Couples – Getting Together, Staying Together, Making It Work

Original Publication: Vogue – February, 1987

Joseph and Sheila Kennedy

Joseph P. Kennedy II, thirty-four, Robert Kennedy’s eldest son, has won former House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s Congressional seat in Massachusetts, becoming the first Kennedy of his generation to hold public office. Sheila Kennedy, thirty-seven, with a master’s degree in city planning from Harvard, works part-time as a housing consultant. The Kennedy’s are the parents of six-year-old twin boys.

His political pedigree is immediately apparent: the toothy Kennedy smile, the charm and blarney flashing on and off like a neon sign. She is better educated and less impulsive, a well-bred banker’s daughter from Philadelphia. He has never been a scholar and leads with his gut. He can be hot-tempered, whereas she is in charge of the cooling-off process. “We’re working on it,” Sheila acknowledges. “With temper also comes passion. Anger at a thing like poverty can be a positive force.”

Joe clearly relies on his wife’s cerebral cool. “Sheila has more sound judgments than anyone I know on issues you face in life. For me, she’s the final word.” Soundness, stability, judgment – qualities reputedly in short supply for Joe in the turbulent decade following his father’s assassination – are precisely what he values in his wife.

His political victory requires that they move to Washington, a place that has never been kind to women married to Kennedys. “Women don’t have a very good record for dealing with the Kennedy’s either,” Joe interjects somewhat defensively. “The Kennedy’s aren’t the only family with a macho tradition in which men get their way,” Sheila says. “I know the image is that the men do whatever they want to do and the women are left to pick up the pieces, but that’s changing. When we get to Washington I am definitely working, and we are going to live in a situation so that things I want to do get done, even if they aren’t visually exciting or newsworthy.” She admits, though, that in the last year “when someone had to take up the slack it’s been me.”

“We’re no different from any other family in the U.S. where one parent is off doing something. You just do the best you can,” Joe says. “Sheila’s never going to be a political wife. I think it’s great that she’s got her own, independent way of thinking about things.”

“That drives him nuts,” Shiela whispers.

Steven and Cokie Roberts

Journalists, Steven and Cokie Roberts, forty-four and forty-three respectively, both cover Congress – he for the The New York Times, and she for the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour and National Public Radio. Married twenty years, they have two children, a boy, eighteen, and a girl, sixteen.

HE: When you start a life together at tweny-two or twenty-three instead of at thirty-five or thirty-seven, you feel you have time to do everything. Unlike so many of our younger colleagues who are agonizing over questions like “Should we move?” “Should we have children?” We just went ahead and did it. Cokie gets a lot of the credit for holding everything together. It was a mark of what the world was like in 1966, when we got married, that we didn’t even discuss who would give up his job. Cokie did, even though she was starring in and producing her own television show in Washington and was making more money that I was – which she still does.

We are a Jewish-Catholic marriage, and we had to confront very early what we really cared about in a relationship. We were under a lot of pressure from our parents; and as painful an experience as that was, it was also very positive. Our marriage has evolved greatly, though Cokie still takes the major responsibility. But we really are professional people. Having been that for a while infuses our whole relationship because we can’t pretend that one of us is more important than the other. We both have the same job.

SHE: At the tender age of eighteen when we met, I thought Steven would be a wonderful parent. We met between our sophomore and junior years of college at a student political congress. We shared the excitement of dealing with things governmental. Now our work is so intertwined we sometimes both lay claim to the same brilliant insight. 

But we work for different media and that’s very important. We’re forced to be cooperative. Essentially we arrange it so that while one person is on the road the other person is at home. If there’s a school meeting or whatever, we try to look at each other’s schedules and say who can best be at this one.

I do feel strongly that women could be losing the long view of life and that would be a shame. So you say no to this job today – well, another job will come up. I have absolutely no regrets about any of the jobs I turned down. Even as a kid I always had an image of Steven and me grey-haired, rocking on some porch, watching our grandchildren playing and laughing. I’ve always thought growing old together would be nice.

Joe and Jennifer Montana

San Francisco Forty Niner quarterback Joe Montana, thirty, returned to professional football this past season bearly seven weeks after surgery for a serious back injury. He gives much of the credit for his practically miraculous recovery to his wife, Jennifer, a quintessential California Golden Girl and model, twenty-nine years old and just under six feet tall, who met him on the set of a TV commercial.

They can’t keep their hands off each other. While he talks she toys with the shoelaces on his sneakers. While she talks he rubs the back of her neck. When he proposed he had a plane fly overhead with a banner that read, “WILL YOU MARRY ME, JEN? LOVE, JOE.” A week later she found a two-carat diamond engagement ring in a box of Godiva chocolates. They married after the Pro Bowl in February ’85. They have a daughter sixteen months old, and as this issue went to press they were expecting their second child any day.

Her competitive spirit is what hooked him: “She told me she could beat me in basketball. She said she could throw a football farther than I could. Well, she cheats.”

“When I played Joe in basketball he told me even guys didn’t guard him as closely as I did,” Jennifer says. They stopped playing backgammon on the second night of their honeymoon, because, she says, “Joe couldn’t stand to lose.”

The shared fighter’s instinct was put to the test last September when Joe separated a disc in his back. When the Montanas heard the news that he might never play again, “we both just cried for ten or fifteen minutes,” Joe says. “After surgery I went though crazy emotions, but whichever way I went she was there.” Jennifer, then six months pregnant with child number two, not only moved into her husband’s hospital room for a week, but stayed at his side for five weeks of physical therapy, telling him, “If you’re physically tired, I can understand it, but if it’s just mental, you have to go on.” He did and then three three touchdown passes his first game back.

Martin Short and Nancy Dolman:

Comedian Martin Short, thirty-five, is best known as the loveable, frenetic nerd Ed Grimly, who appeared on Saturday Night Live a few seasons ago. Now starring in Three Amigos, he will appear in two more films in the next year. His fellow Canadian and wife, actress Nancy Dolman, thirty-three, is staying at home to raise Katherine, three, and Oliver, nine months.

SHE: When I first met Marty – we were in a Canadian production of Godspell together – I was twenty and still very much infatuated with rock ’n roll. Marty was so straight. But he impressed me. I had never met anyone quite so confident at such a young age. He was very witty. One word from him could devastate a whole room. He was a little unnerving.

HE: We both come from close-knit families. As the youngest of five, I was encouraged to show off all the time. Nancy’s my best audience. I’m funny at home and Nancy’s funny at home. We dance all the time. Ed Grimly, in fact, mainly developed with Nancy. She’d be on the phone and see Ed peek around the corner. I’d do him in the nude coming out of the shower.

SHE: Marty is Mr. Overkill. Any event, no matter what it is – my father’s birthday, say – excites him. If it happens to snow on Christmas, I have to get out the oxygen tank because Marty has a complete heart attack. After twelve years with him I get excited about everything, too.

HE: We’ve grown into one person. We both cry at movies, at Two for the Road, at It’s a Wonderful Life. We celebrate two anniversaries, the illegal one when we first had sec, and the legal one when we got married. I give her yellow flowers for the legal and big, red roses for the illegal. This relationship is the great success of my life.