Photo: Courtesy of the Crabbe Family
Giving your heart to another person: It's the most universal impulse, yet the most singular thing we do. So if you've ever worried that your relationship isn't like everyone else's, you're absolutely right—and you're not alone. Dearly beloved, we're pulling back the curtain on the lives of 4 real couples to behold the amazingly varied shapes love can take. And whatever shape it happens to take for you, we now pronounce you just fine.

Couple #1

Sara and Robert Crabbe

The Challenge

Married in 2005, Sara, 32, a PR manager, and Rob, 34, a TV producer, both come from a long line of very successful unions—we're talking decades upon decades of love-you-forever, you're-my-one-and-only, flat-out wedded bliss. Five years down, only 60 or 70 more to go...

Sara: My mother's parents have been married for 62 years, and my other grandparents were married for 42 years before my grandfather passed away. My parents have been married for 36 years, and they're still really sweet with each other—there's a big love there. I understood early on that they'd all found their ideal, and it made me want to wait for mine, too. When I met Rob—it sounds corny, but I knew I had. And by the way, his parents celebrated their 40th last year.

Whenever Rob and I are out together, a crowd forms around him, and I like that my husband is someone people want to know. What's unique about him is that to the core, he's good. It sounds bland, but it's extraordinary. There's nothing in him that's ill-willed or secretive—he doesn't even tell white lies. The guy is just good. And because of that, he makes me better. In past relationships, the grass was greener elsewhere. But now the best part of my day is seeing Rob walk through the door.

Rob and Marisol: The art of living apart

Scott and Andrea: Together forever, all the time

Ian and Johanna: To feel needed
Rob and Marisol Simon
Photo: Courtesy of the Simon Family
Boy meets girl. Boy has two kids. Girl would rather keep her own place, thank you.
Couple #2

Marisol and Rob Simon

The Challenge

Marisol, 45, a chef and author, and Rob, 55, a new-media entrepreneur, may have fallen in love—but that didn't mean they wanted to join households, which in Rob's case included two kids. Their solution? In the seven years they've been married (that's their wedding, at right), they've happily maintained separate spaces. Sleepovers allowed.

Rob: When I thought about marriage, I pictured all four of us living together, but the truth is, that was my dream. It wasn't Marisol's dream, and it wasn't the kids' dream. Marisol didn't want to be a mom, and Ben [then 15] and Claire [then 11] didn't need another mother. During our dating days, I would stay at her place when I wasn't with the kids. I was happy, she was happy. There was nothing broken, so I thought: "Why don't we just continue that but be married?"

Marisol: There's a certain magic to our marriage, and it comes from not being together all the time. There's an old saying, "How can I miss you if you're always around?" Rob and I always miss each other, and I don't know if it would be the same if we lived together all the time. It's funny. One time I took Claire out for her birthday, just us girls, and there was a couple sitting near us not saying a word to each other. Claire said, "That's what would happen to you and Dad if you guys lived together."

Rob: As it is, we talk a lot. We always know where the other one is. And I think we spend more time with each other than most couples do. We tuck each other in at night by phone, and if she's out with friends, I check to make sure she got home okay, and vice versa. And there's always been a lot of trust that we wouldn't be Tiger Woods–ing each other.

Marisol: Just because you love someone doesn't mean they have to consume you. There has to be room for yourself in a relationship. People need oxygen. When I'm on my own, I get to go to the store and buy my rib eye and onions and cook the food I used to eat growing up in Venezuela. I pour a glass of red wine and open my Bon Appétit. Or put on my Pink Martini CD—loud. Rob is a sprawler, I'm a condenser. So at my house things aren't all over the place and I don't have to follow anyone around with a bottle of Windex. At night I can wear my ugly red shorts, reach for the tweezers, and work my eyebrows. I get an entire night of sleep without someone snoring, and the next day I'm so agreeable.

Rob: On the other hand, a lot of great moments come when you don't plan them. That's one thing you sacrifice—the spontaneous opportunities that could occur.

Marisol: Yes, but still—when I tell other women about my setup, at first they go, "What?" Then they say, "I could use a few days off from my husband, for sure." Guys, for some reason, don't love it. But women tend to think it's fantastic. They say, "Can you come talk to my husband about why we should do this, too?"

Scott and Andrea: Together forever, all the time
The Zieher family
Photo: Courtesy of the Zieher Family
For some, it would be too close for comfort. For them, it's all in a day's work.
Couple #3

Andrea and Scott Zieher

The Challenge

A cohabiting couple for almost a decade (they married last summer), Andrea, 34, and Scott, 44, also opened a business together seven years ago. Their New York City art gallery has two employees: them. Just the two of them. In one room. All day.

Why Andrea thinks spending all day with your spouse can be great: We get to skip the obligatory end-of-day recap—we know what the other person's been doing. We're also more comfortable socializing separately than other couples. If we didn't spend our days together, I might be annoyed if Scott didn't want to come to a party with me. But as it is, I just say, "Okay, bye!"

When Andrea says they got a major reality check: Before we opened the gallery, a lawyer drew up papers and asked us, point-blank, "What's the plan if your relationship goes bad?" We had to face the fact that a lot of couples split up, we could too, and what would that mean? So we chose a date every year when one of us can buy the other out. Not exactly romantic, but...

Why Scott believes togetherness leads to more efficient fights: We can't give each other the silent treatment. We're running a business; we have to resolve the issue and move on. In the past six years, very few of our arguments have lasted more than a couple of hours.

When Andrea says they stopped keeping score: We used to split domestic chores down the middle, and each person always felt like they were doing more. But when we tried that at work, we saw how silly it was. We're each better at different things: I do the books and Scott does the shipping. So we carried that idea into our homelife—I never walk the dog, Scott never vacuums—and things got so much better. We negotiate in a really healthy way.

Why Scott has doubts on that one: She's a much better negotiator than I am, so I could be getting screwed and not even realize it.

Why Scott swears neither of them has ever screamed, "Just go away!": We used to live in a 500-square-foot apartment, which certainly got claustrophobic. And we used to walk to and from work together, which was excessive. Now I go in an hour earlier and Andrea stays an hour later at night. And when it all gets to be too much, one of us finds a way to get some time alone—before any screaming starts.

Ian and Johanna: To feel needed
Ian Brown and Joanna Schneller
Photo: Courtesy of Ian Brown
It's not the life they imagined, but it has deepened their love—and their ability to count on each other no matter what.
Couple #4

Ian Brown and Johanna Schneller

The Challenge

Ian, 56, and Johanna, 48, both Toronto writers, have built their lives around their disabled son. That has meant a litany of resentments, a bottomless need for money, nights spent apart. And still...

From the afternoon my wife, Johanna, called me at work to say her water had broken five weeks early, our son, Walker, was a question mark. Hayley, his older sister, had been a breeze. But Walker couldn't breathe, couldn't eat, couldn't swallow. Until doctors installed a tube to his stomach, it wasn't clear he would survive. At 2 he began to hit himself viciously, crying out at the pain but unable to stop. By then we had a diagnosis, an educated guess as to what was wrong: cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, a rare random genetic mutation that results in global delays and compromises health.

Walker still can't speak, or read, or understand in any consistent way, or survive without constant care. At 13, he has the mind of a 2-year-old. He always will.

We love him anyway. He can be a warm, hilarious, generous boy—when he's happy, he's always as happy as he has ever been—but also a nightmare. For ten years, he never slept more than two hours a night. My wife and I took alternate nights with him—which is to say that for ten years, neither of us had two nights of sleep in a row. We had the same exhausted argument—can you take him? No, I'm too tired, can't you?—twice a week. It often ended in tears. Those were bad nights.

And yet, there were delicious moments when he was still asleep and we were awake. I remember them, too: Johanna in the kitchen, her cup of tea at her side, inhaling the newspaper while she could (which of course I resented because I had not had time with the paper). And her tea: I thought a lot about that cup of tea after a bad night when we were too trampled to think or talk—the curious way she reheated the cup over the course of the day, kept it by her side always. I suppose Walker slowed the world down and then shut it out, and so I had long stretches in which to observe my wife carefully, and that became a form of love. I never felt unneeded, that's for sure.

Ours is like many other marriages, except that it's cast in the stone of our son's permanent need and helplessness, and that gives us room to fail. At the very least it relieves any pressure to control and succeed. Our house is full of the stigmata of a disabled kid: the mangled window blinds, the piles of laundry that propagate like jungle plants, the avalanche of potions and lotions and syringes. And yet this is the thing: I still love my wife. I still admire her body, her tanned skin; I still want to protect her, and she still lets me. I can still make her laugh in a way no one else can, can still reach the eccentric corners only a wife and a husband know. We lie in bed in the dark at night when we can, punning madly: I can hear her mind whirring to one-up me. These are ordinary moments, standard fare for most people. But I know their true value, how rare they can be. You have no idea how much pleasure a person can offer to another with the words "That's okay, I'll take him to the doctor." Walker made us tired, but he taught us to be generous, too.

Adapted from The Boy in the Moon: A Father's Search for His Disabled Son (Random House Canada). Copyright © 2009 Ian Brown.

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