Saving the Drama for the Courtroom

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Because marriage is an ever-evolving experience, we constantly shift, change, love harder, love less and, in some cases, start over. In It’s No Secret, a new feature, The Times highlights couples who share thoughts about commitment and what they have learned about themselves and each other along the way.

Who Dana Tippen Cutler, 53, Keith Cutler, 53.

Occupations The Cutlers, trial lawyers, are the first married couple to preside over a television court show, “Couples Court With the Cutlers,” a show that features couples who cheat.

Their Marriage 28 years, 5 months and counting.

Through the Years

The couple was married June 10, 1989, at the Second Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo. They have three sons in their 20s, “making us officially empty-nesters,” Ms. Cutler said. The couple have lived in their home in Kansas City for the last 22 years.

The first time Dana Tippen met Keith Cutler, she remembered him, but he didn’t remember her. “It was 1982. We were both freshmen in college. I was 18, he was 17, and I was trying to roller skate. Some people had fallen in a pile. I was going to be next, but this cute guy grabbed me, saved me from falling, skated me around the rink and helped me off. Then he skated away,” she said. “He has no memory of this, which is why we have two first meetings.” The next time they connected was months later. Ms. Tippen was the social chairwoman for the Mr. Freshmen Pageant at Spelman College in Atlanta. Mr. Cutler was seated in the audience watching one of his friends audition for the event. “I saw the cute guy from the rink in the seat. He asked if he could help out. We didn’t have stagehands,” she said. Ms. Tippen didn’t mention the rink incident at that point. She waited until the two became friends first, which happened quickly. She started seeing another student from her class who invited her to a Prince concert. The night of the concert, Mr. Cutler pulled her aside and asked her not to go. “He said he liked me,” she added. “I wasn’t going to miss Prince. I’d bought Gloria Vanderbilt jeans for the occasion, so I told him we could talk about it the next morning.” They did. They’ve been a couple ever since.

What I’ve Learned

Ms. Cutler I came to marriage thinking it would be this 50/50 proposition; dividing our affection and livelihood perfectly in half. But marriage is a 100 percent proposition, regardless of what your spouse is doing. You can’t go into it with a tit-for-tat attitude. Marriage is based on your love for that person, not on what they’re doing for you. People say, “I want to get married.” Sometimes what they mean is they want to have a wedding. This is the person I want to die with. This is the person that was made for me. That hasn’t changed after all these years. We give ourselves a lot of grace because we know we really love the other person. Grace goes a long way. It’s an unmerited favor. He doesn’t have to earn it. I do it because I love him. I say, “I’m going to give you room to screw up, piss me off and to not carry your weight because I love you that much,” and I know it’s temporary. Longevity teaches you that. Our fighting is very organized. He talks; I listen. I talk; he listens. We don’t fight dirty. We agreed to that when we were dating. I get a great deal of joy and satisfaction in making him happy, whether it’s cooking his favorite meal, surprising him with a new shirt, or giving him a foot massage. Never at 18 when I met him did I know how much I would enjoy doing things for him.

Mr. Cutler The challenge after we got married was: How do you keep it going when the newness wears off? How do we stay engaged in this journey, which won’t always be roses and fairy tales. Life happens. You have to work through things, but you keep going. At the core we are friends. We have not run out of the desire to continue to experience life together. Put us in a room for six hours and can we stay for two more. We’re also pragmatic realists. As a couple we have figured out how to navigate through life. Our approaches are different but our objectives are the same. I’m more of the disciplinarian; she’s the soft touch. We knew couples that once they had kids, there was no more couple. We had three boys and we were determined not to let that happen to us. We made a concerted effort not become strangers. We had date night. We went to parties. We did things as a couple. We also let time de-escalate an argument. We say, “Look you don’t have to agree with me right now. We’re both tired. We can pick it up in the morning.” We have independent personalities but we come together knowing that neither of us is going anywhere. I’m not leaving; we are not breaking up. There’s safety in that. When you know no one is leaving it allows you to say what you need to, focus on the issues, and lets you be honest. It lets you say, “This is how we need to move forward.”