Charlie and Linda Bloom, relationship therapists living in Santa Cruz, Calif., came close to divorce a couple of times during their 37-year marriage.
What kept them together, the couple said, was commitment — but not the blind kind that keeps people hanging on in misery.
"We made a pact early on that we would live the growth model of a relationship rather than the comfort/security model," Linda Bloom said.
The Blooms this year published "Secrets of Great Marriages" (New World Library), a collection of first-person accounts from 27 couples whom the Blooms consider to have extraordinary relationships. The Blooms, who run relationship seminars (Bloomwork.com), undertook the project to combat the pessimism they often encounter in clients and friends who doubt their abilities to sustain long-lasting partnerships.
The couples featured in the book, together an average of 31 years, are not paradigms of uninterrupted bliss, but examples of people who pushed through heart-breaking obstacles — affairs, financial ruin, heart attacks, deaths of children, separation — and emerged stronger for it.
Q: What's the difference between a good marriage and a great marriage?
Linda: In a great relationship, you're in a growth mode. There are times it's going to be tough, but you mine it for the gold. You are growing qualities of courage, of patience, to become a person of integrity.
That is the earmark of these great couples. They didn't start out like that; they didn't come in with these skills and qualities. This has been on-the-job training. They grew into people who feel good about themselves and they're still evolving.
Q: A big concern couples often have is that the passion will wane. What are realistic expectations for the fire, and how do you keep it burning?
Charlie: The fire does cool, thank God. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. … There's a difference between having a deep relationship and a hot relationship. Sometimes you can have both. Part of it is a cultural thing where we are adrenaline junkies and people are terrified of not having enough stimulation. But stimulation is not all it's cracked up to be. These couples (in the book) stimulated each other in ways that they didn't when they were younger. It's a function of how alive they stay in life.
Q: Is there such a thing as being too independent from each other?
Charlie: There is such a thing as too much separateness. There should be a mutually satisfying degree of separateness and togetherness. Most good couples, they just like each other, they just enjoy each other's company, so naturally they will want to spend time together. But if one person is working at a job that takes her away for long periods of time, but when she comes back she is able to be really present with her partner, then that may work for them.
Linda: When people are able to attend social functions separately, it can be a good sign. There's enough trust in the relationship and closeness in the relationship that they don't have to hold onto each other so tight.
Q: How do you know when it's time to cut bait?
Charlie: There are relationships that really can't and shouldn't be saved. But I believe that most couples who divorce, divorce before they've really given the marriage their best shot. If they had hung in there longer, there's a chance they may have been able to salvage it.