As co-publisher of MotherTalkers, I receive lots of books for review. Some I never get to, while others are duds that I choose not to review. Then there is the occasional gem I am glad I took the time to read.
That’s how I would classify Alisa Bowman’s Project: Happily Ever After.
A former senior editor at Runner’s World magazine, Bowman recorded the ups and downs of her marriage for two years with the intention of saving it. She was brutally honest, writing about her lack of a sex life, how she wanted her husband dead and her postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter Kaarina.
When I started reading, I felt bad for her husband and her daughter in that she shared so much personal information about them. But this is what Bowman had to say about the sharing of TMI:
My general rule about the transparency is that it has to have a point. I don’t write about my sex life just to be graphic. I always make sure I have a point or that I’m trying to be helpful. It’s my hope that someone can benefit from every word I write. I write to help others — to help them feel normal, to give them courage, to inspire them, to offer solutions to their problems, and yes, to make them laugh.
I did find myself relating a lot to what Bowman wrote especially her frustration and depression after the birth of her child. In my own personal relationships and conversations, I have often told people flat out that nothing changes a relationship more than a child. The couple is cranky because of sleep deprivation and this is further compounded by the added responsibilities of feeding, diapering, bathing and entertaining a baby or a small child — on top of any other jobs as well as the human instinct to want “me” time. It’s no surprise that the relationship of the parents suffer.
The sleep deprivation, the high-pitched cries, the absolute fatigue, the pressure, the lack of support, the lack of quiet time, and the lack of appreciation had been overwhelming. The part of my brain that had stored common sense and the part of my heart that had stored compassion had been replaced with rage. The anger had lingered for years.
I will say though that, like Bowman, I do find it easier as the children get older. I think it’s no coincidence that her marriage improved once her daughter started school. At least it did for me and my husband.
We bickered a lot during the sleep-deprived baby moments, at a time when my husband was buried in work and I was weepy and suspected I had some kind of depression. (I take Celexa for it.) But now that our kids are in school, my husband and I are finding ourselves having more sex, going on dates and leaving the kids with friends. It’s great.
Besides her own experiences, Bowman also includes advice by friends who have been married for decades. Probably the most sage one was the importance of sharing the responsibility of children and nurturing the marriage. And it doesn’t take a lot of time. I was struck by the little selfless acts throughout the day, thanking a spouse for folding laundry, letting a spouse sleep in or bringing a cup of coffee to bed for him or her. Also, never forget the good attributes of your spouse, including him or her being a good parent and spouse.
Without further ado, here were some of my favorite pieces of marital advice and factoids about marriage in Bowman’s book:
“It’s always better to talk about your wants, needs and feelings — even if they make you seem like a despicable human being — than to keep them to yourself. Marriage is about growing closer. It’s about understanding each other — even the ugly parts. Have the courage to be ugly.” p. 62
“From the Kinsey Institute I learned that roughly 3 percent of married couples were just like us — smack dab in the middle of a great big long dry spell. Another 13 percent of couples had sex only a few times a year and nearly half of married couples said they did it less than once a week.” p. 135
“According to Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain, men had between 10 and 100 times more testosterone than women and consequently, their genitals actually became quite uncomfortable if they didn’t get a regular release. Women, on the other hand, tended to have high levels only during the second week of our menstrual cycles, just before ovulation. Had the writers of Genesis missed an important detail when they listed God’s punishments for eating the apple? In addition to painful childbirth, he also inflicted us with mismatched sex drives.” p. 136
“Stop feeling guilty. It’s impossible to be a good spouse and a good parent if you are not a good you. You come first. Marriage comes second. Kids come third. If you mix up that balance, no one is happy.” p. 237
I will stop right there. At my wedding, I had couples give me that last piece of advice, saying that the kids would grow up and move out and all that I would have left is my husband. Bowman and her friends said the same thing.
This may be true when the kids are older, but when they are, let’s say zero to three, I find it really challenging to put my spouse ahead of my children. It’s tough to drop everything to “do it” when there’s a crying baby in the next room, ya know? It’s hard to snuggle with your spouse when baby needs a diaper change, or the toddler needs to be consoled.
Have you read Bowman’s book or her blog? What do you think of her advice? What other pieces of marital wisdom do you have to share?