Family

Six Wichita couples reveal the secrets of long-lasting relationships

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Valentine’s Day is an annual occasion to stop and remember why you love the one you’re with.

In honor of Feb. 14’s impending arrival, we asked six local married couples to stop and remember how their relationships started – and how they’ve made them last.

The lovebirds come from different walks of life – a mayor, a matchmaker, restaurant owners, musicians – and each shared a different tip for keeping love alive.

Carl and Cathy Brewer

Bio: Carl is mayor of Wichita. Cathy is business coordinator/legal assistant for a law firm and works from home. She also babysits the grandchildren a lot. They’ve been married for 35 years and have four children, 12 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and one on the way.

How they met: Carl was alone at the Boogie Nights club one night when one of Cathy’s married friends asked him to ask Cathy to dance. Carl went up to ask Cathy, but saw only what he thought was her long hair — and asked her friend’s long-haired husband instead. Embarrassed, Carl retreated. Cathy finally went over and asked Carl to dance. Later, they discovered that Carl had been seeing Cathy from afar at his two workplaces — years before, when she was maybe 19 and had lived across the street from one of Carl’s workplaces and would be outside sunbathing, and later, when she walked her small son across the street near Century II when she lived near his other workplace. They figure they were destined to be together.

Best marriage advice: “Communication, honesty and trust. People need to have that to have a good marriage,” Cathy says.

Married to the mayor: As the mayor of Wichita, Carl is out and about a lot, and gone until late evening. Carl appreciates that Cathy is understanding of that, and Cathy appreciates that Carl understands that she is a homebody and doesn’t often join him for events.

“She doesn’t like going with me anyplace.”

“He goes to too many places.”

“We’ll talk about, well, ‘I’ll go to the grocery store. You wanna go?’ ‘No.’ Because ...”

“He wants to go to Walmart. He’ll be stopped by everybody. Everybody.”

“Walmart is my favorite shopping place.”

“And that’s where everybody knows who he is, and they’ll all stop him. Like ‘I’ll never get out of this store.’ ”

“It can take three hours to get a loaf of bread.”

“Yeah, I’m like, ‘No.’ ”

“Or I say, ‘Do you want me to stop and pick up dinner?’ ‘Well, yes, but go to Dillons. Don’t go to Walmart.’ ”

The Brewers like to fish — he in a boat with a guide, she on the bank with a bucket of worms — so are looking for some land with a fish-stocked pond. And once his term of mayor is up, they’ll probably once again go to barbecue cook-offs together like they used to — he’s in charge of the meat; she does the presentation, the sides and the dessert.

Annie Calovich

Jerry Scholl and Dominique Corbeil

Bio: Jerry is principal percussionist and timpanist for the Wichita Symphony and director of the percussion department at Wichita State University; Dominique is a violinist with the symphony and teaches violin in their home. They’ve been married 20 years and have a 12-year-old son, Olivier. They’ve played in the same orchestra most of their married life. Every summer they play at the Colorado Music Festival in Boulder.

How they met: At a summer music festival in College Park, Md. Jerry was living in his native Boston; Dominique, from Montreal, was living in New York. Their point of connection: When they were at dinner with friends, Jerry overheard that someone in their party had the same birthday as his. It was Dominique. Their shared birthday is Feb. 16 — two days after Valentine’s. They pretty much skipped the dating phase. “I think we knew when we were ready,” Jerry says.

Best marriage advice: “Be best friends,” Dominique says. “Marry your best friend,” Jerry says.

“It’s a balance,” Jerry continues. “Our world views overall I think are extremely similar. Our day-to-day views are yin and yang, so I think when you have something like that — which is wonderful actually, because her strengths complement my weaknesses, and my strengths complement her weaknesses — but I think that it’s sometimes challenging in any relationship to remember that. Because sometimes when you’re thinking your weaknesses are strengths, that’s when you can get into frustrating arguments and things like that.”

Romance in the symphony: “We get ready to go on stage and we kiss each other,” Dominque says. And during practice, “we have our own little signals as a couple, that kind of communication when we’re there,” Jerry says. “But when we’re playing it’s all business. Although I’m always in the back so I have more of an opportunity when I’m not playing — because I’m a percussionist, I don’t play all the time, and a violinist does; one of their biggest complaints is that they don’t get paid enough for all the notes they play — sometimes I just sit and glance and watch Dominique and see her play and admire her work.”

Annie Calovich

Mario Quiroz and Mara Garza

Bio: Mario and Mara own and operate Molino’s Cuisine, the upscale Mexican restaurant at 1064 N. Waco. The couple is in the midst of opening a second location at 7817 E. 37th St. North. They have two sons, Fabrizio, 11, and Mario, 10. Mara also has a 26-year-old daughter and two grandchildren.

How they met: Fifteen years ago, Mara was a single mother living in Monterrey, Mexico. One night, she went out salsa dancing with a girlfriend and was approached by a young man who asked her to dance. She said no. “He looked too short for me,” she said with a laugh. The young man was Mario, who was living in Monterrey working in human resources for a food company. He noticed a “beautiful girl in a red dress with a beautiful smile,” he said. When she turned him down, Qurioz persisted. “Just one,” he told her. “If you don’t like it, you can have a seat.” She liked his confidence. And she liked the dance.

Best marriage advice: Find a common interest. The restaurant is good for their 10-year marriage, Mario said, because even though it’s not always easy to work together, they both love testing new recipes and dreaming up ways to improve their menu.“This restaurant is a part of our life. Cooking is a part of our life. Together, we have found a passion for food and for cooking,” he said.

Finding “The Secret”: Quroiz and Garza said they found themselves overwhelmed with negativity after their first restaurant, Frida’s, closed in 2010. Both were discouraged, and the financial strain took a toll on their marriage. Then, they read “The Secret” a self-help book by Rhonda Byrne, and learned that changing their attitudes could change everything. Their marriage was strengthened, and in 2013, they opened Molino’s together. “Reading that book made a really big change in our marriage,” Garza said. “We learned to always be positive, to declare your love and not to be focused on the bad things.”

Denise Neil

Kerry Wilks and Donna DiTrani

Bio: Kerry is the Spanish division director and an associate professor of Spanish at Wichita State University. Donna works as an account executive. She has a 12-year-old daughter.

How they met: Kerry and Donna met at a gathering for professionals five years ago. They talked all evening but left without exchanging numbers. “I was crushed because she didn’t ask for my phone number,” Kerry remembers with a laugh. But Donna made up for it by doing some investigating and finding out how to reach Kerry by asking several friends and acquaintances for help. It took her a week.

Best marriage advice: If you need help communicating with your partner, don’t be afraid to ask for help. In the early stages of their relationship, Kerry and Donna had trouble understanding where the other was coming from. But with the help of a counselor, they eventually mastered it. “People get into relationships and believe it’s going to be easy,” Kerry said. “But part of a relationship is sticking it out even though it’s not always good.”

Best day ever: The couple had a wedding in 2012 with a reception in some friends’ backyard. “The wedding was phenomenal,” Donna said. “We had everyone we cared about in the same room, and when we walked in, there was everybody. We smiled and laughed.” Kerry and Donna are two of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit to legalize same-sex marriage in Kansas.

Denise Neil

Chris Barnett and Aonya Kendrick Barnett

Bio: Chris is co-founder of the promotional company The Crwn (pronounced “crown”) and organizer of the Sole Purpose sneaker convention. Aonya owns Impact Kids daycare and is a Girl Scout troop co-leader. They’ve been married seven years and have four children.

How they met: They were in school together from sixth grade through 12th. Says Aonya: “We actually hated each other from sixth through ...”

“Twelfth,” Chris finishes.

“She was rambunctious,” he says. “Her and her friends. They were just loud.”

“I thought he was a clown,” Aonya says. “He has a prosthesis, and he used to take off his leg in school and leave it in the middle of the gymnasium and on the teacher’s desk.”

In 12th grade Chris was part of the Beautillion scholarship program and asked Aonya to be his belle. He doesn’t remember why. “We had to do things together on a weekly basis, and we became friends,” she says.

Best marriage advice: “We just wing it,” Chris says.

“We’re so free-spirited,” she says.

“All the cliches don’t work for us,” Chris says. “Like, ‘Don’t go to bed mad.’ ”

“We’re not gonna sleep!” Aonya says.

Now that they’re in their 30s, they’re helping each other fulfill their purpose, and setting that example for their children.

“He’s my No. 1 supporter,” she says.

“She’s my No. 1 supporter,” he says.

How they celebrate Valentine’s Day: “We switch off every year who plans it,” Chris says. This year it’s Aonya’s turn.

“When I plan it, we do cool things, lunch in the park ...” she says.

“I do cool things, too,” he says.

“Dinner at Firebirds?”

“You loved that.”

“I did.”

“I like surprises,” he says. But his wife can’t keep a secret. “I already know what she’s gonna do” this year — dinner at Sabor, one of their favorite restaurants.

Annie Calovich

Suzanna Mathews and Alex Sweetman

Bio: Suzanna is better known as Wichita’s Date Maven, and her matchmaking business helps local singles learn dating skills and find relationships. Alex owns and manages Sweetman Investments LLC, an oil and gas investment business. They have a 12-year-old son, Connor, and Suzanna has an 18-year-old daughter.

How they met: In the late 1990s, Wichita filmmaker Jason Bailey had cast Suzanna in a movie, and he was filming a scene at an Old Town dance club called Acapulco Joe’s. Alex had signed up for an acting class to help him gain confidence in public speaking, and the teacher asked the class to show up at the shoot to work as extras. During filming, Suzanna and Alex began dancing. Not long after, they began dating. They’ve been married for 14 years.

Best marriage advice: Accept your partner for who they are, the good and the bad. “Flexibility is important,” Alex said. “Don’t expect the other person to be perfect. They’re not. And you’re not either. Love them for who they are or look for things you love in them, not the things that drive you crazy.”

Matchmaking yourself: Being married to Wichita’s “love expert” might seem like a high-pressure job, but Alex said Suzanna’s clients give them both perspective. He’s learned a lot from watching her coach singles, he said. And Suzanna said her job helps keep her grounded in her marriage. “I get a perspective check every day. There’s a lot I would take for granted about him, but I don’t because I see how other people struggle.”

Denise Neil

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