Julie Bulitt has settled into the right corner of her couch, legs crossed, her quick laugh filled with the optimism of a family therapist who eternally believes in second chances. Her husband, David, is in the left corner, legs also crossed, narrating the couple’s life story with the orderly resolve of a divorce attorney who has helped many people sign on the dotted lines.
They’ve both chosen to wear turquoise today. They didn’t mean to match, they say. It was just a coincidence. Much like the way they stumbled into each other’s lives as University of Maryland undergrads, she a freshman and he a senior. But most of the Olney couple’s story—the family they raised, the closeness they cultivated—has been anything but happenstance.
Julie jokes that the secret to their strong marriage has been her husband’s job as an arguer-for-hire. “So when he comes home, he doesn’t want to fight anymore,” she says, “and I just get my way.”
In all honesty, they explain, both have worked hard to compromise, communicate and ask for forgiveness over their roughly 35 years together. On top of that, they’ve talked a lot in their respective careers about what sustains a couple—and compatibility alone won’t do it, they say.
“I think it’s more how much you’re willing to work and stay connected with each other than [that] you both like soup or you both like to play pinball,” Julie says. Now they’re looking to share what they’ve learned while observing countless marriages and building their own. Over the past 18 months or so, David, 57, and Julie, 54, have collaborated on a book, with the working title Shop Talk: 5 Core Conversations to Keep Your Relationship Off the Couch and Out of Court.
The project emerged organically out of discussions (“not always sober,” according to the book’s promotional materials) that the couple would have while talking on the phone or sitting on the porch together. David, who writes as a creative outlet, began taking notes on their conversations, and ultimately the duo decided to turn the material into something publishable.
Shop Talk, now in the hands of an agent who’s shopping it to publishers, is structured as a series of conversations between David and Julie about the things that most often tear couples apart. Money, sex, kids, for example. David says he’s learned as a divorce lawyer that many couples forget to do the simple things. “People oftentimes don’t need that much to be happy. Pay attention to me. Tell me my shirt’s nice,” he says. Julie says she advises people to get ahead of disagreements with a simple apology, even when you aren’t 100 percent convinced you’re guilty.
Julie and David met at a fraternity party in May 1983. He was attracted to her from the moment he spotted her standing near a stairwell, a gin and tonic in her hand.
Julie says it was love at first sight for her, too. The two began dating and decided to stay together when, just a few months later, David headed to Chicago for law school. He ended up moving back to Maryland to be close to Julie, and proposed at a family barbecue, handing her a hot dog garnished with a marquise-cut diamond ring that had cost every penny of his savings.
For the Bulitts, the biggest marital test came in parenting. When the couple married in 1986 (after David passed the bar, his wife makes sure to note), Julie quickly became pregnant with their first daughter. A period of infertility followed, and the couple decided to adopt two biological sisters. Then, out of the blue, Julie learned she was pregnant with their youngest daughter.
Raising children wasn’t easy for the couple. Their second-youngest daughter dealt with significant behavioral issues, and David and Julie didn’t always agree on how to confront them. Julie attacked the challenge with a therapist’s mindset and focused on treatment, while David tended to emphasize their daughter’s ability to control her actions.
The different approaches and the turmoil caused by their daughter’s outbursts put the Bulitts through years of stress, but they grew during the process, they say. If one had a problem with how the other was parenting, they would wait until they were alone to hash it out. Julie started sending David away on trips with friends, and he did the same for her. “There was a lot of, ‘OK, you’ve got to do [the parenting] because I’ve gotta go hit some golf balls or I’ve gotta take the dog on a walk,’ ” David says.
“When one person was good, the other person wasn’t good, and we would build each other up,” Julie says.
Throughout the years, even the tough ones, David and Julie made sure to stay connected. They’d let their teenage daughter, the oldest, go out with friends one weekend night but have her baby-sit on the other so they could enjoy a date.
Their parenting years have passed—they now have three grandchildren—and they still go on those weekly dates. “We enjoy each other’s company if we go out for coffee or we go for a walk in the woods with the dogs. We have fun. We talk,” Julie says. “So we’re lucky. We’re really, really lucky. But we’ve put work in to make it work this way.”