(OPRAH.com) -- Giving your heart to another person: It's the most universal impulse, yet the most singular thing we do.
So if you've ever worried that your relationship isn't like everyone else's, you're absolutely right -- and you're not alone.
Dearly beloved, we're pulling back the curtain on the lives of two real couples to behold the amazingly varied shapes love can take. And whatever shape it happens to take for you, we now pronounce you just fine.
The art of living apart
Boy meets girl. Boy has two kids. Girl would rather keep her own place, thank you.
Couple: Marisol and Rob Simon
Their challenge: Marisol, 45, a chef and author, and Rob, 55, a new-media entrepreneur, may have fallen in love -- but that didn't mean they wanted to join households, which in Rob's case included two kids. Their solution? In the seven years they've been married, they've happily maintained separate spaces. Sleepovers allowed.
Rob: When I thought about marriage, I pictured all four of us living together, but the truth is, that was my dream. It wasn't Marisol's dream, and it wasn't the kids' dream. Marisol didn't want to be a mom, and Ben [then 15] and Claire [then 11] didn't need another mother. During our dating days, I would stay at her place when I wasn't with the kids. I was happy, she was happy. There was nothing broken, so I thought: "Why don't we just continue that but be married?"
Marisol: There's a certain magic to our marriage, and it comes from not being together all the time. There's an old saying, "How can I miss you if you're always around?"
Rob and I always miss each other, and I don't know if it would be the same if we lived together all the time. It's funny. One time I took Claire out for her birthday, just us girls, and there was a couple sitting near us not saying a word to each other. Claire said, "That's what would happen to you and Dad if you guys lived together."
Rob: As it is, we talk a lot. We always know where the other one is. And I think we spend more time with each other than most couples do. We tuck each other in at night by phone, and if she's out with friends, I check to make sure she got home okay, and vice versa. And there's always been a lot of trust that we wouldn't be Tiger Woods-ing each other.
Marisol: Just because you love someone doesn't mean they have to consume you. There has to be room for yourself in a relationship. People need oxygen.
When I'm on my own, I get to go to the store and buy my rib eye and onions and cook the food I used to eat growing up in Venezuela. I pour a glass of red wine and open my Bon Appétit. Or put on my Pink Martini CD.
Rob is a sprawler, I'm a condenser. So at my house things aren't all over the place and I don't have to follow anyone around with a bottle of Windex. At night I can wear my ugly red shorts, reach for the tweezers, and work my eyebrows. I get an entire night of sleep without someone snoring, and the next day I'm so agreeable.
Rob: On the other hand, a lot of great moments come when you don't plan them. That's one thing you sacrifice -- the spontaneous opportunities that could occur.
Marisol: Yes, but still -- when I tell other women about my setup, at first they go, "What?" Then they say, "I could use a few days off from my husband, for sure." Guys, for some reason, don't love it. But women tend to think it's fantastic. They say, "Can you come talk to my husband about why we should do this, too?"
Together forever, all the time
For some, it would be too close for comfort. For them, it's all in a day's work.
Couple: Andrea and Scott Zieher
The challenge: A cohabiting couple for almost a decade (they married last summer), Andrea, 34, and Scott, 44, also opened a business together seven years ago. Their New York City art gallery has two employees: them. Just the two of them. In one room. All day.
Why Andrea thinks spending all day with your spouse can be great: We get to skip the obligatory end-of-day recap -- we know what the other person's been doing. We're also more comfortable socializing separately than other couples. If we didn't spend our days together, I might be annoyed if Scott didn't want to come to a party with me. But as it is, I just say, "Okay, bye!"
When Andrea says they got a major reality check: Before we opened the gallery, a lawyer drew up papers and asked us, point-blank, "What's the plan if your relationship goes bad?" We had to face the fact that a lot of couples split up, we could too, and what would that mean? So we chose a date every year when one of us can buy the other out. Not exactly romantic, but...
Why Scott believes togetherness leads to more efficient fights: We can't give each other the silent treatment. We're running a business; we have to resolve the issue and move on. In the past six years, very few of our arguments have lasted more than a couple of hours.
When Andrea says they stopped keeping score: We used to split domestic chores down the middle, and each person always felt like they were doing more. But when we tried that at work, we saw how silly it was. We're each better at different things: I do the books and Scott does the shipping. So we carried that idea into our homelife -- I never walk the dog, Scott never vacuums -- and things got so much better. We negotiate in a really healthy way.
Why Scott has doubts on that one: She's a much better negotiator than I am, so I could be getting screwed and not even realize it.
Why Scott swears neither of them has ever screamed, "Just go away!": We used to live in a 500-square-foot apartment, which certainly got claustrophobic. And we used to walk to and from work together, which was excessive. Now I go in an hour earlier and Andrea stays an hour later at night. And when it all gets to be too much, one of us finds a way to get some time alone -- before any screaming starts.
From O, The Oprah Magazine, April 2010
Subscribe to O, The Oprah Magazine for up to 75% off the newsstand price. That's like getting 18 issues FREE. Subscribe now!
TM & © 2011 Harpo Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.