Their Relationship Morphed From Dislike to Inseparable

Posted September 28, 2018 8:32 p.m. EDT

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 along the way.

Who: Laura Berger Slatkin, 59, and Harry Slatkin, 58

Occupations: She is the founder of Nest Fragrances; he is the owner and chairman of HomeWorx. Both companies sell home fragrances and scented candles. Together they founded Next for Autism, an organization dedicated to supporting those affected by autism. They also created the NYC Autism Charter School in Harlem and the Bronx, which recently opened.

Their Marriage: 26 years and counting.

Through the Years

The couple married Sept. 17, 1992, at Temple Emanu-El in New York before 70 guests. A reception at Le Cirque followed. Together they have 19-year-old twins, Ali and David, who is autistic.

“When I first met Harry in 1989, I was renting a house in Quogue. We wereboth working on Wall Street and we disliked each other,” said Laura Slatkin, who was then 29. “I didn’t think much about him until a year later. A friend asked me to co-chair a charity called Henry Street. She told me we needed someone else to help and mentioned Harry.”

At the time, both were single. They decided to meet at the Regency Hotel bar. Laura Slatkin arrived first. “He walked in wearing a navy blue suit, a beautiful pale blue shirt and had dark hair. He looked amazing,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can’t stand him, but if I had to pick the perfect person to marry he would look like that.'”

Harry Slatkin accepted the co-chairman position and dislike morphed into friendship. Friendship turned into being inseparable. “I developed a huge crush on him nine months into our friendship,” Laura Slatkin said. A year later when he invited her to go to Atlantic City, New Jersey, she assumed he would confess similar feelings. “I thought this was a date situation,” she said. “I got a manicure and pedicure. I bought lingerie. Nothing happened. So I put my feelings in a safe and locked it.”

Months later, when he asked her to accompany him again to Atlantic City, she had no expectations. “During the evening, he put his arm around me and said, ‘Want to go upstairs to get into something more comfortable?'” she said. “We lied on the beds frozen in our robes until morning, afraid of what the future held for our friendship. Both of us were afraid of taking that next step.”

On the way home they stopped for gas. A blind man was selling heart-shaped rubber key chains that had the words “I love you” printed in red. Harry Slatkin bought one. “When he gave it to me I knew this was real, that we’d get married,” she said. “I still have it. It’s in our safe.”

They were married a year later.

What They’ve Learned

Laura Slatkin: Harry is a caring, brilliant individual. He’s a positive, glass half-full; I’m half-empty. He’s fanatically neat; I’m a slob. I’m cautious and methodical; he’s impulsive and a risk-taker. I’m the sensible one, which can be exhausting. But if he weren’t the way he is, everything would be chaos. We’ve found the right balance. Our whole marriage is based on friendship and pure partnership. It’s our bedrock.

I’ve learned to be more positive because he is. He takes everything I want to do seriously. He makes me feel important, empowered and confident. That’s changed my life and has given me the encouragement to create my own company and start our foundation for autism.

To have a successful marriage you have to be flexible. I’ve learned to let the stupid things go and to accept him for who he is. One time we got into an argument and I got very upset. Harry told me to put everything that’s good on one side of the scale and what just happened on the other. He was right. When you look at it that way, we have so much that works, so much goodness. Doing that puts everything in perspective. I’ve also learned sometimes you don’t have to win or make your point.

My life changed when he walked into the bar that night. We’re never apart. I don’t go out with my girlfriends and he doesn’t go out with his friends. We are very devoted to pleasing each other, that’s the secret to our marriage. I’m very traditional. His opinion matters greatly. It’s a way of telling him that he’s important to me.

Harry Slatkin: My mother gave me advice in the beginning of my relationship, “You give 110 percent and expect zero back. If you do this, you won’t be disappointed.” Laura doesn’t give zero; she gives you everything.

I’m a Leo. I’m stubborn. I have a big roar. We argue. I’ve tried to change and it’s not going to happen. I’m neurotically neurotic about everything being in its place; Laura is not. She could talk on the phone and drive into the carwash. But we make it work. She’s a good balance. I deal with her issues; she deals with mine. I’ve learned to be more accepting. To relax and let things go. To be more complimentary and less negative. There are things we don’t agree on. I’ve learned to come back and listen to her.

If it weren’t for Laura, I’d be standing on the corner with a tin cup because I like to consume. She doesn’t let me. She has the most difficult job in the family but she runs everything — my life, the kids’ lives, the autism foundation, work — with ease and grace.

For the past 26 years we’ve had date night on Fridays. It strengthens the relationship. We maintain us. If not, you get lost in a sea of life.

The ride to 26 years takes work. We are never at a loss because we’re such good friends. There’s loyalty and trust. We don’t live separate lives. We live our lives together. We don’t need other people to amuse us because we’ve found that in ourselves.

My favorite time with her is around 10:30 p.m. We watch “The Golden Girls” wherever we are to go to sleep. It’s our sleeping pill. We can recite every episode.

I’m not Cary Grant, but she treats me like that. I love her for that. She’s my Doris Day. It’s our little movie.