Because marriage is an ever-evolving experience, we constantly shift, change and, in some cases, start over. In It’s No Secret, couples share thoughts about commitment and tell us what they have learned, revealing their secret to making it work. (Answers are edited for context and space.)
Who Alexa Pulitzer, 48, and Seth Levine, 42.
Occupations She is an independent artist and stationer. He is a partner in the New Orleans law firm Jones Walker.
Their Marriage 15 years, 9 months and counting.
Through the Years
Alexa Pulitzer and Seth Levine married June 3, 2004 before 110 guests at a castle in Fiesole, just outside Florence, Italy. “It was a three-day marathon of happiness, jazz performers and a band who came from Rome,” Ms. Pulitzer said. The couple live in the Faubourg St. John neighborhood of New Orleans. They have a daughter, Kagan, 14, and a son, Edge, 10.
The couple met in New Orleans in October 1997 at the wedding of Mr. Levine’s mother. “I got off the elevator and saw him kiss his mother’s forehead while he was holding her hand,” said Ms. Pulitzer, who was then 26. They spoke briefly. At the time, Mr. Levine, who was 20, had a girlfriend and was attending N.Y.U. Still, Ms. Pulitzer was charmed and called him a week later.
“I told him I was coming to New York, did he want to have dinner at Il Buco,” she said. “I brought a friend so he wouldn’t feel uncomfortable. We had incredible conversation.”
A second date followed a month later. Ms. Pulitzer had called his mother, who was her client, to ask a decorating question. Mr. Levine happened to be home from New York for Christmas break and answered the phone. She asked him out, again. He accepted and joined her and a group of friends the following night at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Afterward, he took her to Preservation Hall in the French Quarter and they danced until 3 a.m.
Over the next six weeks the two saw each other every night in New Orleans until Mr. Levine moved to the Netherlands in early 1998 for six months to attend an international law program through N.Y.U.’s business school. The two corresponded by letters at least twice a week, and fell in love. That fall, after graduating, Mr. Levine returned to New Orleans to attend Tulane Law School and moved in with Ms. Pulitzer. On Sept. 10, 2003, Mr. Levine proposed. “He told me he left his wallet upstairs, would I get it for him,” she said. “On our bed was a red box that contained a diamond ring and a letter on heavy red cardstock. He had handwritten his vows. It was very romantic.”
Like so many roommates, partners, spouses and families, the couple and their children have been staying at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr. Levine I’ve been home since March 17 as opposed to being gone from 7 a.m. to 8 or 9 p.m. everyday. Aside from a zombie apocalyptic fight about what we are going to eat out of the fridge first, it’s been really nice. It’s making me realize the time that’s allocated to work rather than family should change. This has been a good pause and opportunity to reflect and remember what’s important.
Katrina was different because we were displaced and unraveling, but it ended. The coronavirus is a time bomb waiting to go off. I’m super grateful for my space and my home and my family.
Ms. Pulitzer We are not used to being around each other all the time, but we are finding time to bond together. We are trying to evolve with this and be positive and try not to bring pressure or friction into the household. We are talking through what needs to be done and figuring it out together.
When we lived through Hurricane Katrina together, we were away for six months. That was a reaffirmation of our successful relationship. We’ve already been through a catastrophe together, so we already know how to do this. Because we have lived through unknowns, we know we will get through this, too. And we know how to communicate, and that’s everything. I have to trust my gut, and his. All four of us are keeping journals about this experience because we think it will be a growing and healing experience for all of us.
What They’ve Learned
Ms. Pulitzer When I was 3, my parents had a bitter divorce that lasted for years. It traumatized me. I didn’t want to get married. I was afraid to have children and get divorced. I was afraid if I got married I wouldn’t continue to evolve as a human and still find a way to connect with that person I was with 30 or 40 years down the road.
Both of us are extremely independent. We’ve grown, but we’ve grown together. I’m an energetic machine. Seth is laid back. I’m direct, open and honest. He’s more controlled about what comes out of his mouth. I’m great at details, logistics and operations. He’s good at making people feel comfortable and important. He’s extremely sound, rational and generous. He’s an old soul in a young man’s body.
Our relationship is healthy because of our ability to communicate and because we’re conscious of our flaws. I’ve taught him older women are better, and about traveling, art and music. He’s taught me in a very kind way about my flaws and fears; to focus on myself, instead of on everyone else; that I have power. He got me through my fear of being married. He made me see I would be a good mother, that I can have fears and move through them.
I’ve learned with the right person you don’t have to change anything about yourself; that the person you’re in love with can make you feel special; that a relationship should be easy, but not effortless because you want to put effort into something that’s important to you; that sex is important, as is intimacy. It’s the one connection that connects you and your spouse differently from you and your friends.
When we went though Hurricane Katrina, I was pregnant and we were alone. We had a realization that we don’t need a lot in life. We just needed each other. Marrying Seth and having children was the best thing I’ve ever done.
Mr. Levine She said she didn’t want to get married and have kids. I always wanted a family. She moved herself into parenthood and marriage not wanting either one, and I gave her the time and confidence to do that, which means I did something right.
She’s a force. When she wants something, it happens. She doesn’t deviate the course. I’m more flexible. She’s a shoot first, ask later. She’s got great intuition, energy and she’s beautiful. I’m more thoughtful and deliberate. She’s an artist and a creative. I am not.
We both have similar passion for New Orleans and trying to live each day to the fullest. We both love art and music and travel. We’ve normalized our extraordinary life together.
She’s made me more expressive and communicative. I’ve learned elegance and how to be a life partner; that it’s OK to ask for what you want; that it’s OK to take care of myself so I can be better with her and my family. And to never try to shut her down or crush her.
Marriage taught me it’s really important to listen objectively and not personalize what someone is saying first, without being reactive or defensive. It’s really easy to talk past or at each other. I’ve learned to step back and listen without reacting, which is helpful. I’ve learned to see the negative patterns I do and try to break them.
Our marriage is easy. It works well. We try to understand and adjust to each other’s needs. We give each other a lot of space and freedom, but we always come together. That’s a key to our relationship. Giving each other independence preserves yourself and your spirit. I don’t ever feel alone or left out. That’s a great feeling.
We’ve both seen failed relationships. My parents are divorced. I never trusted anyone enough to be a life partner and to have a family with until Alexa. She trusted me to do something she was opposed to her whole life. I wouldn’t have this feeling of love and family without her.