As you embark on your marriage, you can’t help but begin to compare it with the marriages around you. To what extent is your relationship like that of your friends? What goes on behind their closed doors, and is everything as picture perfect as it looks?
For her book The Nine Phases of Marriage (St. Martin’s Griffin), Susan Shapiro Barash interviewed 200 women from across the United States to find out how they really felt about their marriages. She learned most of them wouldn’t marry their husbands all over again. Using real-life examples, she relays their emotions in various stages of their marriages, examining how they feel about their relationships from honeymoon through housework and child raising.
For the married reader, there are lots of “aha!” moments in Barash’s book, moments when it’s easy to identify with the frustrations of women who had no idea marriage meant cleaning up after a sloppy husband or doing the majority of housework and child raising with no recognition for their efforts. Some said the feeling of partnership they had hoped for in their marriages was gone. Others felt fully justified in having affairs to satisfy needs their husbands weren’t meeting.
Barash discusses the concept of an “un-divorce,” when couples stay together for the sake of their kids or to continue appearances and a quality of life they’ve become accustomed to – but without any of the sharing or intimacy implied in marriage. And many women lamented the fact that their husbands just weren’t the men they thought they were at the time when they said, “I do.”
Barash paints a pretty sad picture of marriage for the most part. She defines the stages starting from the hopeful bride and her infatuation with a perfect wedding, a fantasy created by celebrity culture. Do most women want the wedding, or the marriage? she wonders. After wedding comes the perfect-wife phase, followed by child-centricity and midlife disappointment, as unhappiness and dissatisfaction creep into the lives of 70 per cent of wives. As loss of closeness and infidelity rear their combined heads, women start to look at their options, such as connecting with long-lost boyfriends through social media or exchanging heartfelt secrets with colleagues at work. If they make it to the golden years still married, in all likelihood they have learned how to handle their spouse, to accept marital conflicts and still make their partnerships work.
Most married women will be able to identify themselves in at least one stage of Barash’s nine, though hopefully without the sense of betrayal, desperation and regret in many of the voices of the author’s participants. A woman who has experienced divorce first-hand, Barash is not glib about it in the least. “For me, this was one of the most painful periods of my life, filled with remorse and murky memory, damage and despair,” she admits in her preface. “Not being a wife was a profound loss of identity.”
For each phase she discusses, Barash offers readers a prescription for how to deal with the stage they are going through. Her suggestions prompt reflectiveness and a feeling of camaraderie, a sense that others have stood in this same position and wrestled with similar issues. So for married women who wonder if anyone else has felt quite the way they do over the course of their married lives, sitting down with The Nine Phases of Marriage is like having a long, comforting conversation with a close friend who has, at her fingertips, a wealth of thought and information about the truly complex institution of marriage and how it plays out over a lifetime.