Book Review: The Secret Lives of Wives, and, also, I Have a Dilemma

Marriage is always unexpected. It does not take you by surprise the same way a huge zit that inexplicably pops up on your nose halfway through prom might, but it does take you by surprise the way a movie or book might: you knew the basic plot line from the book cover or the online review, but the dips and turns in the story were not what you expected. You may know you’re getting married, and you may know that life is not always cupcakes and sunshine, but the reality of living day-in and day-out with one person? Well, no one can really prepare you for that until you get there. Sometimes being a newlywed is a little like floating in space, in zero gravity: it’s pretty cool, but a little freaky too.

I’ve been married for several-ish years now. I was a baby when I got married at twenty, and as a baby in an adult world, well, let’s just say we had an interesting first few years. But we’ve grown and learned, and I think we have a pretty solid marriage. But I am still always on the lookout for advice from older wives. They say it takes a village to raise a baby, and while I would prefer for the village to stay out of my marriage, I definitely say it certainly does take a close community, one with good, honest friends willing to share from their hearts, to help a wife grow and figure out what on earth she is doing. With that in mind, when I saw this book, The Secret Lives of Wives by Iris Krasnow, I was fascinated, and knew I had to read it.

Krasnow interviews numerous women who have all been married 15 years or longer with the hopes of finding out their answer to the question, how do you make a marriage last? How do you make it work? What are your secrets to longevity? A fairly easy read, I really enjoyed the way Krasnow infused long portions of interview into the flow of the text. I also appreciated the way the author stuck to her journalistic guns- she would offer opinion and insight where necessary, but she reported what she found without bias. She interviewed women of all different ages and stages of life, and with every back ground you can imagine: stay at home moms, career women, empty nesters, moms who didn’t start their families until later in life, moms with one kid, and moms with seven, widows, the happily marrieds, and the very much struggling. They discussed a range of topics, from being drawn together by illness to being torn apart by a child’s death, those who discovered that a new career invigorated their marriage, and those who just wish they could settle down for a dinner alone with their spouse sometimes. The main topic was how women hold their marriages together, and there were some answers that made me feel uncomfortable at best, such as one woman who credits her decade plus long affair with keeping her marriage from crumbling, and many that were inspiring, such as the woman who has become her own version of Grandma Moses, renewing her love of art and founding a successful business as a pottery teacher in her seventies.

In fact, there were three main things that I, as a young wife, really pulled from this book:

  1. It’s okay not to feel lovey-dovey all the time. It’s more than okay, it’s normal. When you lived with your parents and sibling you weren’t thrilled with them all the time, but that didn’t mean you loved them any less when it came down to it. The same is true in marriage. When you feel that anger bubble, take a moment to feel what you feel, acknowledge it, and then move on. Find a way to solve it or get over it, but don’t let it fester. As one smart wife stated, it silly to go through your marriage being mad or frustrated and expecting him to fix it.
  2. Which brings us to the point that probably hit the hardest for me: you are responsible for your own happiness. No other one person can fulfill all your needs. You’re husband can never make you 100% happy all the time, and he shouldn’t have to. Can you imagine being solely responsible for his happiness? How exhausting! For me, as a Christian, I find myself whole and fulfilled in Christ, but Tyler and I have both also come to understand the importance of having our separate things. He works in a world I can hardly begin to understand, and he has his hobbies: cigars with the boys, computer games, he loves to follow the markets, and he’s an excellent pianist and guitar player. I’m a homemaker at the moment, but I read everyday, and I write, both this blog and other things. I’d love to be published someday. I’m also an artist, and I thrill in making something come to life under my hands. We have our friends together, and our friends apart. I love spending time with my man, but we’re a healthier couple when we each have some space to breath as well.
  3. Be grateful for what you have. So you don’t have a storybook romance. Maybe you fight more than you’d like or you don’t spend enough time together or don’t have much money. But what do you have? I was really touched by one woman’s story who said that she often got angry because her husband isn’t very hands one. But then, when she really thinks about, a hands-on husband is the only thing she wants that she doesn’t have, and four out of five isn’t bad, so she’s content. Another woman echos my own dear friend Rosemary, 72 and widowed for almost a decade. She always tells me to be thankful for the husband you do have, quirks, foibles, and all, because someday he will be gone, and you’ll wish more than anything in the world you could have that crazy man back. Women have a longer life expectancy, so a lot of us will know the bitter taste of widowhood someday. If that day ever comes to my doorstep, I don’t want to have the regret of knowing that I didn’t value my man. He’s not perfect, but he’s all mine. And today, in the midst of all the stresses of a move sprinkled in among the stresses of everyday life, I am thankful. I’m grateful that he’s a man of integrity that follows through, that he’s committed to being a good provider, and he always does little things, like get my jacket for me when I’m cold, or get things off shelves that I’m too short to reach. He could never be accused of being hands-off, and we share the details of everything from what color I’m painting the bathroom to our family budget. He makes me laugh, and he makes me think, and, even though it annoys me, he’s committed to not letting me be a snotty little girl who always fusses until she gets her way, which is to say that he’s committed to help me grow up (remember: married at 20, which is practically infancy in the grand scope of things).

Overall I’d say this is a worthwhile read, if for nothing else but the camaraderie. You will probably read viewpoints you don’t agree with, but take it with a grain of salt as you would any other book, and it will definitely make you think. (I always remind myself that Hemingway and Fitzgerald thought life was meaningless, Shakespeare was one dirty man, and Sylvia Plath was crazy, but I still read them gladly, and even learn a thing or two along the way.)

Now here’s the real question: what shall I read next? These are my choices:

In the world of fiction, I have The Distant Hours by Kate Morton, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, Sarah

As for non-fiction, the contestants are: Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, A Room of One

I have a lot of good choices, and no inkling of which one I want to crack open next, that’s my dilemma. So, it’s up to you, friends. Which ones should I read? I’d like to start one from the fiction pile and one from the non-fiction pile ASAP. Maybe it’s because I slept twelve hours last night, or maybe I’ve just hit a wall, but I am hopelessly discombobulated on the book-picking front tonight. So help a sister out, mmkay? What would be your choice? Have you read any of these? Opinions? Let me know, and I’ll read and review them for next week.



Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Love & Marriage

3 responses to “Book Review: The Secret Lives of Wives, and, also, I Have a Dilemma

  1. Mimi

    I am enjoying your website and have passed it along to some of my “book friends”. I read Sarah’s Key, wonderful…and a quick read. I am slowly reading the Happiness Project. Am finding it to be a book you can easily put down and pick up when the mood strikes. Keep up the good work!

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying the site, and I’m appreciative and humbled that you would pass it on. Thanks for your opinion on the books. The Happiness Project in particular is really fascinating to me!

  2. Amanda, thank you for taking time to write carefully about Iris Krasnow’s book in your unique, thoughtful way.

    Your next choice in fiction? The Book of Lost Things is an incredible book. It’s been a few years, but the impression that remains is of the world of fairytales as a terrifying place where the fear of loss and death, and the desire for love and life, live and battle. The images are strikingly creepy, however I’m glad I read it,.

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