February 2021: Folks just love to hear the story of how a couple that has been married for decades first encountered each other. Girls giggle with delight to hear how the young lad was smitten when spotting the damsel for the first time. They are thrilled to hear how it was love at first sight, and then they married and lived happily ever after. But what if that blissfully married couple had a nontraditional first meeting? What if this couple met at a divorce recovery workshop—and one of them had never been married or divorced? Now that’s a twist of fate.
Enter divorce recovery workshop facilitator Bob Stillman. Stillman had been divorced for a few years and was well on his way to full recovery after his breakup involving two children. Being a good dad, he was determined to stay active in his kids’ lives. The rules of the workshop were that to stay in good standing in the group, no two members could date each other. Duly noted. Stillman followed the rules to a T, but that was before the striking, available blonde in a hot pink Laura Ashley dress joined the group. Stillman said she was like a deer in his crosshairs the minute he laid eyes on her.
Enter Nancy Benson. Cute as a bug, Benson’s M.O. was much like the runaway bride. She dated around, sure enough, but when a beau would start to move in to get serious, Benson would put on her running shoes, and she would bolt. She just never met anyone she felt she was interested enough in to be exclusive.
So why would an independent single girl attend a divorce adjustment workshop? A friend invited her to attend, and said that it would be a great resource for relationship management. Benson thought, “Well, why not?”
A few weeks later, Stillman and Benson decided to stretch the rules and have what they called an “undate.” They went out for a meal and for a laugh or two, a half-hearted attempt of staying within the guidelines yet be alone together socially. Did that undate fly with the group leaders? Not so much. The offenders were booted out of the recovery group.
So then what happened? A little over four months later, the runaway bride retired her athletic shoes and walked down the aisle in dress flats.
In the early days, it was a humble beginning, but the couple was in love.
“I was so broke, I couldn’t even pay attention,” Bob Stillman said, recalling their rough financial start.
After being educated in navigating relationships and now married, how did things work for the new couple? Bob Stillman claims he’s the one in charge. While Nancy Stillman rolls her eyes, he says he’s the head, and she’s the neck. They have worked through their differences and have learned the art of negotiation.
“When I want chocolate cake and she wants strawberry cake, we compromise and get chocolate cake,” Bob Stillman said, chuckling.
Currently, this Bixby couple have long since settled into their roles and are well-integrated into the community. Bob Stillman is the president of Stillman Group, a remodeling and general contracting business. Nancy Stillman is a Splanka practitioner for Nancy’s NEST (Neuro Emotional Spiritual Therapy). With both running their own businesses and on the go, Nancy Stillman can once again use those running shoes she ditched years ago just to keep up.
When things get intense, this duo has to pilot the obstacles in life. Each one has their own fighting style. Bob Stillman says he’s loud and proud, and he’s all about the engulf and devour. Nancy Stillman? Ehhh, there’s not much she feels so strongly about that it’s worth the fight. If she’s passionate about the issue, she’ll jump in there and state her two cents, but otherwise, she ignores him, and that makes him even madder.
Three adult children and 26 years later, it sounds like there are still some pet peeves these two have about each other they must circumvent.
“Bob talks constantly, and if you try to get a word in edgewise, he says you are being rude and interrupting him,” Nancy Stillman said with a smirk.
So, surely there is something that rubs Bob Stillman the wrong way about his lovely bride.
“She’s an excellent back seat driver,” Bob Stillman said. “She always has ‘lookout comments’ to share. That’s when I have to remind her to sit there and look pretty.”
The twosome has one rule they agreed not to break; they always go to church. It’s their faith that has gotten them through some brutal times. Case in point, 2001. That was by far their worst year. Nancy Stillmans’ mother and father died.
If that wasn’t enough, Bob Stillman’s grandmother, grandfather, and even the dog died. To top it off, that was the 9-11 year.
“Looking back, we don’t know how we got through that year other than God propping us up and keeping us alive and together,” Bob Stillman said. “It takes resolve, a sense of humor, and a partner to get through a year like that. You get to have your sorrows and yet double your joys.”
Bob Stillman gives his wife credit for the hard work she has invested into the relationship. He never knew how difficult it would be considering a previous marriage, add to that a prepackaged family, baggage, and extra strands of hardship.
This female counterpart in the relationship has a way to keep herself in check when she’s gotten herself all worked up into a mad at her husband.
“One thing I always do if I might be frustrated, upset, or angry is we have a special red plate and coffee mug that I set the table with, and I put his dinner on it,” Nancy Stillman said. “That is the reminder to myself that it’s time for me to get over it.”
And that’s Bob Stillman’s signal that his wife is willing to bury the hatchet.
The Stillmans have found their way of showing honor and respect for each other. They claim they dote on one another. That manifests in the form ranging from fixing coffee for the other to de-icing the other’s vehicle on a cold winter’s morning.
With all these years of married-life experience under their belts, the Stillmans have a little advice they can share with newly marrieds. They warn them to expect the unexpected. They suggest it will be nothing like a young couple might anticipate, yet it is far more fulfilling and satisfying.
“You almost have to vow to not quit,” Bob Stillman said. “If we didn’t have a sense of humor, we would not be here having this conversation. Somebody has to be a comedian. Don’t take yourself so seriously. We’ve grown more forgiving of ourselves and each other. Life teaches you there’s another inning, and you can always come back around to bat again.”
Bob Stillman can relate to the cartoon of the husband standing in the rain getting soaked but is holding the umbrella over his wife. He feels he’s doing his job when he’s taking care of her.
“It’s much more dynamic than I can recapture in words,” Bob Stillman said. “It’s far richer, deeper, more scary, and satisfying than I would have thought 26 years ago. And now we’re getting around to the death do us part.”
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