Jessica and Steve just celebrated their 25th anniversary. Steve is 72 and Jessica is 68. They met in 1989 at Hobee's in Town and Country (incidentally where we met for coffee at Peet's,) after finding one another through ads placed in The Palo Alto Weekly -- the paper version (before the Internet).
They started dating immediately and got engaged 10 weeks later, right after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Jessica commented that she was looking for stability, while Steve said Jessica "shook my world."
This is their second marriage. They each have grown children and "mutual" grandchildren.
They let me know that at this moment they don't have any particular issues or problems to address, however they do work a lot on communication, and consider themselves happily married. This was clear to me in the way they spoke to one another, and at the end of our conversation they walked away, hand-in-hand. That made me smile.
Sometimes a situation comes out of left field that puts a strain on a marriage. This was the case for Jessica and Steve. There was no precursor in their relationship that led to the following issue.
One of the biggest problems they've had in their marriage had to do with Jessica's son-in-law, who is from Montana. Pete was here for job interviews at Google and Facebook , and had brought his eight year-old son, Pete Jr., with him. Pete Jr. asked Steve to take a shower with him. And Steve agreed, since at the pool over the years, they had all taken showers in the men's locker room: Pete, Pete Jr., and his other grandson.
When Pete found out, he flipped. His anger turned to rage. Jessica and Steve felt threatened and had to ask Pete to leave their home.
After that, Pete did not want Steve to see his grandchild. It has taken two years of effort, but recently Jessica and Steve took a trip to see the Montana branch of the family. Steve is still not allowed by Pete to be with Pete Jr. on his own.
This put a strain on Jessica and Steve's relationship. Jessica was quite anxious. She went to therapy for a little while, and she and Steve went together a couple of times. Jessica resolved how she wanted to handle her side of this, as well as to understand what she couldn't do in this situation (e.g., change anyone else, or cause any specific outcomes).
Jessica visited Montana a couple of times without Steve (while he was traveling for other reasons). At times when Steve would rant about Pete, Jessica might tell him that she can't listen unless he has something new to add to the conversation, or just that she can't deal with it right now. She is willing to talk things through, just not in a moment when she feels overwhelmed.
For Steve, he was certain at the time of the incident that it would become physical. And he was prepared to protect Jessica. Steve says it triggered PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for him: when he was younger he was bullied a lot. Steve was a small boy, and two years ahead in school. He learned how to gather profound energy to deal with a bully. In this case with Pete, he went for a walk, and came back to find Pete threatening Jessica physically.
When I asked how he has resolved this, he paused, reflecting, and said, "Not well; I feel tightness in my stomach as we're talking. I was concerned that Jessica and I would lose each other."
She said she had not thought they would lose each other over it, yet the upset was not sustainable.
Now, they say, it has made them more of a team, and stronger as a couple. Steve says they've gained so much. It is common for couples to be stronger after a tremendous challenge.
Given their backgrounds of commitment to personal growth and communication, they have weathered this storm as we would have helped them in couple's counseling: to slow down, talk, listen when the other is talking (vs. preparing in their minds what they will say next), meet their own and one another's needs, figure out what they each could and could not do, keep working as a team toward a shared vision, not take it personally if the other needed a break from dealing with it, and help them see options that they may not have considered.
Jessica and Steve's Tips and Tools for Couples Are:
- Engage in personal growth work to understand yourself. If a potential partner hasn't or is unwilling to do such work, he or she is not good marriage material.
- As you get older and your sex drive changes, make a date to have sex once or twice a week (early on, their sex life was driven by Steve's lust, now it is by habit).
- Steve tells younger men: "If you're crazy about this woman, show her in every way you can."