Every Sunday evening, Sabrina and Jake Timmins sit next to one another on their living room couch in Dallas, Texas, for a family meeting. The couple, married in November of 2017, said these weekly discussions are one of the major foundations of their marriage.

“Communication is so critical,” Sabrina said. “We have these meetings—we call them Team Timmins meetings—once a week. That’s meant to be our time to talk through our week and what’s coming up.”

More than that, though, Jake said Team Timmins meetings also act as an outlet for the couple. The Timminses said instead of letting any issues, no matter how minor, build over time, they share any concerns at their meeting.

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“I think any time we’ve struggled or started to hit bumps in our marriage, it’s been because our communication is off,” Sabrina said. “Having some kind of structure has really helped us to stay grounded and not have so many of those bumps.”

For Jake and Sabrina, communication and structure have become the core of their marriage.

The Timminses and three other couples agreed that marriage, and marital love, take work. The couples have faced challenges—cancer, familial loss and distance among some of the most trying. Each couple had their own ideas of what love looks like and how it presents itself in a marriage, as well as what it takes to make a marriage successful. 

“Love is this feeling that this is the person that I trust, that I want to throw my future in with… Trust is a huge, huge part of it,” said Carole McNall, who has been married to her husband, Steve McNall, since January 1975.

Steve said for him, love means finding the person one most wants to spend their time with.

“It’s that person you want to hang around with forever and support as needed,” he said.

The McNalls agreed support and trust have proven major pieces of their relationship and marriage over time.

“Steve has always supported anything I want to try my hand in. In some ways, he probably believes that I can do it faster and more completely than even I originally believe,” Carole said.

Steve said he has shown his belief in his wife for years now—in big ways, like supporting her desire to go to law school—and in small ways, like helping her to learn to drive a standard-shift car.

While trust and support have suited the McNalls well, other couples define their love differently.

Both Katherine and Seth Winslow, who have been married since October of 2019, said the foundation for their love is their faith. The two hold different religious affiliations—Katherine is Roman Catholic and Seth is Baptist—but said they rely on belief and compromise in their marriage.

Katherine described marital love as a sacrificial, selfless covenant, while Seth described marital love as unwavering and unconditional.

Rich and Anne Lee said their vows in October 1977. To Anne, marital love means commitment. To Rich, marital love means “always wanting good things to happen for the other person.”

The Lees said growing more patient with one another has been one of the most important lessons and values they share as a couple. The other, they said, has been family.

“We both had strong examples and expectations of and for family,” said Anne. “Rich’s family is so strong, and you can’t put a price on that.”

Anne said she also has a strong family, which has influenced the strength of the Lees’ marriage. She and Rich value spending time with both families.

For the Lees, friends became part of their extended family. Rich shared that the couple often made, and makes, road trips to take part in significant events for family members, friends and friends’ children.

“What’s interesting, too, is those car rides became a time where the two of us could visit and really talk,” Rich said.

Like the McNalls, the Lees said support and learning felt like two of the most important foundations of their marriage.

“At first, Anne wasn’t a baseball fan; I was never into theater, which she loves,” said Rich. “In time, we learned things that are important to each other.”

For the Lees, learning compromise and patience took time. All four couples have had different lessons to learn and difficult obstacles to overcome in their marriages—whether for six months or 45 years.

“I’ve learned love is not transactional,” said Katherine Winslow. “It’s not, ‘I get a point, you get a point.’ Sometimes, that’s hard, and if I’m being honest, I think I relearn that at least once a week.”

Seth Winslow said some of the biggest compromises he and Katherine have faced revolve around location and family ties.

“My parents live in Chesapeake, Virginia. I would love to live there, but we compromised to build a home in Lynchburg, Virginia, because that works for the both of us,” Seth said.

“On a smaller scale, we compromise on things like helping out and doing things you don’t really want to do, like unloading the dishwasher, cooking dinner or turning your socks inside out before throwing them in a laundry basket,” he said.

For Sabrina and Jake Timmins, compromise came in learning how best to communicate with each other.

“How do we solve arguments? Screaming and yelling,” Jake said, joking.

Sabrina said previously, she relied on raising her voice and yelling when an argument or disagreement arose, because growing up, that’s what she and her family did.

“If I yell, Jake shuts down. I had to learn that, that wasn’t effective. I wasn’t getting my message across. I was only getting more frustrated,” Sabrina said. “I had to change my approach, but I also told him I’m the type of person who needs to talk through things. I can’t just brush it off like he can.”

She said the two have learned because their communication styles differ, there are ways to understand each other’s points of view.

“One thing we’ve agreed on—and it was definitely a learned skill—is that we should always assume the other person is coming from a good place,” Jake said.

Sabrina and Jake said that means even when they have a disagreement or feel upset with one another, they try to remember that the other person isn’t intentionally trying to be difficult or upsetting.

“In all reality, we’ve had a lot of compromise,” Sabrina said.

Both Sabrina and Jake have jobs in insurance and said they have strong desires for success.

Because of career requirements, the two travel for work often. Sabrina said after their 10-month-old daughter Lennon’s birth, she and Jake began compromising more than ever.

“Friends are, and always have been, huge parts of both my life and Jake’s life,” said Sabrina.

For that reason, the TImminses said they compromise to ensure their spouse can meet the demands of his and her career while still having the time to unwind with friends and ensure Lennon is cared for.

“We both have compromised on certain things that were important to us, but not as important as the benefits or the strengths that we receive because the other one brings them to the table,” Jake said.

“What’s interesting is, I think in some ways, marriage has been easier than I thought,” Sabrina said. “A lot of our difficult moments, personally and together, came while we were engaged.”

Sabrina lost her father shortly before becoming engaged, and Jake lost his mother a few short months before the Timminses’ wedding.

They said coping with that, while also dealing with the ins and outs of their everyday lives, made their connection stronger and built a good foundation for communication and support inside their marriage.

In life, though, every couple struggles differently.

For the McNalls, struggle showed its face with a cancer diagnosis for Carole.

Carole said, though, the hard times that came along with cancer showed her she made the right choice in a life partner.

“I had figured out that if I could laugh about it, I could probably get through it mentally in one piece,” Carole said. “One of the people that kept me laughing as often as not was [Steve].”

Steve said a recent health scare for Carole also proved difficult for the couple. The McNalls said they went back to their foundational marital values of support and trust to help them through both Carole’s cancer and her recent health issues.

“I haven’t found a good reason to get rid of her yet,” Steve said, laughing.

All four couples admitted that though marriage can be tricky at times, love and commitment feel worth it.

The Lees said they find comfort in knowing they stay at the center of one another’s lives.

“It’s a good feeling, knowing that at the start of every day and end of every day, there’s one person your world comes down to,” Anne Lee said.

All four couples said their marriages are happy and strong, even on hard days. The Timminses said since the birth of their daughter, their marriage has changed some.

Sabrina Timmins said before the couple had Lennon, they used Thursday night as a date night every other week.

“We would take turns on planning and surprising the other person,” Sabrina said. “That could come in the form of going to the movies or going to get massages or sitting at home and playing cards. Whatever it was, it was just dedicated quality time together.”

The Timminses said those date nights have become fewer in number as of late. Though the two said they would like to return to that tradition as Lennon grows older, they highlighted the importance of what Jake called, “the little things.”

“When we have a drink, we try to cheers to something we’re thankful for about the other person. You know, before we leave the house, or when we come home, we always give each other a kiss,” Jake said. “We always kiss each other goodnight.”