, they also opened mo­bile wood-fired pizza kitchen Well Crafted Pizza.)

They were in­vited to cou­ples’ homes, communities and an­niver­sary din­ners, and though they sched­uled many of the in­ter­views be­fore­hand, they met and spoke with cou­ples at ran­dom.

“Ev­ery sin­gle cou­ple is very unique. They share their own in­ti­mate sto­ries, and it’s not of­ten that we get to sit down with cou­ples and hear those in­ti­mate sto­ries and re­ally dig deep into what has shaped their re­la­tion­ship,” Liz said.

For Christy, 35, and James Tyler, 38, of Chicago, who di­vulged de­tails about their fer­til­ity is­sues for the book, the ex­pe­ri­ence of in­ter­view­ing with the Bow­ers was re­fresh­ing.

“We were preg­nant with twins at the time. We kind of had a stress­ful sum­mer, with go­ing through all of the treat­ments and mov­ing into the house at the same time,” said Christy, who has been mar­ried for nearly eight years and now has two healthy twin boys. “To talk about mar­riage and share our story, the more you rem­i­nisce about stuff, it helps you re­mem­ber the good stuff and also the hard stuff you’ve been through. We ac­tu­ally re­ally liked it. They left and we were like, ‘Aw, that was re­ally fun.’ ”

Allison Barn­hill, 41, and hus­band Tom, 42, of An­napo­lis, said de­spite be­ing friends with the Bow­ers for nearly a decade, their in­ter­view was one of the first times they shared some of the hard­ships they ex­pe­ri­enced in their mar­riage with friends: A busi­ness failed, and their son Lo­gan, 12, was di­ag­nosed with autism around the age of 2.

To­day, Tom has a suc­cess­ful busi­ness ad­vis­ing com­pany and Lo­gan has made strides thanks to early in­ter­ven­tion. The cou­ple launched a foun­da­tion to pro­mote autism aware­ness and as­sist with early in­ter­ven­tion ser­vices.

“Build­ing back up and get­ting through all of that, we hadn’t re­ally shared that with any­one . ... They were pretty much the first peo­ple we told out­side of our lit­tle cir­cle, and then you know, it’s go­ing to be in a book,” Allison Barn­hill said with a laugh.

High­light­ing the cou­ples’ chal­lenges was an es­sen­tial part of the book, Liz said.

“It’s not all roses and sun­shine. Some of these cou­ples have gone through ex­cru­ci­at­ing things,” she said.

“Just be­ing able to rec­og­nize that you have an ex­am­ple of a love story that you can look to where they made it through and they fought for it is in­spir­ing ... Some­times you need those re­minders that you’re nor­mal.”

And with ev­ery cou­ple, of­ten came tid­bits of ad­vice that the Bow­ers hope will be use­ful to new­ly­weds and other cou­ples in the fu­ture. Sugges­tions ranged from sim­ple — al­ways kiss­ing be­fore go­ing to bed — to the more ob­scure, like al­ways show­er­ing to­gether, one cou­ple’s sug­ges­tion for bond­ing and sav­ing wa­ter, Ryan said.

Cou­ples also stressed the im­por­tance of in­di­vid­ual growth, be­ing aware of per­sonal strengths and weak­nesses and hav­ing their own in­ter­ests and hob­bies, Liz said.

“In a mar­riage, you’re al­ways try­ing to take care of the other per­son, but in reality, you should be the best for your­self,” she said.

The re­sound­ing con­sen­sus was that “hav­ing an amaz­ing mar­riage does not mean hav­ing a per­fect mar­riage,” but that spend­ing life with one’s best friend was one of the big­gest pay­offs, Ryan said.

“It was al­ways com­ing back to friend­ship.”

Christy Tay­lor said she’s look­ing for­ward to the fi­nal prod­uct, which she feels will re­flect a dif­fer­ent chap­ter in her life. She al­ready has trou­ble re­mem­ber­ing some of the de­tails, she said.

“I think hav­ing it in print for us to look back on and for our boys to look back on will be re­ally awe­some,” she said, adding that read­ing about the older cou­ples who have been mar­ried for decades will be mo­ti­vat­ing.

“It’s in­spir­ing to think we can make it to that point if we keep chug­ging it along.”

AMY DAVIS/BALTIMORE SUN PHOTOS

The cover of the book “Amaz­ing Life To­gether” is dis­played on a lap­top. The cover was de­signed by Liz Bower, who co-wrote the book with her hus­band, Ryan. Wis­dom from the book’s au­thors and the fea­tured cou­ples: Com­mu­ni­cate in­ten­tion and ex­pec­ta­tions. One cou­ple fea­tured in “Amaz­ing Life To­gether” talked about how dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions of a trip to Tar­get led to an ar­gu­ment. The hus­band thought the trip was for one item, while the wife wanted to go shop for other things. “They were talk­ing about the sim­plic­ity of openly com­mu­ni­cat­ing and shar­ing with each other, not only in the day-to-day, but that also stems into big life is­sues and top­ics as well,” au­thor Liz Bower said. Lis­ten to your part­ner. Au­thor Ryan Bower said he learned through the many in­ter­views that lis­ten­ing to a spouse’s prob­lem first is more im­por­tant than try­ing to fix it. “If there is a prob­lem, my im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion shouldn’t be to fix it,” he said. “It’s not that the spouse wants you to fix it. They just want to be loved and lis­tened to.”

Oc­tavia and Der­rick tell their story in “Amaz­ing Life To­gether.” Al­ways op­er­ate as a team. “As soon as you start think­ing, ‘How can we solve this to­gether?’ you’ve won half the bat­tle,” said sub­ject Tom Barn­hill. “When­ever you face ad­ver­sity, you’re never alone if you at­tack [your prob­lem] to­gether. You can over­come any­thing to­gether.” “Amaz­ing Life To­gether,” $49.95, amaz­inglife­to­gether.com

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