By Hope Katz Gibbs
Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing the World
Married? Then you know the truth. You spent too much on the big white dress, happily-ever-after is more fiction than fact, and the real secret to a happy marriage is marrying your best friend—and having your own interests, friends, fantasies, and life.
Just ask “The Secret Lives of Wives” author, Iris Krasnow.
“Even the most starry-eyed newlywed knows that marriage is a roller coaster,” she contends. “Yet, most women enter the institution with little idea of just how far down it can really go—and even less about how to survive when it does.”
In her provocative and enlightening tome that takes the world by storm this month, Krasnow draws from interviews with more than 200 long-married women to share their strategies for building an enduring and fulfilling marriage.
Of course, there’s also an economic component to why people stay married.
“Divorce is expensive, and marriage, even mediocre ones, are better for emotional stability, financial stability, and the stability of children,” Krasnow declares, pointing to the fact that the divorce rate has dipped from 50 percent to 43 percent in the last decades, and it’s not because all those marriage are blissful.
“It’s because children of the divorce revolution don’t want the havoc, emotional and financial, they witnessed among their parents and their friends.”
Krasnow knows of what she speaks.
She’s been wed to Chuck for 23 years, and is the first to admit that it hasn’t always been easy—especially when they had four sons, ages 3 and under, in diapers. (Blame the twins, two gorgeous boys, now high school seniors, for her fabulous wine cellar.)
How did they survive—and thrive?
A little healthy distance, says Krasnow. “When the boys were old enough, I spent part of the summer apart from Chuck and worked as a counselor at their camp in Upstate New York,” she explains. “Many of the happiest wives need time alone in which to remember and celebrate who they are.”
Of course, Krasnow recognizes that each marriage is unique, and there are no universal cure-alls.
Take the concept of extra-marital friendships.
“Let’s face it,” the author insists, “you don’t get it all from one person in one place.”
In fact, a strong circle of girlfriends—and even male friends, with limits—provides an important outlet for discussing interests not shared by one’s husband.
“Ideally, male friendships should remain platonic,” Krasnow believes, although some of her research reveals that a sexual attraction to another man can actually be good for a marriage, so long as it’s not acted upon.
There is a caveat.
Despite the proven physical and psychological benefits of long-term marriage, Krasnow is not advocating for women to stick it out in abusive or loveless relationships at all costs.
“Some couples obviously need to divorce,” she writes, noting that some choices—including an enchantment with a swingers’ lifestyle, or a willingness to sacrifice an important male friendship at a jealous husband’s insistence—aren’t for everyone.
“There’s much that is extraordinary about a life that is predictably ordinary,” insists Krasnow, who almost 10 years ago wrote the New York Times bestseller, “Surrendering to Marriage,” which also encouraged wives to stick it out in imperfect marriages.
“I knew the score then and I know it now: Marriage can be hell,” she admits. “The grass is seldom greener on the other side. And no one is perfect—including you. So you may as well work your hardest to love the person you are married to.”
Here’s the real deal.
Krasnow admits that her husband, Chuck, is a man of few words, and is sometimes stingy about sharing other parts of himself. But, she adds, he’s also open to her sharing these details with the world.
“I do not share the most intimate aspects of our relationship,” Krasnow explains. “There are sacred secrets to be shared with nobody but us. What I do openly share is some of my own pain and the joy and peace and madness that are common themes in most long marriages.”
Does she think that’s unique?
“Over the course of a long journalism career writing about love and intimacy, I find that when I open up and speak the truth, it not only engages my readers, it also makes them more honest and pro-active about their own relationships,” she says.
“I am a journalist, not a psychologist, yet the women I interview generously bare their hearts. If I expect them to be frank and real, I must be frank and real. How does my husband feel about my straight-shooting writing style? He says that Iris Krasnow books help him understand more fully who he is, who I am, and who we are as couple. Chuck is a keeper!”
Want to know more? We did! Following are more of Krasnow’s insights into love, marriage, and what women need to know to become happy wives.
Be Inkandescent: As the author of four books on marriage and commitment, has much changed since you wrote the New York Times bestseller, “Surrendering to Marriage?”
Iris Krasnow: “Here’s what’s different. I realized that the happiest wives had full lives of their own. They not only have work they love, and separate interests, but they have many different people in their lives, men and women.
“This helps us stretch in new directions—beyond the mother-wife roles. It takes a village to nurture a long-running marriage, as no one person can meet all of your needs. People who expect one spouse in one house to fuel them happily-ever-after are on a course toward divorce.”
Be Inkandescent: We all want passion, change, surprises—and more fun. But do you think this is a boomer approach to long-established marriages?
Iris Krasnow: “I teach journalism at American University, and the young women I teach are very interested in what marriage means and how they can succeed in this institution. “My students are children of the Divorce Revolution who came of age with the statistic that nearly half of American marriages end in divorce.
“Any young person can benefit from the wisdom of us long-married spouses who have figured out secrets and strategies to achieve ‘until death do us part.’ Although the women I interviewed are predominantly at midlife and beyond, the issues of long-term relationships—the roller coaster of love and hate—are therapeutic for any woman to talk about, at any age. Let me add that I hear from a lot of men, young and old, who have also picked up marriage tips from my books.”
Be Inkandescent: After spending countless hours with 200 women, who made the biggest impact?
Iris Krasnow: “Falisha. She is a Muslim wife in an arranged marriage. Her husband, a loyal and respectful man whom she considers her best friend, hasn’t initiated sex for months. They have two young children together and she is a successful accountant.”
[Despite this dry spell, Krasnow says that Falisha considers her marriage to be happy: “Nothing is perfect”, is the theme of her story, and she tells her girlfriends who complain about their imperfect husbands to stop whining about what they don’t have, appreciate what they do have, and keep striving to make things better.]
“I liked her candor and her willingness to work through their problem with counseling and talking openly, no matter how uncomfortable the conversations become. Many people leave marriages that have gone tepid without putting in any effort on getting some of the steam back. Or they stay married, sleep apart, and conduct affair after affair. Falisha is smarter than that.”
Be Inkandescent: What was the most interesting story that you ended up leaving out of the book?
Iris Krasnow: “I interviewed a 60-year-old woman whose husband of 30 years committed suicide after their anniversary trip to Italy. Although he was mildly depressed about the recession depleting his business, she was shocked that he took his own life.
“But get this. Her high school boyfriend with whom she remained close over the decades helped her heal—and she ended up marrying him. I was fascinated by this story but left it out because it was so complicated I could have written an entire book about her.”
Be Inkandescent: What is the most critical advice that you would like to pass on to your four sons, two in college and your 17-year-old twins?
Iris Krasnow: “Pick women who have full and happy lives of their own, independent of you. And I will tell them that the three primary ingredients in making a marriage last are trust, respect, and friendship. If you don’t have those qualities in your relationship, look elsewhere.”
More about Iris Krasnow
A graduate of Stanford University who covered fashion for the Dallas Time-Herald before becoming the national feature writer for United Press International, Iris Krasnow is currently a journalism professor at American University in Washington, DC.
She frequently speaks on issues related to family, relationships, and female empowerment in the national media, at business organizations, women’s groups, and religious and academic institutions across the country.
Her previous books include, “I Am My Mother’s Daughter,” “Surrendering to Yourself,” “Surrendering to Motherhood,” and the New York Times bestseller, “Surrendering to Marriage.”
For more on Iris Krasnow’s work, visit www.iriskrasnow.com.