The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What it Really Takes to Stay Married by Iris Krasnow can be described as a self-help book that advices women on how to keep their marriage working until "death do us part".
The secret Lives of Wives blends stories and interviews of many different women ages 40-90 who talk about their marriages and what makes these marriages work. The book is also filled with personal accounts by Krasnow which makes it honest and interesting.
More often than not the women interviewed are happy or content in their marriage. Some of the interviews do, however, reflect marriages in which there is not much love or happiness. Therefore, the stories are fairly balanced and do not give an overly romantic or naïve view of marriage.
The overall advice given by Krasnow is that women need to have hobbies of their own, make their own money, and make themselves happy. Thereby, there is a focus on responsibility to oneself and to the marriage since all the above advice means that you are positively contributing to the marriage. Krasnow also means that we cannot solely rely on our partner to make us happy and if we lower our expectations we can be much happier. At the same time, Krasnow states that women should more or less simply endure, stick it out, and hang in there, which is slightly confusing as she is delivering advice on how to make your marriage better. Therefore, it sometimes appear as if she is advising women to endure, while at other times she tells women to work on their marriage. These pieces of advice sometimes give a feeling of mixed messages.
Krasnow believes in staying married and working on your marriage but does mention that there are certain exceptions to this argument. For example, abuse in marriage is not acceptable. In this section, I think that Krasnow also should have added marital rape and child abuse to the list of unacceptable behaviors.
What is very positive about this book is that it brings together a multitude of different stories to learn from and to be inspired by. The stories center on career choices, children, death of a spouse or serious illness and the importance of having both female and male friends. The book also deals with topics such as infidelity, a swinger lifestyle, sex in the "golden years" and developing hobbies and interests of one's own.
On the downside, despite revealing that the interviews and stories reflect women of different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, the interviews still come across as primarily middle or upper class, white and religious. Krasnow states that her focus is on heterosexual marriages, which is understandable since it would be more or less impossible to research homosexual marriages in the last 20-50 years.
Despite saying that women need marriage, Krasnow also tells us that more women than men initiated divorce. I would have appreciated more information on why women need marriage but still more often initiated for the marriage to end. This appears as a contradiction which would benefit from more explanation than just claiming that women divorce for no other reason than general dissatisfaction.
I would also have appreciated a discussion on what you can expect from your partner and a discussion on equality within the marriage. The women interviewed often tell how they were forced to work or care for children while still doing the majority of housework which does not paint a picture of a balanced and happy marriage.
The Secret Lives of Wives is written with the intention of serving an older or more mature audience and the interviews and stories reflect that. The book would be suitable for anyone that is in a marriage or wants to learn more about other women's perspectives on marriage. It is more suitable for an adult audience since some of the language can be slightly explicit.
© 2012 Elin Weiss
Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland. Elin writes for Feminists For Choice (www.feministsforchoice.com).