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Five years together: Still the one

It’s an exclusive club, of sorts, although few of its members have ever met.

Eight couples with one thing in common: engagement announcements that appeared in The Forum Nov. 29, 1998.

Make that two things in common: All of the couples remain coupled five years after their weddings.

“Going eight-for-eight in intact marriages after five years is impressive,” said Andrew Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociology professor who studies marriage and divorce.

Numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics show 20 percent of married couples separate or divorce after five years.

At current rates, Cherlin said, half of all marriages are expected to end in divorce.

But, he said, the scary numbers haven’t dimmed enthusiasm for getting hitched.

“Marriage remains important and highly valued to Americans, even with the high divorce rate,” he said.

The couples whose engagements ran in The Forum five years ago this weekend have spread out from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast.

There’s Jill and Jesse Chase in Bozeman, Mont., Marquita and Dustee Rhodes in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Maren and Gary Niemeier live in Grand Forks, N.D. Pauline and Shawn Brekke reside near Nielsville, Minn.

Laurie and Brian Kuehl are in the Dilworth area, while Lisa and Scott Mauch live in Marshall, Minn.

Sheila and Stuart Gunness make their home near Walcott, N.D.

(An eighth couple asked that their name and address not be published.)

Six of the couples shared stories of how they met, courted and -- against the odds -- kept marriage bonds strong.

It hasn’t always been easy.

One pair said one of their biggest blowups was a debate over who should wipe up toast crumbs.

Success, the couples say, requires work and play, communication and compromise.

Five years after tying the knot, many described marriage as a deep friendship and a love that feels like home.

Gary and Maren

Gary, 46, a book designer, and Maren, 32, a librarian, wed on Dec. 19, 1998, after dating for 1½ years. They have two children, Ava, 4, and Stella, 1.

Q: Has your idea of marriage changed since the time you were dating?

Gary: I had romanticized marriage considerably, so it was a bit of a shock to find out how much work it actually is -- that it’s not all like a Woody Allen movie.

But even the hardest work, like giving in to someone else’s point of view, is not that bad, because I genuinely respect Maren. She’s worthy of the effort.

Maren: I expected we’d both have to adapt and compromise a lot.

What I didn’t expect was how good it would feel to change for each other and how much Gary would feel like home to me.

Q: What advice do you have for couples starting out?

Maren: Enjoy each other and become friends. The real love grows as the infatuation fades away.

Gary: Be original. Don’t assume your life together has to follow some cookie-cutter pattern. Give each other time to ... did my wife just say her infatuation faded away?

Stuart and Sheila

Stuart, 25, a farmer, and Sheila, 27, a teacher, met in elementary school. They dated for four years before getting married Dec. 19, 1998. They are expecting a child in April.

Q: What have you liked most about being married?

Sheila: I enjoy coming home every day to someone I can share the good and the bad with, being able to be myself and know he is not going to judge me.

When we were dating, I would get excited when he would come to visit. I thought that would go away with a few years of marriage, but I still get excited to get home from work to see and talk to him.

Stuart: I like the companionship. I like having somebody to talk to and share life with. Something about Sheila makes me complete and I know I have something a lot of people are looking for.

Shawn and Pauline

Shawn, 32, a farmer, and Pauline, 30, a teacher, dated for five years before getting married Dec. 19, 1998.

Their thinking, they say, is so much alike when they took the compatibility test offered by the Catholic Church their responses floored the tester.

Shawn: “He accused us of cheating.”

Pauline: “No, he didn’t. ... He said our answers were 90-something percent the same.”

Q: Would you describe your partner as romantic?

Pauline: We like to do special things for each other. When I’ve had a really hard week, he surprises me with a bubble bath, candlelight and my favorite music.

When he is stuck on his tractor, I like to run out with breakfast. Milk and cookies. Or milk and a breakfast sandwich. I always get a big smile out of him.

Q: Do you have children?

Pauline: We plan on having children. The best part about not having kids right away is all the time you can spend focusing on each other. We have a great bond because of this. We have appreciated the time we have had together, uninterrupted.

Jesse and Jill

Jesse, 28, owns a house-building company. Jill, 28, a registered dietitian, is a stay-at-home mom. They dated for five years and were married Dec. 27, 1998. They have one child, Nicole, 18 months, and are expecting a second in April.

Q: You must encounter differences. How do you deal with them?

Jill: Things will come up that we have never really talked about (that) we both just assumed we would agree on and we don’t.

This has been much harder since having a child. Those things, we just have to come head to head with and try to come to an understanding. Resolving differences and making up becomes fun.

Jesse: Marriage is better than I ever thought it could be. I am so excited I get to live with Jill the rest of my life.

Q: Did you have a large wedding. Did anything unusual happen?

Jill: It was pretty small, 100 people. Nothing too unexpected happened.

My veil did catch on fire during the pictures, but I didn’t even care at the time.

Once the day finally arrives, it is a relief and also exciting.

Scott and Lisa

Scott, 34, is general manager of a grain company. Lisa, 33, is an office assistant. Friends since grade school, they dated for three years before their wedding Dec. 19, 1998. They have two daughters, Courtney, 4, and Sydney, 2, and are expecting a third child in May.

Q: Has having children changed your relationship?

Lisa: Life has really changed since children. We are tired a lot more. It seems if they (the kids) go to bed at 9 p.m. we are not far behind.

We have a lot of things we love about our marriage -- the kids would be on top of the list.

When I was in labor with our second child, Scott was right by my side. All of a sudden, I saw tears in his eyes. As much as I hurt, the only thing I could say was, “Honey, don’t cry.’’

We feel open communication is the best advice anyone could ever get.

Also, take separate vacations sometimes. Enjoy your friends and keep your old hobbies, so you keep part of yourself.

Dustee and Marquita

Dustee, 37, is a Naval nuclear instructor. Marquita, 28, works as a Navy civilian in housing management. The couple dated for 2½ years before getting married Dec. 31, 1998. Dustee has a 15-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

Q: How did you meet? Who did the proposing?

Marquita: Dustee and my brother were on the same submarine at one time. I met Dustee in my brother’s living room.

Dustee proposed to me at a BBQ while I was visiting him in Hawaii. .... He felt it was the right time, left the BBQ without telling me, and ran to the store to buy the ring.

Q: What have you discovered about each other since getting married?

Marquita: I didn’t know Dustee has a bad memory. My birthday is Jan. 5, sweetie, not the 4th.

I didn’t know that he worries about me, our life, and finance. I didn’t know he liked Japanese animation.

Dustee didn’t know I was a closet Trekkie.

Dave Olson
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