This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on how to positively shift gears in your relationship or marriage. To enter the giveaway for Project Happily Ever After, please leave a comment below–with your own Happily Ever After tip, or your own example of feeling very hopeless and frustrated…whatever resonates for you.
Guest blogger Julie Geen discusses the book Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage when the Fairytale Falters with author Alisa Bowman. Part memoir, part self-help book, Bowman spills every ugly detail of her marriage struggles, including secretly planning her perfectly healthy husband’s funeral (the wake included all of his favorite beers, butternut squash soup, and lamb on a stick). She gives a ten-step plan addressing everything from communication to sex, offering hope for “divorce daydreamers” everywhere.
Julie: Alisa, I feel like you wrote a book for me: a stubborn person who doesn’t want to read a book on how to fix her marriage. But I loved your book. I think you sucked me in with your humor. What was your marriage like when you started this project?
Alisa: Well, we were at our lowest point in the marriage. I don’t know if you can get any lower than finding all these unusual ways your husband can conveniently drop dead and planning the funeral. I was also planning our divorce, and thinking about which lawyer I would hire, and I think once you start walking through that door, it’s hard to go back. I went to my friend for advice, and she told me I hadn’t really tried everything to save my marriage, and I couldn’t give up until I tried. She was right. I’d tried screaming, crying and saying I was miserable, which really isn’t the same as trying.
Julie: For a long time, I didn’t know that crying wasn’t the same thing as trying.
Alisa: It’s got so many parallels to life. When your marriage is bad, you’re kind of waiting for a revelation or a divine moment….like waiting for a genie to pop out of a bottle and give you three wishes.
I’ve had that same sensation when I’ve had troubles elsewhere in life. Like even trying to get my book published. I really wanted that genie. I had to get over it. I have to make it happen myself. And I think the first place you have to go to improve your marriage is to say: my spouse isn’t going to have some wonderful turnaround and suddenly be the person I want to be married to. My problems aren’t going to magically go away. I ’m going to have to do something about it. That’s the first step to making things better.
Julie: The stories you tell about your husband are really painful.
-Bowman had a C-section. She was released from the hospital on her birthday. Her husband spent that evening at a party that she could not attend.
-Bowman and her husband got into one of their biggest fights when he lost his job and then proceeded to spend their Babymoon savings on a ski trip that he took without her.]
You do it in a beautiful, funny way, but nobody would have blamed you for divorcing him. That’s what gave me so much hope about my own marriage when I read your book.
Alisa: It’s interesting. Some of the feedback I’ve gotten from readers basically accused me of not having a bad marriage. But I’m pretty sure these people are in very abusive relationships. That’s a situation where I would say, “It’s doomed–get out.”
Julie: There’s a line, it’s true. Nobody would advocate staying in an abusive relationship. I think your book is still something to try, because you’re not going to know if your partner is able to change unless you step up and communicate.
Julie: And then if your partner doesn’t reciprocate, or escalates the abusive behavior, then you know. Some of your solutions seemed to be very old-school, like compliment him, touch him, smile. They are the sort of things I’m incredibly resistant to. Did you have any battles with the feminist side of yourself?
Alisa: Oh, yeah. I had battles with the side of myself that just didn’t want to do it. Whether you call that “feminist” or you call that the part of yourself that says “This isn‘t fair…why should I be the one who works on the marriage, he should do it.” I still have those battles. But I had to talk myself through it. I’m married to this person that I’ve chosen and I wake up every day and chose to stay in the marriage. Do I want this to go on like this forever, or do I want to do something about it? And I can choose to be cold and withhold sex, and I can chose to be snippy and all of these negative things…or I can choose to be warm, and affectionate and complimentary and I can be polite. It’s really all choices.
It’s not the same thing as being a doormat. I think that’s why it isn’t against my idea of feminism. I think most people would describe me as being a very strong person and I know where my line is and what I’m willing to accept and what I’m not. I know what makes me happy. I think what goes on in marriage is that when things get so negative, everything starts getting on your nerves and it’s hard to chose your battles, so everything becomes a battle.
If you can work on it and warm things up, and say “Thank your for unloading the dishwasher” and tell yourself “it’s okay if he never thanks me, I can thank him.” You get past all the little stuff. And then you can focus on the big things. There are definitely times where you want to stand up and say, “That’s not acceptable.” And there’s other times where you say, “I’m going to forgive that, or even if it’s not fair, I’m going to warm things up and that way we’ll both be happy.” It’s like sorting those things into categories.
To enter the giveaway of Project Happily Ever After, please leave a comment below–with your own Happily Ever After tip, or your own example of feeling very hopeless and frustrated…whatever resonates for you.
Coming this week: Parts 2 and 3
Julie Geen is a freelance writer, mother of two and still married, despite being published in Ask Me About My Divorce. Look for her in Tarnished: True Stories of Innocence Lost by Pinchback Press, to be published in spring of 2011, and on her new blog at www.juliegeen.com.
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