The Secret Lives of Wives, by Iris Krasnow. Originally published in 2011. 288 pages.
Out of the box, let me make clear that this is a secular book, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t provide anything worth thinking about. From first the time I saw it on Amazon, to the time it was pushed back to the forefront of my thinking as I passed it in the library, the cover art made me curious.
Why do we need the mental imagery of Eve holding forbidden fruit to hear how women mange to stay married?
The publishers did an excellent job of selling the notion that the book would be filled with titillation. The only reason I read it at all was because I’d done some recon and knew that it was in fact, not filled with salaciousness. What it does contain however, is not the secret to staying married as much as it does a fairly straightforward template of different types of wives and different types of marriage which are often based in reality. There was very little however, that anyone who desires a healthy, Christian marriage could take to heart over the long haul.
There was the usual trope about keeping your interests alive, not abandoning your career, etc. These ideas aren’t particularly new or groundbreaking but were held up as such. What man wants a woman who turns into a boring Stepford automaton upon marriage? I’d wager very few but feminists still feel compelled to warn us, “If you’re married, make sure he knows you’re not going to ‘lose yourself'”. This author was no different.
One of the things Krasnow asserted would require “unflinching bravery” (p.35) , giving her pause whenever she was unhappy in her marriage was the prospect of finding someone new. She said she “can’t imagine unveiling a soft belly that had housed 4 pregnancies to a new partner who had nothing to do with destroying her once flat abs.” Unflinching bravery? Does she have any idea how many chicks do this supposedly hard and brave thing every single day? I was amused.
Many of the wives represented, Krasnow included, were quite elitist in outlook and lifestyle. For example, how many couples can actually afford to spend entire summers apart to take a breather from each other? We certainly couldn’t if we were so inclined so it’s a good thing we’re not so inclined nor need long breaks apart in order to stand one another.
I was pretty surprised that at least one of the women admitted outright that she wasn’t in love with her husband when she married him. That she was looking for someone who would be a good father, more mature, etc. However, because her goals were clear going in, it was easier to remain married. The self-awareness there was noteworthy and kept her expectations realistic, somewhat rare for the average bride..
The chapter on women who had affairs- representative of the cover art?- was less than shocking. There are always that subset of women who tell themselves they *need* a thing to be able to stand married life, whether shopping sprees, daily bottles of wine, or another man.
In chapter 6 (Why Love Lasts) were the women who have stayed madly in love with their men pretty much from the beginning. The undercurrents were familiar. They married very young to men who were either very handsome, jocks or possessed some quality and confidence that made the woman feel fortunate that he chose her. Those wives were the most inclined to endure and forgive a lot in order to keep their marriages together.
The underlying premise of grudgingly enduring marriage popped up often enough that I was dismayed by it. Right after the infidelity chapter (7) was the suggestions to keep male friends around while remaining chaste, to help you continue feeling attractive. (chapter 8).
There were very few marital memes that went unaddressed, proving the universality of the human experience. Despite my overall disagreements, the book does a good job of exposing the logic of women and the way we relate to our husbands depending on how we see ourselves in relations to them or our needs at any given time. It was a psychological exploration to someone like me, who has always had a high interest in marital dynamics and the way men and women relate.
The premium placed on staying married is admirable, but the focus on pragmatism at the expense of the transcendent was disappointing.
Content advisory: This book touches on delicate themes, but never in a way that is crude or offensive. Still not recommended for anyone who is not married, though.