|Author Alisa Bowman went from planning her very-much-alive husband’s funeral to falling back in love with him.|
“I had married the right person. Ditching him was not the solution. And I was the source of a lot of our problems. I had issues with assertiveness. Once I learned how to be assertive, my marriage transformed.”
Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir about how she went from wishing her husband dead to falling back in love. She’s also the creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com, a gathering spot for recovering divorce daydreamers. The 40s seems to be a real turning point in many marriages, so I thought Alisa would be a great source of wisdom for us.
1. You’ve become a “happy marriage” expert. What are the three most important things people should keep in mind for a blissful union?
- Accept that a good marriage requires effort. Many people make the mistake of believing the following myth: If I marry the right person, marriage will be effortless. This just isn’t true. You are two different people with two different brains, two different nervous systems, and two different sets of values, habits, opinions and ideas. There will be times when you are not in sync. There will also be times when outside stressors—health problems, job loss, financial issues, meddling inlaws and more—force you to grow. Growth is hard, and most of us try to avoid it. Yet, if you try to avoid it, your marriage will suffer.
- Learn how to be assertive without being aggressive. Effective communication can help you navigate every relationship in your life—including the one you have with your spouse. Learn how to ask for what you want succinctly, without blame and with a positive tone of voice. Good communication is the foundation that solves all marital ills.
- Focus on solutions rather than dead ends. It’s natural to feel frustrated when things don’t go our way. Yet anger, resentment and frustration don’t solve problems. Solve marital problems using the scientific method. Try one solution. Test it. See if it works. Then try another. Eventually one will work.
2. How is marriage different for someone in her 40s than, say, in her 20s or 60s?
I think of the 40s (and 50s) as the transition between youth and old age. These are the decades when you are aware that you are aging and that your youthfulness is slipping away.
These are also the decades when most of us are at the height of our careers. We’re the most confident we’ve ever been about our abilities. No longer are we the “young green” person at work. We’re the experienced employee that people rely on.
These two factors can work together to make a marriage quite vulnerable. I know many women who were very happily married until their 40s. Then, suddenly, they found themselves struggling with attraction to men who were not their husbands. They craved romance, affection, and attention—and they were not getting it at home. I often tell folks who develop the Mid Life Wandering Eye that they must recommit themselves to their marriages all over again. They also must rediscover their spouses all over again. And they must teach their spouses to give them what they seek: attention, romance and affection.
3. Marriage seems more complicated these days. There are step children and exes and lots of family configurations. How to stay sane?
You navigate these issues the same way you navigate all life issues: an open mind, a dose of creativity, and lots of problem solving and communication. Let go of your idea of how life “should” be, how people “should” behave, and how you “should” be treated. Shoulds and reality usually don’t intersect. And once you break out of your “should” thinking, you will open yourself up to lots of other workable possibilities.
4. How do you save a marriage that’s gone stale after many years? Why not just start over?
You could start over, and many people do. The problem with that approach, however, is that you will probably end up in the same place. Statistics bear this out. The divorce rate for second marriages is even higher than that of first marriages. And the divorce rate for third marriages is even higher than that of second marriages. It might seem as if swapping spouses is the solution. Chances are, however, the real change needs to happen inside of you. As a good friend once told me, “You can work on your stuff with your husband. Or you can work on your stuff with your next husband. Either way, you’re going to end up working on your stuff.”
Starting over is a way of procrastination. It’s a way of delaying in inevitable. You can grow into a better, stronger, happier, more complete person now. Or you can do it in your next marriage. It’s your choice.
So if your marriage is “stale,” become the exciting spark that your marriage needs. Be the change you want to see in your marriage. Initiate more conversations. Suggest activities you can do together. Surprise your spouse in the bedroom.
Take the initiative. You just might find that solving the problem of a stale marriage has very little to do with your spouse and everything to do with you.
5. Why did you start Project Happily Ever After?
My marriage was once so bad that I planned my husband’s funeral on the off chance he might conveniently drop dead. During that time, I bought into all of the myths that I mentioned here. I thought that the only solution was to ditch the husband. I thought that I’d married the wrong person. I thought he was the source of all of our problems.
You know what? None of that was true. I had married the right person. Ditching him was not the solution.
And I was the source of a lot of our problems. I had issues with assertiveness. Once I learned how to be assertive, my marriage transformed.
As my marriage improved, I began talking about marriage with others. Those connections made me realize how alone people felt. So I started blogging about it. Then I started writing a book about my experience, too. The result is ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com and the memoir Project: Happily Ever After.
6. Anything else you’d like to add?
When people struggle in marriage, they tend to feel alone. They feel like losers and failures. I want them to know that they are not losers or failures, and they are not alone. There are lots of recovering divorce daydreamers out there! You really are normal. Marriage is a challenge—one that few people talk about. It has many wonderful benefits, and, if you keep working at it, those benefits far outweigh the hard times. Most couples who have been married 40, 50, 60 or more years tell me that they went through some incredible rough patches along the way, but they do not regret staying together. They say that marriage is worth it. And I agree.
COMMENTS: How do you keep your marriage going when it seems like all is lost?
I promise to stop commenting if you stop writing about things that are so important! 🙂
I think Ms. Bowman is spot-on in pointing out that marriage is a lot of work. People don’t want to hear that. It’s *extremely* worthwhile – for some of us, it will really be our life’s work – but no one (especially women, I think) wants to hear that it’s also takes a lot of effort. It’s like taking care of yourself, learning a language, keeping a garden, writing a book…it takes daily and consistent work and commitment.
And when it’s good – nothing else like it!!
Great interview! I agree whole-heartedly. Now, to put it into practice..
Only in marriage and parenting do we assume that “instinct” is enough. We just had the superbowl, and even great athletes have to be “students of the game” to be great players. Maybe we all need to be students of the game of marriage.
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