Three decades ago, Kris Scharoun-DeForge went to a dance, spotted Paul DeForge and immediately fell in love. Reflecting on that day, she often says, “I looked into Paul’s eyes and saw my future.”
The couple, who both have Down syndrome, celebrated 25 years of marriage on August 13, 2018, by renewing their vows.
“They have an unconditional love,” Susan Scharoun, Kris’ sister, told TODAY. “They totally complement each other.”
Supporting each other unconditionally remains the secret to their decades-long marriage. Kris, 58, managed their activities and lifestyle, while Paul, 54, always provided emotional support for Kris.
"She is more emotionally vulnerable and he has always been her rock," Scharoun said. "She would plan what they would do and really be responsible for the social events."
But getting to the altar wasn’t easy. Many were opposed to their relationship and didn’t believe people with Down syndrome should marry. At the time, Kris and Paul seemed like the only couple with an intellectual disability considering marriage.
“They had a lot of struggles,” Scharoun said. “I saw them as individuals who should have a right to make that decision.”
The couple was determined to to share their life together in Syracuse, New York.
“When they were approaching the five-year engagement mark they really wanted to get married, so we started to plan their wedding,” Scharoun said.
She served as the maid of honor and Paul’s brother was the best man. The reception for 150 guests took place at Le Moyne Manor. For Kris, being a bride was her dream come true. As a young girl, she clipped pictures of wedding dresses from magazines and decorated her room with them.
“Their wedding was a wonderful affair,” Scharoun said. “Kris’ main desire has always been to be a ‘me of a we.’”
Over the years, Kris loved cooking for Paul and the two often bowled and attended dances together. They vacationed at Scharoun’s camp in the Adirondack Mountains and are godparents to Scharoun’s daughter. And, they always supported and comforted each other.
“They have been a role model for unconditional positive regard in a relationship,” Scharoun said.
Scharoun believes that her sister and brother-in-law might have the longest marriage of any couple where both people have Down syndrome. The only other couple Scharoun knows of is Maryanne and Tommy Pilling, of the United Kingdom, who have been married for 23 years.
While the couple shared many happy years together, they both are facing health complications. Kris has type 1 diabetes, which she manages on her own, and Paul has dementia, which occurs earlier in people with Down syndrome than in the general population. Paul recently moved into an intensive care setting and Kris is still in their former supervised apartment. Even though Paul receives excellent care, it's been a tough change for the couple.
“We had to tell her he wasn’t going to come back and it became really difficult for her,” Scharoun said.
Kris was in the hospital for two weeks with pneumonia and the couple held their vow renewal in the chapel there. They still get to see each other several times a week.
“He recognizes Kris more than anyone else,” Scharoun said. “But, he is slipping away from us.”
Despite their health challenges, Scharoun says her sister and brother-in-law are proof that people with intellectual disabilities can have fulfilling marriages.
“They should define their own lives. We should ask them more questions about what they want,” Scharoun said. “They know what is good for them.”