Sensational news reports, census numbers, reality television and, sometimes, even our own family history has many of us questioning the feasibility of a happily ever after relationship. But lasting happiness can be yours! Need proof? We chatted with couples whose bonds grow deeper each decade. From date nights to heart-to-heart talks to freaky bedroom fun, these dynamic duos share how they make it last forever.
1. Have great expectations.
Twenty-four years into their union, Allen Blackston, 51, and his wife Angela, 48, of Frisco, Texas, help others build successful marriages through Victorious Marriage Ministries. But when the Blackstons’ honeymoon ended, the pair realized they had to repair their own foundation. They discovered that different expectations about everything from how to spend money to where to live had the potential to be deal breakers, and they needed to navigate those issues to find common ground. Now, the parents of two children ages 23 and 17 tell young couples who come to them for counseling that setting and agreeing on expectations for life after “I do” is crucial. And if those expectations change, the lines of communication need to be open enough for partners to work through them. “It’s not a commitment if when everything is fine we’re together, and when things go wrong, we look for ways out of the relationship,” says Allen.
2. Make your partner your BFF.
Paul Brawley married his best friend, Wendy, on her 22nd birthday. Thirty-two years and two children (now 31 and 22) later, they complete each other’s sentences and share private jokes. Both value the ease with which they talk about goals, concerns and career issues. Maintaining shared honesty, respect and humor kept the Hopkins, S.C., couple together after Paul’s two failed runs for public office left the family in financial distress for a period. In 2006, with Wendy’s support, Paul, 55, became Richland County’s first Black county auditor; he is also the first Black official elected countywide. Paul says, “I love my wife more than I do anybody else, but to build a solid relationship, you have to be good friends. You’ve got to respect each other.”
3. Support each other’s dreams.
Dana Davis, 42, always wanted to be on television. But since she lived in Arlington, Texas, and not Los Angeles, her husband, Adrian, 43, dismissed it as a dream. When Dana discovered The Amazing Race was auditioning couples in her area for its 16th season, she insisted she and Adrian try out. It was a turning point for the couple, who have been together since high school. “I realized how my writing off [her goal] made my wife feel,” admits Adrian. “My job is to support her.” He made it his mission to wow the producers, not just by sharing their 20-year love story, but also by showing off some impressive swing-dancing skills. The lovebirds landed a place on the cast, packed their bags and the adventure began as they headed south to Chile.
4. Keep it spicy.
Dana and Adrian know that seeking out novel experiences together is what keeps their passion hot. The obvious sparks between them during their time in the spotlight kindled an opportunity to lead a panel discussion on marriage and intimacy aboard Tom Joyner’s Fantastic Voyage—or was it the Love Boat?—cruise last spring. The Davises made waves during their high-seas adventure by telling passengers to throw their sexual inhibitions overboard. “[The bedroom] should be the most comfortable place in the world,” says Dana. “I talk to people, and they are like, ‘No, girl; I don’t do that,’ or, ‘If he did that, I’d be offended.’ But sex is about expression, and if you can’t feel free, I don’t see how you can enjoy that moment.” During the discussion, the couple unabashedly discussed oral sex, a topic that rocked the boat for some audience members. “A lot of Black men feel their women don’t meet their needs. There is a big issue with Black women and oral sex. The perception is that White girls give it, and this is a reason Black men sometimes [date outside the race],” says Dana.
5. Give your boo the royal treatment.
Want to affairproof your marriage? Stop being so selfish. “One of the biggest mistakes a lot of us make is being so busy worrying about what we want that we forget about our spouse,” explains Angela Blackston, who authored Fight for Your Marriage! (Christian Services Network). “In most instances, a spouse cheats because he or she feels lonely and neglected.” Angela goes so far as to say that she puts Allen’s needs above her own, coming home before a girls’ night out to make sure he has a hot meal, for example. Likewise, before Allen hits the links for a few rounds of golf with the guys, he’ll cross an item or two off Angela’s honey-do list. “When I look at my husband, I see my king,” says Angela. “We do our best to keep each other happy.”
6. Stay joined at the pockets.
“Finances push people to the brink of divorce; we’ve seen it over and over again,” says Angela. To stay on the same page, discussions about goals, savings, expenses and investments are a must. Separate bank accounts may be a relationship red flag. “There is no ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ It’s ‘ours.’ We’ve become one,” says Angela. Each spouse draws a set “allowance” from their joint account for discretionary spending—and not a penny more; other funds are allocated for fixed expenses. “That helps us prevent overdrafts [and] surprises,” Angela says. She also stresses that the person who will be the main money manager should be chosen on the basis of aptitude, not on gender roles.
7. Agree to disagree.
The Davises make a point not to sweat the small things, such as Adrian not picking up his socks or Dana not taking out the garbage. And when bigger disagreements, such as whether they are in the position to buy new rental property occur, they believe in listening to each other, respecting each other and continuing to have each other’s back. “We’re not going to see eye-to-eye on everything,” says Dana. “Her opinion matters to me,” says Adrian. “I don’t let a disagreement taint the way I feel about my wife.”