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‘Sound of Us’ tells stories Northeast Ohioans want to tell — in their own voices.

I thought marriage would steal my independence. Then I met my husband.

Bonnie Brewer Kraus, left, stands next to her husband, Alan.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Bonnie Brewer Kraus, of Cleveland Heights, said she didn’t realize how mutual dependence could help her develop certain strengths, like learning to compromise and listen to her partner.

This story was created as part of Ideastream Public Media's “Sound of Us” audio storytelling workshop. We are featuring stories about marriage. With the proportion of never-married people 40 and older at an all-time high, our community storytellers explore why they got married or not — and, if they are married, how they're making their unions work. Tell your own story!

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, marriage was seen as a trap for women. Staying home, cooking and raising children, instead of pursuing our dreams? No way. We weren’t going to become our mothers.

My friends felt the same way. So what changed?

I met two friends, also in long marriages, at a Cleveland Heights pizza parlor to talk.

"I still remember saying to a group of friends, I can’t imagine that I would ever be in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship," said Ellen Rosenblatt. "That’s how we talked then, and I really believed that. And then what happened was, I was in my early 20s and I met somebody and I really loved him."

Learning to commit

Love ambushed me, too. I met my husband at a left-wing college in Florida at a party under the palm trees. We talked all night and haven’t stopped talking since. We didn’t want to be Ozzie and Harriet, but we wanted a life together. We had the bright idea that we could write our own rules. But we still had a lot to learn.

At the pizza parlor, my friend Jayne Eiben talked about that learning curve, too.

"I think what surprised me the most was how much growing up I had to do," Jayne said. "I would come to it with immature things like, 'Well you did this, so can I do this?' And try to negotiate. And my husband, Chris, would say, 'I don’t keep score.'"

Bonnie Brewer Kraus and Alan Brewer Kraus pose for a wedding photo.
Bonnie Brewer Kraus
Bonnie Brewer Kraus and Alan Kraus married in 1980, after meeting in college.

No keeping score and no winners or losers. My husband and I loved it out, fought it out, figured it out. It wasn’t easy. When good intentions meet the reality of dirty dishes, sick kids and mortgages, sparks can fly. I thought I would break sometimes, but we toughed it out together.

"Any relationship, there has to be a sense of commitment," said my husband, Alan Kraus. "I’ve made the mistakes here, or this person has upset me. But if you have a general sense I want this to continue, then that helps a long way."

I thought marriage would destroy my independence, but I didn’t realize how mutual dependence can build a life and develop strengths I didn’t know I needed. I learned how to compromise and how to listen — although that’s still a work in progress.

Time apart

But marriage isn’t all about sacrifice and compromise. There’s got to be some fun. Want to know a secret to a great long-term marriage? Spend time apart.

"I think the main activity that I do without you is music," Alan told me. "I like finding the courage to actually be involved in groups of people with music. I don’t think I’m a very skillful musician, but I enjoy it a lot and I’m doing it more and more."

Alan loves to play the guitar, but I enjoy creative writing. He bicycles and I like long, meandering nature walks. It’s the differences that keep things interesting. My friend Ellen also loves her solitude to read and create collages while her husband, Jim, plays hockey and goes to baseball games.

"I think it’s giving up the idea that you had to be there together and you had to do that together," Jim said. "She’s happy for me going and doing whatever it is I want to do. She’s very supportive. But she also has fulfillment in what she wants to do at those moments."

My husband and I are not the same people we were 40 years ago, and I’m glad we’re not. We did it our way and marriage changed us into better people. As a rebellious, alienated teen, I didn’t have the imagination to see what a partnership could be and how it could help me realize my goals.

We’re ultimately alone in this life, but for me, it’s been wonderful having someone along to share the journey.

Bonnie Brewer-Kraus graduated from Kent State University's architecture program in 1984. She raised her three sons in Cleveland Heights, where she still lives with her husband.

Thanks to Literary Cleveland for its partnership on this series.