Donna and Todd are the parents of one of my dearest friends, and I’ve admired their relationship since the 7th grade. As I’ve mentioned before, my parents divorced when I was 10, so I always looked to my friend’s families for that sense of stability and comfort. Donna and Todd are parents to 4 and have been together for 31 years.
Since pursuing photography, I have felt a deep responsibility to capture the rawness of continued love, and somehow depict what that looks like for different couples. Donna and Todd have a very unique relationship because they became parents at an extremely young age, and have dealt with adversity that some never get to experience in a lifetime. Their humor, love, and respect for one another is ever present. I’ve chosen to include select excerpts of our interview that illustrate the strength and romance of their marriage.
I hope you enjoy!
Erin: What are three must-haves for a successful marriage?
Donna: Honesty. Laughter. Gotta have laughter. And the third thing, respect. Well there’s really 4. And Consideration.
Todd: You need understanding, communication and an understanding that men and women are different. And you have to respect that and still in be in love.
Erin: Did you feel like there was a moment when you were together prior to being married or during your marriage where it shifted from loving to being in love?
Todd: I think it changes. You go from being selfishly in love with each other. But when you have a child, I think you go to being in love with the fact you created a child. When you’re in love with each other, it’s just about each other, right? But when you’re about to have children, it’s a family of love. (Donna literally yelling at their dog Oscar to get on the bed)
Todd: The secret to love is not raising your voice in the morning. You can’t be happy with your kids if you’re upset with them that they’re not letting you enjoy your life.
Todd: My favorite thing about Donna is the way she is as a mom. And her honesty.
Donna: I would ditto that. His devotion to the family.
Erin: When have you felt most connected as a couple?
Todd: I think during the worst times, and during the best times.
Donna: Good answer.
Erin: It is a good answer, but it’s a vague answer. I was going to ask about what it was like when you got sick and how traumatizing that was for you and your family. (Todd had Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 24 years ago)
Donna: It was scary, because I was 7 months pregnant with Skye. And I had two little kids at home. So Skye was born, and he was there for the delivery, and once I was all settled, he walked across the street for a chemo treatment. You know, I think the fact that we were so young, and the fact the prognosis was good…we just dealt with it. We were very good about going away when he had a break. We were organized. The treatments took 3 or 4 hours, and they were on a Friday, so we would have people come take turns so it wasn’t just me sitting there. There was a lot of family and friend support. In between the chemo and the radiation, when he had a break, we took another trip.
Todd: Our marriage is about family, and even though our kids aren’t living in the house anymore, it’s still about our family. We have that very much in common.
Donna: We’ve been married for 30 years, and together for 31. The lust is long gone. No offense.
Erin: Did you have that lust at the beginning?
Donna: Of course. Everyone does.
Todd: Yeah but neither of us are that “lustful” type of people.
Donna: We had sex every single day for years. That’s what I’m talking about.
Erin: So how important do you think sex is?
Todd: Well you have to be compatible in bed because you spend so much time together.
Donna: And it’s a connection. I think intimacy throughout your entire marriage is important.
Erin: Do you think that’s the demise of other people’s marriage?
Donna: You have to tend to marriage every day. It takes work. And I think that when one person stops working at it, that’s also a demise of a marriage. Any relationship really.
Erin: I get that there’s no one-size-fits all strategy and that everyone’s different. I’ve met couples that don’t have sex very often, but they’re best friends and okay with it, and I’ve met couples similar to you that view it as really important.
Donna: That’s just what I think. I don’t know, I’ve never read a book. We’ve never been to a therapist. But I think it’s important.
Erin: Your daughter Maxie said something great the other night. She said, “You do everything with this person. They’re your best friend, and then you have sex with them.” And we talked about how weird that concept is.
Todd: But you know what, it’s important in a marriage that you have other best friends.
Erin: I think that’s a common misconception other people have. Where they invest too much in their partner. Like they expect you to occupy so many different roles when really you have friends to occupy all those other roles. That’s why we have friends. You can’t put all that pressure on one person.
Donna: But don’t you think I’m your best friend?
Todd: You’re my best wife friend. You’re still not a man Donna. You never will be a man. And I’ll never be a woman. The fact that you think a best friend even compares to a wife is ridiculous. A wife is above all.
Donna: If something really really good was to happen to you, or something really really bad, whose the first person you’re going to call?
Todd: It depends. If it’s something bad that I didn’t want you to know about as my wife, because I want to protect you, I’d call my guy friends. A man has to protect his wife a little bit, Donna.
Erin: Do you have advice for people starting out their marriages? Are there things you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
Todd: When you start your marriage, I think it’s important to understand that soon, it just won’t be the two of you. So if there are certain things you want to do, do them early, before you have your children. Your marriage soon becomes a family and not just a marriage.
Donna: I think when you first get married, you’re still in that honeymoon phase. I think you have to understand that all that fun, and freshness and newness, that all changes. And it becomes more routine. And I don’t want to use the word boring, because that’s not the word, but like on a Wednesday night, when Todd comes home from work at 7:00 and I’ve cooked him dinner, and he’s sitting at the table for dinner, we have nothing to talk about. We’ve talked 5x during the day…
Todd: Well that’s the other thing. We talk more than 99% of the couples in the world.
Todd: Most men don’t talk to their wives 5x a day.
Erin: What do you talk about?
Todd: Any little thing. Donna’s never been shy to call me at work.
Donna: Tod, oh please. You shower, change, leave the house and you call me on your way to work.
Donna: You know what the key to a f****ing marriage is, turning your head. Seriously, if you start critiquing everything you don’t like about the person, you will never stay married. Compromise is a huge factor in a marriage.
Erin: Do you think having similar hobbies is really important as you get older?
Todd: Ah yes. I think so.
Donna & Todd: We play golf together.
Donna: But that’s it.
Todd: If Donna was a biker, we’d be biking today.
Donna: Or if Todd liked to go for a hike, we would go for a hike. (They both laugh)
Erin: But on a weekend, like today for instance, if he’s not hiking and you’re not biking, how are you going to spend the day?
Donna: Well we’re going to do some type of exercise.
Todd: But we do yoga together.
Donna: No we don’t.
Todd: Yes we do. I started doing yoga because Donna did it and I wanted to do something with her.
Donna: No, well you NEED to do yoga. You need to stretch, so sometimes on a Sunday night, we will do a yoga class for 1 hour from 6 – 7.
Erin: So you don’t think hobbies are the end all be all?
Donna: I think it’s nice to maybe have one thing you like to do together, but I don’t think you need to do everything together.
Todd: Here’s my philosophy that I’ve always had about my marriage. You’re going to end up in bed together with your wife at night. Guaranteed. No questions asked. And you’re going to wake up in bed together. So if you don’t see each other one day because you’re both busy running around, that’s okay because you’re going to see each other alone in bed. But you can’t just talk about what our life is like today. It’s been 30 years. When we had young kids it was different.
Donna: He exercised at 5:30 in the morning so he could be back here at 7 to get the kids up and ready for school. So it was a different life.
Todd: And the theme of that is, you can’t be selfish in a marriage. There is zero room to be selfish in a marriage. So you can have more time to yourself when your kids are gone, but to me, marriage is about having kids. That’s my belief. So if you commit to having kids, that’s your job. So we did that together. We never fought about it. We had a lot of kids quickly. We just organized it. It was exhausting, but we did it. But what we also didn’t do is say, “Our kids are more important than the two of us.” We never were married without little kids. We had a kid 10 months after we were married. Now we have no kids in the house.
Erin: So do you feel like you’ve hit reset in a way? Started over?
Todd: No. We’ve been able to sort of relax with each other and ourselves.
Erin: Yeah it’s like you’re restarting life a bit.
Todd: Yeah. But you have to remember we’re actually doing it for the first time.
Erin: Right because you never had that time. That’s a really rare thing.
Todd: Donna was pregnant right after our honeymoon. There are some couples that don’t have kids for 10 years.
Todd: Here’s the other thing. Donna and I come from parents who’ve had good marriages. Donna’s parents were married for over 60 years. My mother loved my Father… Well my Dad died, but I came from a very loving, stable home, and I think that helps.
Erin: I think it helps too because you have role models.
Donna: I think it helps when people come from divorced families too because they don’t want that to happen to them.
Todd: And with all that’s said, there’s a lot of luck.
Donna: I agree with that. I really do.
Todd: Because neither of us have really changed. Well Donna thinks I’ve changed, but neither of us have really changed, so if someone changes you can’t…
Donna: Well, he just doesn’t dote on me like he used to.
Todd: I just make her coffee every morning.
Donna: Not in a bad way. I don’t feel like I come first like I used to.
Erin: You don’t?
Todd: She comes first. But for 25 years, I’ve devoted my life to my kids, and now I have a little more free time and I’m trying to enjoy it.
Erin: With her? In life?
Todd: With everybody. You know I never would go out to dinner with my buddies, I never played golf. Things, just things. Some of those include Donna, some of them don’t. I used to do none of it with anyone. But it’s okay because our kids came first.
Erin: What about you Donna? Do you feel like you’re making Todd a bigger priority now?
Donna: I don’t know if I’m making him more of a priority. But if I’m going to make a plan to go out for dinner with girlfriends, I will do it when he’s busy.
Todd: When I make plans a month in advance, how am I supposed to know when you’re going to be busy? (He says through laughter)
Donna: Well I think out of respect, you tell me the dates you’re going to be busy.
Todd: I always say to you “Does this work?” And when it doesn’t, we go from there.
Erin: What advice do you have for singles?
Donna: My advice would be to cut the laundry list. I think that kids have a brutal checklist today.
Todd: Other advice to single people is don’t make quick decisions. Let a relationship evolve.
Todd: Donna used to help make the bed, and now she doesn’t.
Donna: He only makes the bed when he wants to get laid. (Donna is yelling at this point)
Todd: Erin, what did I tell you when we were downstairs?
Erin: “The secret to a good marriage is thinking like a woman.”
Donna: K, I gotta get my 10,000 steps in.
To find out the story of where it all began, please visit thewaywemet.com/blog! The rest of my notes are featured there!