Paul and Alicia, married 17 years

Paul and Alicia
Both age 45, married 17 years
Clinical social workers

Trouble in Paradise
Paul: "We went through a crisis early in our marriage when we felt like roommates. It seemed like I was just living my life and I had this person who I loved, but my life wasn't really going to change drastically, so I was just—there's a term we throw around—a married single. It meant we were each doing what we wanted instead of making decisions jointly."

Alicia: "There was a sense of, 'This is not what I thought marriage was going to be.' Still, you don't want to let people know you're a failure at this marriage thing, so who do you talk to?"

A More Perfect Union
Paul: "For a dozen years, we've met monthly with two other couples strictly to talk about marriage. They know our history and we know theirs. We've all had crises and lots of ups and downs, and this is a safe place where everything can be shared."

Alicia: "We're in our 40s, 17 years into our marriage with three kids. Our sexual desires have changed; our energy levels have changed. ... In the support group, we can unabashedly talk about the grief that comes with those changes and not be embarrassed. We discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we hear 'Yeah, we've been there' versus 'What?! You did?! You don't?!' Because this is life and this is marriage, and it's a struggle sometimes, but it's worth it."
David and Renee, married 20 years

David and Renee
Ages 44 and 43, married 20 years
Philosophy professor and teacher

Trouble in Paradise
"There's this mythology to marriage about two becoming one. But I have always believed in personal time. I wanted to go out with friends, take a trip, or lie on the beach by myself. Early on, this was a point of tension. The assumption was that I was off girl watching. And I resented that because it wasn't the case at all. It caused a great deal of bickering, and it took us years to work through it."

A More Perfect Union
"I had to learn what to let go of. I realized, what's so bad about David going to Miami for a few days without me? Is he going to come home? Yes. Is he going to be relaxed? Yes. Will I benefit from that? Absolutely. And he'll know that I trust him, and he'll respect me more. I realized the time would come when I wanted the same and he would give me my space."

David: "And I encourage it—go partying, go dancing with friends. Spending time apart doesn't mean the marriage is bad; it just means that you care about each other enough to let the other person be who she is and enjoy her life—and you don't have to be in it all the time."
Jan and Jonathan, married 21 years

Jan and Jonathan
Both age 44, married 21 years

Trouble in Paradise
"I think the most difficult thing has been those times when we're under stress for whatever reason—work, parents, moving, or kids—and I'm trying to figure out: How do I deal with this? How does she? How do we handle it together?"

A More Perfect Union
"You have to learn what makes each other tick. You'll be fighting about the same things the last day you're married as you did on the first if you don't look at each other and say, 'This is who you are and this is who I am, and this is what makes me mad, and this is what gets you irritated.'"

Jonathan: "I know Jan has some anxiety at a level that I just don't have. So I think, 'Okay, I understand you're stressed and it's not me you're mad at. Take a minute to be anxious and angry, and then we'll talk about it.'"

Jan: "I know he's the big-picture guy. So I can't just ask him to have our son Matthew in bed by 8:30. I have to explain to him that Matthew didn't sleep well last night, and it's really important to me that he get to bed early. I can never make punctuality important to Jon. But I can make me important to him. And the respect he has for me will make him think, 'Right, check, I love her and this is who she is, and I need to do this because she needs me to do this.' And I have to do the same for him."
Justine and Joseph "Reverend Run", married 11 years

Justine and Joseph "Reverend Run"
Ages 40 and 41, married 11 years
Stars of the MTV reality series Run's House

Trouble in Paradise
"You have to learn to let the other person be right. When arguments get nasty, the one who got the nastiest has to give the most energy to heal the other person's heart. Divorce happens when you hit a stalemate, when you're locking horns. Somebody has to swallow the pride and say, basically, 'I'm wrong.'"

A More Perfect Union
"We go to a marriage class at our church. Everybody shares what they're going through, and you hear how other people deal with things. You get things out in the open that you didn't know you felt, or your husband didn't know you felt."

Run: "One thing we learned is that the more you make love, the closer you feel. You have to break through the feelings of 'We're not happy together, I don't want to make love.' Because if you make love, for some reason it brings you spiritually closer. The arguing will stop and you'll be happier. It's one reason we're calm with each other. ... I know that no matter what my wife is mad about, I can hug her and she is going to respond to my love. If we're having a dark moment, it's a dark moment together, and when we come out of it, we're both standing in the light."
Mai and Brian, married 36 years

Mai and Brian
Ages 60 and 63, married 36 years
Teacher's assistant and investment adviser

Trouble in Paradise
"There was a time when Brian was depressed, and he'd come home and pour himself a vodka every night. We had a big fight about that."

Brian: "It was just a few years ago. We were as close to cracking as we'd ever been. We had a real nasty snap, and I thought I didn't love her."

A More Perfect Union
"I reached the end of the line and I said, 'I do love you, and I'm not going to drink anymore.' Sometimes you stay together because you don't leave. That sounds like such a simple thing, but it's the bottom line."

Mai: "You may wonder, What happened to the man I married? He had so much good in him once. So instead of packing up and leaving, you try to find that part again. I deal with hard times by looking back at the man I first fell in love with. That's how I check myself—because I respect Brian the way I did the day I married him. Even if he doesn't seem to be the same man at the moment, I know those things I fell in love with—his courage, his honesty—are still inside him."

Brian: "Marriage is like a warm gas stove. Even if the burners aren't on all the time, you've always got to keep the pilot light lit. You have to go back to that, back to the beginning."