Long-term couples offer advice for new couples on keeping a relationship healthy and happy

Compiled by the Dallas Voice News Staff

As of June 26, 2013 — the day that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling striking down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act — the Pew Research Center estimated that there were at least 71, 165 legally-married same-sex couples in the United States — “certainly more.”

That’s when there were nine states that legally recognized same-sex marriage. As of Monday, Feb. 9, there are 37 states and the District of Columbia that are marriage equality jurisdictions. Four times the marriage equality states equals four times the same-sex marriages, maybe? If so, then that puts us at 284,660 …. um, well, let’s say 284,660, more or less.And with the possibility of a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down marriage bans in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi possible any day now, and a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling supporting marriage equality nationwide on the summer horizon, the number of legally married same-sex couples in this country is bound to skyrocket.

But the fact is, after those last legal roadblocks are out of the way, getting married will be the easy part. It’s staying married that could get tricky.

So, with Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend and everyone’s thoughts turning to love and romance, we thought we would talk with a few long-term couples, and get them to offer up some advice for the new couples among us on how to keep your marriage happy and healthy for years to come.

Feleshia Porter and Amanda Blackshear have been a couple since 1990. They were married in September 2013 in Red River, N.M., with Marge Perry, now deceased, performing the ceremony. Here’s their advice:

Don’t make demands, ask for what you need or want. Be kind to each other. Laugh a lot. Appreciate and respect each other. Work together to create a life you both love. Master the art of knowing when to speak up and when to keep your mouth shut. Make and respect boundaries. Play well and fight well together. Teach each other how you want to be treated. Pay attention and enjoy life because it goes by really quick in the flow of a good relationship.

Bob Williams is the founder of Ranch Hand Rescue. He and his partner, Marty Polasko, have been together for 27 years. Bob said that the secret to their longevity is honesty and communication.

“We made a pact to never go to bed mad at each other. You have to resolve what your issues are. To have a successful relationship, it’s give and take. No matter how hard things get, it’s the love that gets you through,” Bob said. “You need to be monogamous or chances are the relationship won’t last.”

Sarah Gaylord and Teresa Ferrell have spent the last 24 years as a couple, and their advice on making it last is short and sweet: “Never stay mad over the little things. Remember how to have fun, and most importantly, remember how she likes her steaks cooked!”

Rabbi Debra Kolodny is a bisexual rabbi from Portland, Ore. She is marrying her partner, Brio Kelly Howard, in August. “We count our blessings every day,” Kolodny said, “intentionally honoring the best in each other. When things get hard, we lovingly explore it right away. We met at Sacred Dance. We go once a week, so we have a shared spiritual practice, which literally helps us shake things off.”

Finn Jones, a trans man, is the owner of Sacred Ground Lawn Care and has been with his partner, Susan Blanchard, for five-and-a-half years. It was about a year into the relationship that Finn began his transition, a process that added another dimension already-difficult job of staying together.

“My advice is doing therapy separately and as a couple,” Finn said. “And communication and respect are the most important aspects of a successful relationship, transitioning or not. Even communicating the hard stuff. It has to happen no matter what.

“And to find a good support group that works with individuals and couples, like DFW Trans-Cendence, the group we helped found and lead,” he added. “It is imperative that you seek help and support from other successful couples.”

Robyn Ochs is an educator and activist who makes her living as a speaker on bisexual issues. Her new book is Recognize: The Voices of Bisexual Men. She and her wife, Peg Preble, have been together 17 years. The keys, Robyn said, are kindness, space and trust.

“In 17 years, we’ve never lost our temper with one another,” Robyn said. “We resist that urge to say something hurtful. We step back and resume the conversation after the urge passes, because you can’t take it back.”

She continued, “We give each other lots of space. We’re not one of those joined-at-the-hip couples. We have some separate and some shared friends.

Neither of us ever has to refrain from doing something. I go two-stepping and she goes out on her motorcycle. Our relationship is never suffocating. [And] we always trust and respect each other.”

The Rev. Carol West, pastor of Fort Worth’s Celebration Community Church, and her partner, Angela King, have been together for 28 years. Their advice is simple and straightforward.

“We share a basic value system, and we believe in a lively sense of humor,” West said. “Seems to keep us going.”

Long-term relationships don’t always have to be “traditional.” Gauge Xavier is a call center manager in a polyamorous relationship with his two husbears, James and Michael.

“Each poly I have met defines their families in different ways,” Gauge said. “We define ours as an open poly. We don’t blur the lines of love and sex. We also don’t believe that love has boundaries. We are free to explore where the heart leads us.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes not. But that is part of the journey of life,” he said.

For same-sex couples not in a legally recognized marriage, there is a barrage of legal paperwork needed to protect themselves and their paperwork that those who have the option of legal marriage don’t face. For a polyamorous relationship, arranging “legal protections and setting up documents to protect one another” are necessary steps.

“Insurance can be tricky as well. I am currently restructuring a limited liability corporation to protect our assets,” Gauge said. “But in real life our struggles are not much different than any other gay struggles. There’s just an added dimension when more people are involved.“

Lab tech and full-time student Bobbie Russell identifies as bisexual, and she has been with her partner, Kevin Smith, for 10 years.

“I’m no relationship expert, and this is just my two cents,” Bobbie said, “but we never fight, and he’s put up with my bullshit for 10 years. So maybe I’m doing something right.”

As far as offering relationship advice to others, Bobbie said, “Don’t look for a relationship, look for friendships and a relationship will find you. You must commit to the fact that relationships are hard work at times, so communication and honesty with your partner are key. Tell the truth even when you don’t want to.

“Have fun and enjoy each other’s company,” she continued, “and make sure your partner is open and accepting of your sexual kinks.”

Dallas City Attorney Theresa O’Donnell said sometimes you just have to accept the inevitable: “Christa has a Ph.D. in rhetorical analysis. I’ve never won an argument. I learned 14 years ago to stop. I don’t try anymore.”

And to wrap it all up, here’s a few words of advice from Dallas Voice Publisher Leo Cusimano, and his partner, Tony Cuevas, a professor at SMU. The two have been together 34 years, have two adopted sons and have spoken frequently at seminars and conferences on maintaining a healthy relationship.

“Tony and I met in college 34 years ago and our hearts still skip a beat when we see each other across a crowded room,” Leo said. “We started out as friends trying to figure out what we wanted to be and do, but our friendship turned quickly to love based on respect. We found that we had a lot in common and shared the same values and interests.

“True love is finding someone who sees the best in you, even when you don’t, and who makes you want to be the very best person you can for yourself — and then feeling the same about him or her,” Leo continued. “Maya Angelou inspired us early in our relationship with a quote: ‘Love recognizes no barriers, it jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.’”

Leo said that over the years as he and Tony grew up together, they were able to “maintain a common path because our faith in one another remained strong and our journey has been full of hope. We adopted two boys from foster care after our 25th anniversary and our love has grown exponentially for each other and our extended family. It truly does take a village.

“Simply put, after 34 years together, we believe in the same things, we carry the same qualities and passions. It does, however, always come down to the three C’s: communication, commitment and co-dependency,” Leo said. “Well, I’m just kidding about the co-dependency part. The third C is really collaboration, not compromise.

“Collaboration is about understanding each other’s needs and finding a mutually beneficial, win-win solution, which takes communication and being committed to one another,” he added. “As our family has grown through the years, our relationship continues to change and grow stronger. Our inspiration these days comes from RuPaul: ‘If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?’ To that I say, ‘Amen.’”

So there you have it — advice culled from about 200 years of relationship success on how to find and keep the man or woman of your dreams. Here’s wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day, and many years to come of wedded (legally or not) bliss.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 13, 2015.