For this From Left to Write Book Club we read "This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness" by Laura Munson. It is a memoir of marriage, of a time in Munson's life when her husband is going through a mid-life crisis, forcing Munson to work to keep her marriage and family together during a time that is emotionally and financially trying.
For me, it is hard to read a book about someone else's marital difficulties and respond. My instinct is to judge, to write, "Why did you put up with that? I wouldn't have!" among many other things. The reality of marriage is that everyone faces ups and downs -- though perhaps few to the extreme that Munson shares in her book -- and that, for the most part, we keep them private, save, perhaps, for a few whispers to our very dearest girlfriends. Munson, on the other hand, writes about her struggles after their resolution, and she's received many accolades for sharing her way of coping. That's how I viewed this book: a memoir of coping with marriage when it's not what you think is should be (despite the title of the book?!). And that's something to which I can respond.
For over 20 years, I have been with my high school sweetheart, the Guv, and not a single day has gone by since the day we met when I've regretted that. Unlike many friends, we've never been "off and on." We just are. We've been married for 13+ years. We've weathered a pretty decent handful of life crises, over work, family, parenting, or whatever -- and we've survived. We haven't had Munson's issues, and, after reading her memoir, our life almost seems dull because we haven't. I'm not suggesting that we haven't had some really intense arguments, that we haven't ever gone to bed angry -- but our worst fight ever was over our differing positions on gun control (I'll never tell who was on which side!). It kept us up all night, and it totally felt insurmountable. Yes, we've had financial stress from time to time. We even had (have) a high-needs kid, one who had a significant number of medical issues -- talk about stress! We've had challenges, and we've gone to bed sad, and angry, and frustrated, and yes, we've fought. But we've never moved away from each other, physically or emotionally. We've seen it happen to friends, and, sometimes, we can see how it happens. Jobs are stressful, having a family to support is stressful, having other people need is stressful -- whether it's needing you, your income, your presence, whatever. Some people can weather it. Some can't. Some can't and then do anyway, like Munson. If I knew how to pick the winners and the losers, I could put divorce lawyers out of business! Of course, no one knows the secret to what makes love and marriage work, but I do know what has made it work for me, from my perspective (I can't presume to speak for my husband), and here's what I think:
Like the scripture says (1 Corinthians 13), love is patient, and love is kind. To me, that means that love doesn't mean sunshine and roses every day; it means that sometimes, storm clouds and rain are needed to bring forth the rainbows and the flowers. Not every day can be perfect. And kindness, most especially on those less-than-perfect days, is essential. That means acknowledging that, as a couple, you have the best intentions -- and that you assume the best of each other, not that one is out to one-up the other. There is no "winner" in a partnership.
In that same passage, love is described as something which "keeps no record of wrongs." (This varies depending on the version of Bible you use; mine is a newer one, and I prefer this phrasing.) My husband imagines that there is some typewriter in the sky that produces a transcript of every conversation so that, when he dies, God can check it and prove him right. I just know that, if we're in disagreement, I'm obviously right; I don't need the transcript. I say these things in jest, but, isn't this the trap into which we all often fall, whether it's with spouses or family or friends -- or even our kids? This is why letting go matters. There are a very big lot of people in this world who hold grudges. I think most of them are actually in my family. (Remember: let it go.) The fact of the matter is that, if we all love each other, what we said or did yesterday doesn't matter, even if we said it two weeks ago and two months ago and two years ago, too. What matters is loving each other. We all screw up! And we all need forgiveness, not to be held by our ankles over a barrel of piranhas, made to suffer so that the other person in disagreement with us can make some kind of point. There is no "winner" in a family.
And then comes the most beautiful part of that verse: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." What truer could be said of a good, strong marriage? I read this passage to say that loving someone is going to involve bearing things and enduring things -- but also shared hope and shared faith. Love wins over everything else.
There's a reason I had these verses read at my wedding some 13 years ago, and it's that I do think that the essence of any good relationship, especially a marriage, is found in those precepts. We don't sit around reading the Bible most nights to remember these things, but they're part of us because we have a fundamental desire to be on each other's team. That doesn't mean that we don't ever need alone time, but it does mean that, if one of us changes paths, we take the time to get the other's buy-in -- or stay the course, if the other doesn't wish to deviate. Marriage does involve a certain amount of self-sacrifice, but, in the successful ones, that sacrifice is in the interest of the greater partnership, which is higher-order than ourselves. When love is true, it's worth it.
While our book club doesn't review books, I always like to add a note regarding whether or not I'd recommend the book. And for this one, I really don't know. If your marriage is in crisis and you need to know you're not alone, maybe. But the overall tone, to me, was very indulgent, and I also felt the writing was choppy and, at times, hard to read. I loathe sentence fragments, and they're rife in books as "chatty" as this one. I just didn't feel like Munson was speaking to me, and, frankly, I don't think that she was. Share this book with a friend who's husband is acting like an a$$, perhaps; that's a great audience for it.
With the closure of the Silicon Valley Moms Group comes a new book club, From Left to Write! Founded by former SV Moms partner Linsey Krolik, our club will continue more or less along the lines of the SV Moms group one: we'll read books together and then write blog posts about them, not reviewing the works but, rather, responding to them with our own writing. For participation in the club, I receive the books for free but do not receive other compensation nor do I commit to writing favorably about the books. The opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.