5 Local couples share their secrets for long-term relationships
By Jennifer Colosimo
No matter what sparks it, whether an app or an old-fashioned introduction from a friend, love is something to celebrate. And contrary to popular belief, long-term romances are still revered today. So if you’re a sucker for a good love story, find reassurance that love is very much in the air. Turn the page to meet local couples that can prove it.
Dan and Susan Wirtz
When Dan and Susan met in 1993, they were living almost a thousand miles from each other, but were in fact raised less than two hours apart. It’s been nearly three decades since they met and this year they’ll celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with their two teenage daughters. No small feat, but one they credit to good communication, unified familial values and a whole lot of respect for each other.
“We have a foundation of common interests, shared values, life philosophy, and love for each other,” Susan says. “We had similar upbringings and thankfully, we are on the same page about finances and parenting! These two topics can cause great conflict if spouses disagree.” The Wirtzes agreed that communication, patience, compromise, and understanding each other’s perspectives are the keys to a good relationship—but they are all elements that have to continually be exercised.
“We have made a point to keep our relationship the primary relationship in our lives,” Dan says. “Respect, consideration, and kindness toward each other, laughing and having fun together—those things are important to us. We feel fortunate that we still like to hang out with each other and enjoy so many of the same activities.”
Having fun together also means giving each other space to do things with friends or pursue hobbies, and because they’ve allowed each other room to grow and change as individuals, they’re stronger as a couple. That strength has equipped them to navigate the deaths of parents, raising teenagers, and running their own business. It’s taught teamwork and compromise—and how to give and receive an apology. Plus, they make a point to share personal notes throughout the year to celebrate what they mean to each other so their love stays prominent.
“Relationships have easy phases and phases when they take a lot of work,” says Susan. “Hang in there when it is challenging and appreciate the times when everything is smooth and easy. Remember why you love the other person and why you chose him/her to be your spouse. Figure out what works best for how you and your family operate and stick to it.”
Michael and Gail Parker
When Michael and Gail first met it wasn’t much more than hellos and goodbyes. But when Gail admitted she wanted to move away due to Charlotte, North Carolina’s lack of eligible bachelors Michael got serious.
“I made up this story about a committee whose mission was to ensure women in Charlotte had a good time,” Michael says. “I asked her if she would mind me taking her ‘case’ back to the committee in hopes of changing her mind about the men in Charlotte. She didn’t buy it for one minute but liked my creativity so she played along and agreed. As they say, ‘the rest is history!’”
Quick history that is—they only waited three months before deciding to get married and this year they’ll celebrate 35 years together.
“We love each other enough to put the other’s desires before our own when necessary. It works in the end, and we’re both happier for it,” says Michael, who recently relented his Sunday football game to attend a jewelry show with his wife.
But no cliché here—the next week, Gail kept Michael company on a trip, even logging a few of the driving miles. Compromises playing a role, the Parkers also both swear by compatibility as the key to their relationship success.
“We enjoy doing the same things and the desire to be together overrides [anything else],” Gail says. “We are each other’s best friend and enjoy the company of each other more than anyone else.”
Their compatibility spans morals, faith, and philosophies about money, life, health, and fitness, making it easy to want to be around each other; but just like any other couple, they’ve dealt with challenges like building careers, raising a family, financial stress, relocations, deaths of loved ones, and more. Their desire to be together is what helps them overcome.
“We are blessed to have had a ‘fight-free marriage,’” claims Michael. “Over 35 years, we have had either four or five arguments. It depends on who you ask to get the right count. But that is a real triumph. We’ve learned that being careful with our words and making sure we express them at the right time, in the right way, is fundamental to building a solid marriage.”
Susan and David Nethero
When you think about engaging in a long-distance relationship, longevity may not be what comes to mind. That’s what Susan and David thought when they started dating, until the morning they woke up and knew they wanted to get married. They were in many of the same professional circles, but almost never lived in the same city—even after getting married—and it wasn’t until they moved to Atlanta (for the second time) that they put both pairs of feet on the ground together.
In Atlanta, they owned and operated Intimacy, the game-changing women’s lingerie company in
Phipps Plaza, growing the company to 18 U.S. locations before selling it to an international partner. It was never easy juggling business, family and life, but they made it work because of a shared vision for their future.
“We have these handwritten values we wrote out with each other,” Susan says. “They’re our vision for our life, reminders of what makes us a great couple and our shared goals, our shared values. That’s really what has made us so successful. We enjoy traveling and working together toward our goals, we love our family and grandkids, we like to work and serve others before our own needs, and we have so many shared experiences working together for over half of our lives.”
Serving others helped them find something else they shared—an interest in helping fund women entrepreneurs.
“Post Intimacy, we tried to redefine how we could find the next challenge,” says Susan. “We joined an
angel investment group in New York City called Golden Seeds. As managing directors in the
NYC chapter and new founding members in Atlanta, we have funded women who are innovators, risk managers, and women striving to build the next generation of technology in health care, enterprise technology and consumer products.”
They’re still on the go, traveling regularly to New York City and around the world for pleasure, but rooted in common passions, they’re doing all of it together … celebrating their 38th anniversary this year.
“We’ve never really had struggles—that word doesn’t really resonate with me,” David says. “We may have disagreed on something, but it was over an issue, not over a value. We debate, and then it’s over. It’s something called ‘unconditional love.’ And that means no conditions. I just love her.”
Jim and Edie Kelley
Jim and Edie met at church in 1975, but the Kelleys’ story stops being cookie cutter right there. It was an African-American church, and Jim was the only white guy in attendance.
“I had decided to make a difference as far as integration was concerned,” Jim says. “I got to know people and had a lot of friends. That’s how it started with Edie.”
That may have been what started it, but the more time the two spent together—bowling, movies, dinners, parties—it became obvious it was getting romantic. Especially when Jim finally kissed her.
The unlikely couple dated for about a year and got married in 1977. It sounds easy, but the 42 years were anything but, facing struggles from the very beginning as an interracial couple. At the courthouse, they were reminded it was illegal for them to marry in the state of Georgia.
At their first apartment complex, they were refused. Jim’s dad didn’t attend their wedding.
“Our relationship was the eye of the storm,” says Jim. “We knew what we were getting into before we got married. We knew there’d be challenges and we made the decision that we would be willing to go through that because we felt we knew we were doing the right thing.
We were right for one another.”
“We’ve learned a lot from each other because of our differences,” Edie says. “Nothing anyone said changed my feelings for Jim and vice versa. If we were going to face something, we were going to do it together.”
Prejudice subsided quite a bit over 42 years, and even Jim’s dad grew to love Edie. But what really grew was the love these two share for each other, which came in handy about eight years ago, when Jim was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“There’s a lot of struggles with hearing that—with being a man, worried about losing your manhood—but Edie helped me never to lose sight of the fact that life’s more than that. I knew she’d still love me, regardless. So, we decided we’d treat it, deal with it and go on with our lives,” says Jim.
And over the course of about eight months, they did.
“We love each other dearly,” says Edie. “We can feel it from each other. It’s the kind of deep love people talk about when they say you found your soul mate. We found ours.”
“A lot of our friends talk about what a good marriage we have. It really comes down to our love and commitment for each other,” says Jim. “We want each other to be happy.”
Patti and Mark Stephens
Patti and Mark met just before the 1996 Summer Olympics here in Atlanta, which meant most of their first dates centered around Olympic events. It took Patti about three months before she knew—and Mark will tell you he calls it, “the summer [she] didn’t like me,”—but fate won out, and they both realized they’d found someone special. They were married after only 15 months.
“I knew he was not like anyone I’d dated before,” Patti says. “Funny thing is, you always hear about six degrees of separation—this truly was that. My dear friend and old roommate introduced me to a friend, who introduced me to a friend and so on.”
Degrees of separation is just one credit to the success these two have found together.
“We were both over 35 when we married, so it helps that we had a pretty good idea who we were by that time,” Mark says. “I think it also helps that neither of us was looking for a spouse, and really only thought about getting married until we were with someone that made us think about getting married.” The minister and longtime friend that performed their ceremony also provided some wise advice: learn the phrase, “I love you anyway.”
It was also about respect. Spending years around other married couples helped them make mental notes and understand what it meant to build a life together.
“You have to want the best for each other,” says Patti. “We both like to stay active and healthy and enjoy many of the same things, but we also are good at doing our own things. Mark still plays soccer and goes cycling with his buddies while I go to Pilates and out with the girls. There will be times that you don’t want to be apart from each other—those are amazing. But there will be times that you really want some time on your own. That’s okay, too, because it makes the together times even better.”
Just this past year, Mark and Patti each lost one of their parents. With a base of respect and support, they could lean on each other for the emotional support they needed to weather through it—and came out even stronger on the other side. Mark stressed the importance of a similar unified front for approaching issues to do with raising their son.
“We have been married for over 22 years, and parents for 21, so parenting has always been a significant aspect of almost our entire marriage,” he says. “The best way for me to be a good father is to be a good husband—the rest will take care of itself.”
Making the Love Connection Digitally
Michael Brontë and Brenda Hall met on Bumble, the digital dating app designed to give women the decision-making power to choose who they want to connect with.
“When Brenda and I met, it was my first time using [Bumble],” Brontë says. “It seemed superior to apps I’d tried in the past. It was upscale, but not stuffy, and easy to use.”
The app works by asking clients to submit preferences, scroll through potential profiles and swipe left (to say no) and right (to say yes). If both parties swipe right, they’ll “connect” and women have
24 hours to reach out.
“Brenda let me ‘time out’ the first time!” admits Brontë. “But, there was something about her, I felt like I knew her. Goofy as it sounds.”
“I chose to use Bumble because I knew I most likely wouldn’t meet anyone socially with my schedule. Michael’s profile was the first to pop up every time I opened my account,” says Hall. “I was so nervous the first few times I went on, I deleted my account before I reached out to anyone, twice. That means I ignored Michael’s match, twice. He almost didn’t respond to me the third time.”
Hall was slow to master online communicating, or feel comfortable with the idea of reaching out to strangers, but the space it allowed to get her feet wet first gave her the confidence to agree to meet. And when they did, the date lasted six hours. Now, they’ve spent three years together.
“I credit our success to our mutual love, respect and appreciation. We both came from very different paths and found each other,” Brontë says. “I didn’t think I would find that ‘one’ at this point, to be honest. I appreciate her every day. I think we both do our best in showing and telling each other that in many ways. We both feel we’re lucky.”
“My advice is, don’t quit,” says Hall. “I’m so glad he was patient with me. I felt like I wasn’t the most eligible bachelorette, but I also knew I deserved to be happy with someone. When I saw Michael’s profile, something felt right. I knew he was the guy for me.”
Finding Love That Lasts in Today’s World
These days, you don’t have to practice pickup lines to seek promising relationships. Local businesses make it easy to cut out awkward first dates through personalized processes that help you filter through Atlanta’s eligible men and women.
Traditional matchmaking services like Single Atlanta and One-on-One Matchmaking handpick matches between individuals who share common interests, values and goals to provide high-end experiences for busy singles. Services are tailored to each individual and logistics are the easy part. Eight at Eight breaks the ice on standard blind dates by hosting intimate group dinner parties that introduce compatible singles in comfortable, sophisticated environments to spark conversation and chemistry.
In addition, society has mastered digital dating in a way that makes it easy to meet the people you want to. Apps and websites like Bumble, Match.com, Coffee Meets Bagel and more use algorithms and first impressions to suggest matches in your area. Another great way to connect with others is through networking events for singles such as Best Self Atlanta’s Single in the City gatherings. Could we go so far as to say dating is easy now?
Thank you to No18 for hosting the photo shoot for this article and to Krys Alex Photography LLC for capturing the special moments.