Committed to Each Other … and Therapy

Romantic partnership is an ever-evolving experience — couples constantly shift, change and, in some cases, start over. In “It’s No Secret,” long-term partners share what they have learned through the years. (Answers are edited for context and space.)

Who Melissa McCue Lawson, 57, and William Lawson, 73, have been married for 29 years, two months and counting.

Occupations Together they own Shoe-Inn, a small chain of women’s shoe stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

How They Met

In June 1989, Melissa McCue, then 25, met William Lawson, then 40, at the shoe store he owned in New Rochelle, N.Y. “We had an instant spark and natural banter,” Mrs. Lawson said.

“I was working for Kenneth Cole as their Northeast rep. Billy was one of my accounts. When I left his store, I turned to my friend and said, ‘There’s something about that man. I’m attracted to him.’ My friend said, ‘He said the same thing about you.’”

Mrs. Lawson’s phone rang that night. “I was dating this guy who all my friends hated, so I turned him down when he asked me out,” she said of rejecting Mr. Lawson. “I was upset for days.”

When Mrs. Lawson saw Mr. Lawson at another event two months later, Mr. Lawson told her he had gotten engaged. “I was blown away, confused and heartbroken,” she said.

A year went by. In 1990, a newly divorced Mr. Lawson appeared in her showroom. “We hit it off again,” she said. “I knew he was going to call me and ask me out.” A few hours later, he did.

They had dinner the following evening, during which Mr. Lawson shared that he had been in Alcoholics Anonymous for two years and that his second marriage had lasted 90 days. They also had a couple differences: He is Jewish, she is not; he is 15 years her senior. Mrs. Lawson was unfazed by all of it. They started dating immediately.

In Sept. 1991, she moved into his apartment on Sutton Place in Manhattan. That Thanksgiving they got engaged and started planning for a July wedding.

In February 1992, the pair were in Las Vegas for a shoe show. While out to dinner with friends, Mrs. Lawson whispered into Mr. Lawson’s ear that she thought she was pregnant. “I hadn’t felt well all day,” she said. “We bought a test at a drugstore that night and in seconds a line appeared.” Their July wedding was moved up to April.

The Wedding

The couple were married on April 26, 1992, in front of 100 guests at Le Club, a private member club located under the 59th Street Bridge in New York. The wedding, which was planned in two months, had an air of Murphy’s Law. “The dry cleaner ruined my Yves Saint Laurent dress the day before,” said Mrs. Lawson, who was able to borrow a gown from a friend.

Additionally, “Billy’s father left early because he wasn’t sitting at the head table. I hated our wedding song, which was from ‘Beauty and the Beast’; Billy loved it. And we never made a photo album because I hated the dress.”

Nevertheless, the couple had a good time. “We had a great DJ and our favorite people danced with us all night,” she said. The couple still live on Sutton Place. They have two sons: Peter, 28, and David, 26.

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What They’ve Learned

Mrs. Lawson I saw myself with this person when we met. I couldn’t get him out of my heart, or my mind. I love that he’s sober and clearheaded. He can multitask like no one else. I’m more practical and a realist.

He’s impulsive and can go from 0-10 very quickly. Once he’s at 10, it’s hard to get him off that ledge. I’m the only one who knows how to do that. It’s a lot, but we know our roles. He doesn’t forgive as easily as I do. He can get very angry and holds resentments; I don’t.

He grounds me. I can go off on tangents. He reminds me to land the plane and keep it simple. He’s taught me to be more thoughtful and generous. He’s a caretaker; I’m not.

We’ve learned to truly work at our marriage. We are so into therapy — for our kids, family and marriage. We still go. It helps us say whatever we want and have a mediator.

I’m in this forever. I’m a romantic. I love him and I’m in love with him. Neither of us came from a close-knit family, so we are trying to create a close family unit with our boys so they can pass that down to their kids.

We fight, but we’ve learned to recover quickly. Billy’s learned to take a step back. To be thoughtful and considerate. We’ve learned to communicate better. I’ve learned I don’t want to say something hurtful because you can’t take it back and it can snowball into more hurt.

When he holds my hand I feel safe and comforted, and equal. We are two people willing to work through the difficulties. We love each other deeply. We both feel lost without the other. We still feel lucky we found each other.

Mr. Lawson I knew Melissa was special when I met her. She was interesting, self-assured, steady and attractive. I just fell for her. She’s remained my best friend spiritually, emotionally and physically. She’s filled with common sense where I’m not. I’m more pragmatic and impulsive. I can fly off the handle. She understands me and my character defects, and accepts them — that’s huge. It helps keep this marriage together. I do the same, that’s part of the compromise.

It’s been a challenging marriage — we argue a lot, but the arguments end quickly; she’s taught me not to let things linger. She’s the only person who can calm me down and walk me through a situation. She deflates my entitlement and sense of importance with humor and without making me feel bad.

My first marriage was like two garbage trucks colliding. My second, I rushed into. I blinked and it was over. With Melissa I’m more open, honest and available to conversations.

I’ve matured. I haven’t had a drink in 32 years. I’m healthier. I’ve learned life is not a dress rehearsal, and to lace it with humor and laughter. That you have to adjust, move with the flow and adapt to the situations. She’s gained deeper compassion, understanding and respect for others.

We talk about our feelings and about nothing, which is everything because we’re never bored. We’ve learned to do little things for each other, and to thank each other for doing them, because the little things matter and add up — like picking up a tape measure for her on my way home or walking the dog when it’s raining so she doesn’t have to.

We’ve learned to take care of each other because we choose to, not because the other expects it or demands it. If you feel you’re responsible for 90 percent of the marriage and your wife feels the same, you’ll have an amazing marriage.

I got so lucky with Melissa. After 29 years, if I don’t talk to her during the day I feel lost. I call her on my way home just to say I’ll be there in 12 minutes so she knows, and so I can hear her voice, because I find it so calming. I still feel joy seeing her phone number on my phone.

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