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HAPPY MARRIAGES // Love stories

Elsewhere in today's paper, a bunch of grinning couples have announced to the world that they've gotten hitched.

They've decided to spend their lives together as married people, regardless of how many of their friends and relatives may have gotten divorced.

Statistically speaking, that's a courageous step to take. The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics reports there's one divorce for every two marriages.

Nevertheless, approximately 2.5-million couples are expected to make that brave plunge into marriage this year, according to the Association of Bridal Consultants. The association designates February, the month of cupids and chocolate, as national weddings month.

Though most newspapers are full of wedding announcements this and every month, the only other news that is regularly reported about marriages is how they are falling apart, as reflected in the national divorce rate.

Newspapers rarely follow up to see how local brides and grooms have fared. What happens to these daring duos after they walk away from the altar, after they set up housekeeping, after 10 years have passed?

From the Times archives, we retrieved announcements for weddings that took place in February and March 1987. We picked 10 or so couples who at the time of their ceremonies were living in the Tampa Bay area. We found two pairs in the phone book and one with the help of an obliging mother-in-law, whose name was also listed.

It was simple from there. We made three calls. We found three solid marriages.

What we learned from speaking with these couples is that marriage is like a job. Both partners must work at the marriage, every day, so they don't get fired.

"A real marriage is not like you see on TV. It's like us," says Stephanie Keefe of Tampa. "Both people have to work, you have children, you have sick kids, you have dogs, you have the house, you have things you have to do."

And when each person in the marriage does the things he or she has to do and keeps doing them without expressing resentment, that's what lasting marriages are made of.

None of these couples had any remarkable strategies for making a marriage last. They all say they made good choices in selecting mates and never considered divorce an option.

They successfully navigated the first 10 years of marriage and envision themselves married not just for 10 more years, but forever. Here and on page are their love stories.

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