A Great Summer Read: Marriage Confidential
I think just about everyone who reads this blog will enjoy Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age, which just came out in paperback. In it, author Pamela Haag explores the semi-happy marriage with the compelling writing of a master storyteller armed with a good bit of research.
I was sent a copy of this book as part of a blog tour. I found it delightful to read and hard to put down. It's a personal journey into discovering what's become in recent years of marriage, especially the marriages that stay just this edge of divorce for years or proceed barely noticed for years until one partner has an affair or announces angrily that it's over.
Haag tells the stories of people caught up in these marriages (her own included) and of those who have found alternatives. She weaves in a great deal of what research has revealed about them, and she pulls it all together in a manner that delights me.
If you, like me, find new perspectives invigorating, you will love this. Instead of one new perspective that leads to one person's prescription for fixing your marriage, this book aims to give you as many new ways of viewing marriage as possible and let you make up your own mind about them.
Over 60 percent of divorces, she reports, come from these low-stress, low-conflict marriages. Haag does not even take a stand on whether this is a problem (I am certain it is), but she wants to understand why. She shares what she learned in a form you will enjoy reading on vacation, while you commute, or (not for long, I suspect) while you sit beside your husband or wife in your no longer exciting bed.
In Part I, she looks at what has become of marriage as our work and wage-earner roles have shifted. Part II, explores at what children do to a marriage in these days of child as project. In Part III, she explores infidelity in the internet age and in Part IV what some folks are doing to deal with differences in their sex needs now that what's acceptable has changed so much.
Haag provides hundreds of new options you might consider when seeking Third Alternatives in your marriage, ones you have likely never considered because you just did not look at the problem that way. I picture hundreds of cocked heads as all of you read this book. There is a lot to think about.
For example, Lauren, who explains how living in a densely populated neighborhood in the middle of a city makes it possible to raise more children with less marriage-killing resentment. Or Jill, whose reaction to her husband's affair surprised her:
Insofar as Jill could untangle the injuries, she will say the one that hurt most was absolutely and unequivocally the lie, not the sex....If they were truly soul mates—well, best friends—they would actually share details of their lives with each other. What hurt much more, though, was the surprising sense of envy.
Or Tim, who disguises his basketball games as grocery shopping trips (even bringing back a few bags of groceries smuggled out of the house, because non-stop parenting of your children is now the focal point of so many marriages and so many expectations of married people. Haag manages to point out the correlation among his predicament, the 50% increase in the number of Boston Marathon runners in just six years, the doubling of the size of the average new bathroom since the 70s, and the large majority of people who find their commute "the best part" of the workday, despite the declines in public transportation.
There are, of course, places where I wanted to insert some of my own perspectives. For example, I see the "Tom Sawyer marriage" very differently and worth another look. I remain utterly skeptical about affairs, polyamory, or open marriages as the route to a relationship that will get you through retirement. And, being a good bit older, I am more attuned to second marriages, empty nest marriages, and guarding against the downside of widowhood a lot more than the downside of divorce. Someday, I will write my own book, and I hope you will read it.
But this week, I hope you will grab yourself a copy of Marriage Confidential. Read it to provoke your thinking and look at your marriage from different perspectives, even if you find yourself passionate about avoiding some of the options it presents. It's a lot more fun to read than most books that challenge your thinking and a lot less single-minded. Tell me about it in the comments below.