Trade Secrets Counselors tell how they hold onto romance

February 14, 1993|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

These days many couples define romance as a few minutes together without interruption.

Exhausted from careers, parenting and household duties, wives and husbands often struggle to give each other the kind of treatment that kindled their courtship.

But it is possible, according to five local counselors who believe they are more aware of creating magic in their own marriages because they have spent so much time considering the relationships of others.

L Their suggestions for keeping long-term relationships fresh?

Listening closely to one another, scheduling time to be alone together -- it doesn't happen by itself in many busy lives -- being playful together, cultivating mutual interests, confiding in one another and being extravagant with laughter. They also offer personal examples.

Steve Sobelman and Sloane Brown

Psychologist Steve Sobelman and reporter Sloane Brown usually meet up as lumps in bed: News director for WLIF Lite 102 Radio, she goes to sleep by 8 p.m on weeknights in order to leave the house at 4:15 a.m. Dr. Sobelman keeps 14-hour days, which shuttle him between hisclinical practice, Psych Associates, in Towson, and his students at Loyola College.

During their 8 1/2 years together, they have confronted career, parenting and stepparenting issues -- Mr. Sobelman has two children in their 20s from his first marriage -- but their biggest test as a couple came last summer. Dr. Sobelman, then 47, had a heart attack and bypass surgery from which he has fully recovered. The episode left an indelible impression of the importance of enjoying their time together, says 39-year-old Ms. Brown.

A gourmet cook, she began concocting exotic "heart-healthy" menus, the kind of gesture her husband says makes their relationship special. And both believe in fueling romance with humor.

Steve: We're not afraid to let the little kids in us out. We'll get silly.

Sloane: When we're driving alone, we'll sing off-key a lot with the radio, try to drown each other out. We do really incredibly mature things like that!

Steve: We are serious about those things that need to be emphasized as responsibilities, but everything else, well . . .

Sloane: Even the responsibilities have a lighter side. You have to take everything with a grain of salt. If we had to go through a checklist of what each other was looking for, a sense of humor was probably No. 1 on the checklist -- that is, other than incredible good looks!

Steve: Don't you dare say that!

Sloane: Give me a break, you're taking that seriously? . . . Seriously, I don't think I would ever want the kind of marriage where you never ran into problems. I would look at that as boring. It would mean the other person wasn't a challenge. I want to be with someone who's challenging. I want the highs and lows of life. I don't want something that is totally even-keeled because that is boredom.

Steve: Boredom and stagnation. Part of a relationship is learning totolerate differences. And I really mean to use that word tolerance. Sloane doesn't like everything I do, and I don't like everything she does. But our philosophies are the same: "It's one trip through, why not make it a good one?" . . . We know we don't have a lot of time with each other, and we don't take it for granted. We really try to make it quality time.

Sloane. Which sounds so yuppyish: The whole quality thing.

Steve: Oh, it sounds horrible, but we recognize that we have to do it.

Sloane: If either one of us had to say what makes our marriage work, I think we'd say, "We're still both best friends first." I know that sounds trite, like it should have a little smiley happy face next to it, but I think it's true. And we rely on that. You go through different moods and different phases and all of that. And there are times when there's passion or times you're too busy, but as long as you stay friends . . .

MA Steve: And we're not only talkers, we're both listeners, too.

Melinda Fitting and Jim Eastham

Psychologist Melinda Fitting and her 42-year-old husband Jim Eastham, chairman of the Emergency Health Services department at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, share their lives with two teen-age sons from Dr. Eastham's former marriage and their 3-year-old daughter. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Fitting, 44, is president of a new business, Comprehensive Geriatric Services.

Married since 1985, the couple built a wing onto their house, which enabled Mr. Eastham's father to live with them until he died. They talk of hard-earned victories over many of the stress points of contemporary marriage: dual careers, in-laws, teen-agers, day care and stepparenting.

For the moment, they say, romance is a matter of scheduling. The couple locks in dates by subscribing to Center Stage and Orioles games. They speak of finding the time to be alone together as a continual challenge.

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