Relationship Advice from North Shore Couples

This month, the relationship advice experts are our readers—real people in real relationships who have learned from experience what counts in love.

Marge and Neil, Evanston, Married 47 years

Marge and Neil are a delightfully warm and engaged couple. Over their 47 years of marriage, the couple has formed a close and resilient bond, in part because Neil’s career in industrial manufacturing moved them around many times. “We never lived close to family from the time we were married, so we only had each other,” Marge says. “We had to make a life together.”

“We were the constant,” adds Neil. “We’re best friends.”

With each move, Marge and Neil, along with their two children in earlier years, embraced their new community. “That’s the other thing that was successful for us. We could reinvent ourselves each time. We never got stuck,” says Marge, who in addition to raising her kids played huge roles in the arts, child advocacy and fundraising communities wherever they landed.

“Marge does boring very badly,” Neil says.

“Well, so does he,” Marge says. “He tried to retire, but he couldn’t.”

Neil works full-time and has no plans to retire in the near future. He and Marge share many interests (including four grandchildren) and love to stay active. They’d just finished a 21-mile bike ride the day before this interview. Still, both partners place a high value on self-sufficiency.

“I tell this to my daughter: You have to be independently dependent,” Marge says. “I said that from the word ‘go.’ You have to have your own life within the concept of being a couple.”

“You can’t be so joined at the hip that you implode,” Neil says.

“That, and men do not read women’s minds,” adds Marge with a laugh.

Jim and Lisa, Wilmette Married 24 Years

Jim and Lisa have not only been married for 20-plus years, but they’ve been in business together that long, too. Jim started O’Brien Landscape the year after they married and Lisa took over the books.

Working together might put a strain on some marriages, but not Jim and Lisa’s. Their work has only brought them closer.

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“Many married couples don’t speak all day, but Jim and I talk at least three times a day,” Lisa says, “Some of it’s work, some of it’s not. We communicate constantly. There’s no room for ‘I’m mad at you.’ We have to talk.”

“There also no hiding or lying,” Jim says.

“We really can’t,” Lisa agrees. “We’re best friends, and we’re husband and wife, and we’re also coworkers.”

Spending so much time together in a variety of different roles makes Jim and Lisa appreciative of each other’s strengths.

Lisa tells Jim, “You’re very flexible and optimistic and positive, which are amazing qualities. And you’re a problem-solver. You always say, ‘Let’s figure it out.’ And if we can’t figure it out…”

“We have a martini,” says Jim with a laugh.

“Some people would consider the best-friend part as not romantic, but for me it’s an anchor; it’s a strength,” Jim says. “I know that Lisa has got my back and that whatever happens we’re going to get through it together. That’s a huge confidence builder and I know I can go out and face the world—even the tough stuff—because I’ve got her to help me.”

“We’re a team,” Lisa says. “It’s the cornerstone of what we’re about.”

More Relationship Advice from our Readers:

  • “Don’t argue about a problem if you can spend a little money and make [it] go away. A good handyman and a cleaning service are an investment in marital harmony—not an indulgence.” —Alicia, Evanston
  • “The best gift parents can give their children is the example of a loving marriage, which came first and is a higher priority than they are.” —Jim, Saugatuck, Mich.
  • “A dear friend told me long ago when the kids were babies to have a standing date night weekly with your husband.” —Emily, Evanston
  • “The best gift a man can give his children is a happy mother!” —Caroline, Chicago
  • “Always (no exceptions) kiss goodbye and kiss hello.” —Claire, Chicago
  • “Always go to bed together naked!” —Anonymous, Northfield

And If You’re not Married Yet:

  • “Marry the smartest, funniest person possible. If your spouse makes you laugh out loud at least once a day, your life is rich.” —Karen, Wilmette
  • “Don’t get married unless your whole self tells you there’s no other option. (I mean this in a good way!)” —Julie, Kenilworth