3 Sticky Relationship Situations -- and How 3 Couples Made It Work

Sometimes the course of true love runs super-smooth. The couple meet, fall in love and seem destined to live happily ever after. But even the most meant-to-be relationships face their share of hurdles along the way. Smaller obstacles (he works late hours, she's allergic to his dogs) are not only inevitable but can actually help teach couples about communication. But what happens when larger issues come into play: distance, family goals and race? Find out how these three couples overcame their own obstacles -- and how you can make your relationship work, too.

  • Emily and Ryan: A Long-Distance Love Affair
  • Amy and Chris: Living Childfree by Choice
  • Oniece and Paul: Overcoming Interracial Hurdles

Emily: 27
New York, NY
Ryan: 26
Vancouver, B.C.

This deeply-in-love pair met two years ago when each was on vacation with friends in Las Vegas. It's a traditional love-at-first-sight story, and both were instantly infatuated. So what's the fly in this love potion? She lives in New York City and he lives in Vancouver, B.C.

"When I left Vegas I thought what I'd had with Ryan would just be a fling, even though we'd exchanged phone numbers and addresses," said Emily, iVillage's diet and fitness producer. "But I had no regrets."

Back at work, she was shocked to receive a huge offering of flowers, with a card that read "Thinking of you." Then he was shocked when she called to thank him for the lavish gift.

Soon Ryan, an environmental toxicologist, paid his first visit to New York. Emily reciprocated. Now they try to see each other every six weeks to two months. "In the beginning Ryan and I had frequent four-hour phone conversations and of course emailed all the time," Emily said. "It was like we had to fill each other in on everything that had happened the first 25 years of our lives. Now, as with any regular relationship, we talk on the phone a lot, but for far less time. It's more like updates."

They also vacation together, and twice when Emily has been between jobs, she's hightailed it to Vancouver.

What else makes it work? "Ryan is big on romantic gestures. On our first Valentine's Day he carved our initials in a tree, then took a black-and-white photo of it and mailed it to me." But grand gestures aside, Emily's secret of success is simple: "We're ideally matched even though it's geographically inconvenient."

Obviously Emily and Ryan made an effort early on to overcome that barrier. "Long-distance couples have to go the extra mile to articulate what they're feeling since there are no visual or tactile cues," Emily said. "We're mushier than many couples who live in the same ZIP code. We talk a lot and write a lot and make our presence felt. And we both trust that the other is committed to making this work until we can figure out a way to both live in the same city."

That will hopefully happen soon. In the meantime, do mushy conversations mean phone sex? Said Emily: "No comment!"

Why Does it Work? Expert Advice That Could Save Your Relationship
From Relationship Saver Dr. Shoshanna, author of What He Can't Tell You ... and Needs to Say

"Making a long-distance relationship work takes extra care, time and commitment. This one works because this couple are making a concerted effort to remain in touch, be thoughtful, romantic and even sexual though apart. They also have the necessary trust in each other not to feel insecure about what the other is doing when they're apart."

Amy: 24
Chris: 33
Sewanee, GA

The first time they went out, Chris told his date he had no interest in ever having babies. That was fine with then-19-year-old Amy, and even better now that she's 24 and has been married to Chris for three years. "Both of us are only children, have really busy jobs (Amy is a business operations analyst; Chris is a copier service technician), lots of outside interests and love to travel," Amy said. "In fact, I'd been engaged before I met Chris, and a large part of why that relationship broke up was because my fiance wanted me to be a traditional homemaker."

Clearly Chris and Amy are happy with their plan, but what do their family and friends think? Amy's mother, a devout homemaker, is sad about her daughter's decision but has held her tongue. Chris' mother, however, is relieved, feeling that being a grandmother would make her a little too old a little too soon. Amy's best friend, however, thinks Chris's vasectomy last February was "insane." "She keeps asking, 'Who's going to take care of you when you're old?'" Amy said. "Chris is nine years older than me, so odds are he'll go first, but if the only reason I'd want a child is to have someone to visit me when I'm decrepit -- well, that's not good enough."

They've put a lot of careful consideration into this subject, and both Amy and Chris have realistic expectations. They understand and even expect that Amy might experience a grieving period as her biological clock ticks down, but otherwise they're happy with their decision. "When there are no children all the energy in the marriage goes toward your spouse," Amy said. "When we're home, we're home together. Chris and I are also aware that we can't just sit in the house, so we found a social club in Atlanta called No Kidding. There are 80 couples, all who have decided not to have children. It's great. Someone can email us at 4:30, 'Want to have dinner tonight?' and we're there."

Why Does it Work? Expert Advice That Could Save Your Relationship
From Relationship Saver Dr. Shoshanna, author of What He Can't Tell You ... and Needs to Say

"This couple have a made a difficult decision that runs against the current of society. They must be able to stand up to the pressure they receive from others and from their family and be secure and at ease with their decision. By directing the extra time and energy available as a result of not having children to each other, they are ensuring that each receives the benefits of this decision, not only the losses. Also, they have been creative in filling up their lives, by joining this club of other like-minded couples to enjoy time with and have support from."

Oniece: 20
Paul: 24

Oniece is color-blind to the differences between her and her boyfriend of five months, Paul. That might be partly because she started falling for him before she knew he was white.

"Mutual friends of ours thought we'd have something in common and encouraged Paul to call me," she said. "He knew I was black, and I just assumed he was too." That impression was reinforced when she shared her frustration with a prejudicial remark that someone had made that day, and he totally agreed with her point of view.

Paul, who is also a student, set her straight about his background before meeting in person, but his news brought on another change for Oniece as she began to examine some of her own biases: "Paul is the least prejudiced person I know. Being with him has taught me to look deeper, past the outside stuff, and get to character."

They haven't faced opposition from their friends and family (Oniece's friends are all black, and Paul's are white, black and Latino.) However they have endured what Oneice calls "double takes" from passing pedestrians: "Paul will react by putting his arm around me or kissing me, like an announcement, 'Yes, this is my girlfriend.' ... I'm surprised no one has said anything distasteful, but if someone does Paul will react by saying something funny."

The most uncomfortable times for Oniece are when the couple visit Paul's parents, who live in an all-white neighborhood. "There was an incident recently where a black family tried to buy a home on that street and were denied. Paul and I receive a lot of glances there. But I remind myself how much I love Paul, and my upset vanishes."

Indeed, Paul uses prejudicial incidents to reconfirm his commitment to Oniece: "He'll come to me and say, 'So and so said this awful comment, but I love you and these are all my reasons for loving you and thinking you're so special.'"

The couple plan on marrying when they finish school and know that building a life together as an interracial couple will have its challenges. For example, there's children. "I used to worry about how hard it might be on the kids," Oniece said. "Should we raise them black? White? Paul has helped me realize that the only thing that counts is they'll be raised with love. ... Hopefully people seeing our biracial children and how happy they are will help dispel some people's backward mentalities."

Oniece doesn't react with anger toward prejudiced people. "After all, before I met Paul and he opened my eyes, I would have been the one doing a double take at an interracial couple on the street, like, 'Girl, why are you with a white guy?'" she said. "Now I know that love is what's important, nothing else."

Why Does it Work? Expert Advice That Could Save Your Relationship
From Relationship Saver Dr. Shoshanna, author of What He Can't Tell You ... and Needs to Say

"This kind of relationship can often present difficulties because of reactions from family and friends. The couple must step out into a new world of their own making and find other couples and friends who are supportive of them. Fortunately, this particular couple seem to have a lot of natural support, including the ability to go beyond personal prejudice and see what is worthy in each other."

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