(RealSimple.com) -- A lengthy separation -- and a surprise trip to Paris -- caused this husband and wife to realize that their marriage could be saved.
Mary L. Tabor and Del Persinger
Married 26 years
Mary was still in her nightgown and robe, sipping a cappuccino in the kitchen of the Washington, D.C., brownstone she shared with her husband, Del, when he walked in and announced he wanted to live alone. They had been married for 21 years.
"I didn't know what had hit me," Mary, 64, recalls of that fall morning in 2005. "I wondered, does he have a girlfriend? A boyfriend? I had no idea what was wrong."
Although the couple's relationship had been strained for a few months, Mary simply assumed they were going through a rough patch. She attributed Del's loss of interest in sex and his suddenly quick temper to stress from his high-pressure job as a financial analyst.
"Del was so on edge that he would yell at me about every little thing -- like a knife accidentally placed in the dishwasher with the point up," says Mary, a writer and a teacher. Still, she figured that things would soon return to normal.
For Del, the decision had been a long time coming. Increasingly restless within his marriage, he wondered whether it was holding him back from leading a more exciting life. "I knew the problem wasn't Mary -- it was me," he says. "And I felt I needed to work through my mixed emotions alone."
To Mary's frustration, Del couldn't articulate any of these concerns -- all she knew was that he wanted a separation. She and Del took turns sleeping in the guest room for a few months until she moved into an apartment of her own. By January 2006, the couple had hired attorneys. Their home, which they had spent the previous seven years painstakingly renovating, was put up for sale.
Mary felt "broken" without Del, who had helped her raise two children from her first marriage and supported her through the deaths of her parents and sister. "He understood me better than anyone," she says. She tried to move on and began dating other men -- to little avail. "I was still in love with my husband."
For Del, the bachelor lifestyle lost its luster rather quickly. "I thought the separation would allow me to make all those friends I never had, do all the things I never did," says Del, 61. But in reality his days were fairly mundane. "I went to work, went to the gym, and spent the rest of my time reading."
He also found himself stalling on the divorce negotiations, bringing up smaller and smaller details. In retrospect, he realizes he probably did that to prolong the process indefinitely.
By August 2009, the couple had cautiously started spending time together again, even venturing out on a few dates. "It wasn't the dinners or dances that made me feel in love, but the conversations," says Mary. Del, who had been seeing a therapist, finally opened up to her about his worries and fears. "To me, the most seductive thing a man can do is be truly honest," says Mary.
Del had clearly experienced a change of heart. But Mary, concerned it wouldn't last, wanted time to think. In the winter of 2009, she took an extended trip alone to Paris. One morning, as she was having her breakfast, her cell phone rang. It was Del. He had flown in from D.C. and was outside her building. Could he come up?
Mary buzzed him in, and when he reached her doorway, suitcase in hand, he told her how much he loved her. That grand romantic gesture, so out of character for Del, "moved me deeply," says Mary. "At that moment, I thought our marriage could be saved."
A few weeks later, the pair flew home together. Del sold his apartment and moved in with Mary. Divorce proceedings were halted. Their "new" relationship is free of the stressful arguments that were so commonplace back in 2005, the couple report. "I'm not confused anymore, so I'm a more contented person," says Del.
"Del is at ease with himself, and that makes him at ease in the world," Mary explains. "When people hear that Del left me, they say, 'You were betrayed!' But I don't feel that way. Look, life is messy. I'm happy we got this second shot."
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