Book Buzz: 'The Secret Lives of Wives' Synopsis, Author & Prologue

Posted on Oct 29, 2011 09:32am

Be part of our studio audience for our "Book Buzz" discussion, go here and reserve tickets for THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 10th.  ­

The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What it Really Takes to Stay Married

By Iris K­rasnow

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of a
successful marriage? How those happy couples make it look so easy? In THE SECRET LIVES OF WIVES: Women Share What it Really Takes to Stay Married bestselling author Iris Krasnow pulls back the curtain and
­­reveals shocking and uncensored real-life confessions of women wh­o
have stayed married for the long haul. Krasnow, a wife of 23 years, and
the more than 200 women she interviewed - married anywhere from 15-70
years - challenge the traditional way of thinking about what it takes to
achieve "happily-ever-after" and invite women to define for themselves
what constitutes a satisfying relationship.­

WIVES will inspire any woman who is hungry for marital commitment and
reinvention. Yes, women can have it both ways: a committed, happy
marriage and adventures in uncharted territory. While some women stay
sane in their marriages by having weekly wine-and-whine girl's nights
out or resume old hobbies they abandoned once they had kids - swimming,
painting, horseback riding - others get a bit more creative. Don't be
surprised if your "'happily married' neighbor is spicing things up by
regularly going out on dates with 'the one who got away' or convincing
her husband to join her in sleeping with other couples.  "Playing
mahjong with the girls may be all the added oomph [some wives] need.
Others may crave a spot of mischief. Who are we to judge? A stolen kiss
can go a long way and a secret is different than a lie."

About Iris Krasnow:
Krasnow is the author of the New York Times bestseller Surrendering to
Marriage, as well as Surrendering to Motherhood, Surrendering to
Yourself, and I Am My Mother's Daughter. She has appeared on numerous
national shows, ranging from Oprah and Good Morning America to All
Things Considered. She lives in Maryland with her husband and four sons.

I am settling into my seat on a Southwest flight
en route from Cleveland to Baltimore, and as I'm buckling up I notice
that Dennis Kucinich is in the row in front of me. The Democratic
congressman and 2008 presidential candidate from Ohio, if you can't
picture him, is short, in his mid- sixties, and has large ears and an
elfin face. It is five minutes from takeoff and just as the flight
attendant is about to begin her air- mask spiel, a six- foot latecomer
with waist- length red hair and tight jeans comes racing on board, puts
one long leg over the armrest, and cozies up so close to Kucinich she is
practically sitting on top of him. This is not hyperbole: She is one of
the most beautiful women I have ever seen. And she looks like a college

She kisses his ear, his cheek, then they start making
out. They radiate the heat of teenagers in the backseat of a car. I
break the "cell phone off" rule and text my friend Max: "Need NOW.
Google Dennis Kucinich and tell me if he's married and if yes, how
long." God love Max: In less than a minute, before we start our whoosh
down the runway, she reports that these incongruous lovebirds are
thirty- one years apart and have been married for six years, Elizabeth
Harper is his third wife, and he is her first husband. (I then turned my
phone off , for any FAA official reading this.) Back in my office, I
did some more digging on her official website, on which is posted a
thorough article titled "How Kucinich Found Love," by Evelyn Theiss,
that ran just after they wed, in the October 30, 2005, edition of
Cleveland's ­The Plain Dealer.  I discovered that Harper is an
activist from the English village of North Ockendon who grew up in a
cottage where Pea Lane meets Dennis Lane. She saw this as a sign that
the politician, always the shortest boy in his class, was meant to be
with her, always the tallest girl in the class. She met Kucinich when
she visited his office on Capitol Hill on behalf of her job with the
Chicago- based American Monetary Institute.

Harper said that she
knew within "eight minutes" of their first encounter that Kucinich would
be her husband, and that she "loves everything" about the man known for
championing humanitarian crusades. Having traveled to India at the age
of eighteen to work with Mother Teresa's charity, she immediately
noticed the bust of Gandhi on Kucinich's shelf, another sign of a soul
mate.  A few months later, they were dancing at their wedding reception
in the rotunda of Cleveland City Hall. The groom was fifty- eight, and
the bride, who has a pierced tongue, was twentyseven.  Elizabeth shoos
off naysayers of the May- December match with this explanation to The Plain Dealer reporter
Theiss: "And it's not like I'm some ditsy young thing and he's an old
fogey. He has the wisdom of an ancient and the energy of youth." Theiss
got the first story, fresh off the blush of the nuptials. I would love
to interview Elizabeth Harper Kucinich in ten or thirty years, when she
has lived with her mate as long as the rest of the women portrayed in The Secret Lives of Wives.
These are wives who have accrued lots of ancient wisdom about what can
feel like ancient marriages. Not many of them would lope down an
airplane aisle and start nuzzling and necking with their husbands,
oblivious to the crowd, lost in lip- locks.

Let's just say that
the majority of my subjects, many of whom have been married longer than
Mrs. Kucinich has been alive, have a bit less romantic spring to their
steps. Yet, with each passing year, they have more grounding
intelligence about matters of the heart.
They have shown me through
example that the fleeting intoxication of new love, if we're lucky,
leads to something deeper and better- a permanent attachment.

wish Mr. and Mrs. Kucinich that luck, and most importantly, grit and the
ability to surrender in paving the way toward a forever marriage.
Voices in this book will help show them the way.  I've only been a wife
for twenty- three years, a newcomer compared to the Golden Anniversary
girls you are about to meet.  But we vintage wives of a certain age know
that while steamy moments of intimacy do stoke the fires of marriage-
lots of us do still make out with our husbands- it's stamina at the
level of soul that makes for a lasting relationship.

I have
learned so many valuable lessons and secrets on how to stay married
during this two- year research project on love, hate, and carrying on.
One thing I know for sure that is personified in the congressman from
Ohio and his English fair maiden is that what draws a couple together is
a spiritual mystery that only the two of them can understand. Yet what
keeps a husband and wife together is not so mysterious.

There are
some very basic survival strategies that definitely inflate our odds of
staying on this side of the divorce rate that hits about 43 percent of
first- time American marriages. Frankly, that's why I wrote this book:
I'm a midlife wife facing an empty nest looking for answers on how to
accomplish what can feel like the impossible dream: maintaining passion,
commitment, and my sanity with one person, in one house, for the rest
of my life. The biggest takeaway for me is the importance of sustaining a
strong sense of an evolving self apart from the relationship.

consistently make the point throughout this book that there is no gold
standard for marriage, that each couple can write their own rules that
match their individual levels of acceptance and intolerance- and that
it's really no one else's damn business. In fact, many of my sources opt
to remain anonymous, and in those cases, a pseudonym of their choice
has been given; there is no surname, and identifying details have been
changed. Sources who spoke freely on the record are quoted with their
real first and last names.

Whether an identity is shielded or not, the substance of all the
oral histories is true to the bone and based on lengthy interviews that
took several hours, and in most cases, several days. Any similarities to
names or stories of persons portrayed in the oral histories to persons
not interviewed are coincidental.  Terry and Pat Attridge epitomize the
hard reality of a long marriage apart from the fantasy haze of new
romance. Both children of Irish immigrants and raised Catholic in
Brooklyn, they have been sweethearts since college and married for
fifty- eight years. Pat, a retired school teacher, and Terry, a retired
federal magistrate judge, are still standing strong after weathering
some of the worst blows any couple should ever endure.  Three months
after they got engaged, Pat was drafted to fight in the Korean War. He
was deployed in February 1953 and severely injured within four months by
mortar fire that tore up half his face, resulting in the loss of sight
in his right eye and hearing in his right ear. At a time when a bride
should be her most expectant and blissful, Terry was at the bedside of a
fiancé with disfiguring wounds, healing from multiple reconstructive
surgeries.  "This may sound like a lopsided reaction, but when Pat went
to Korea, I was really afraid he was going to get killed," says Terry,
eighty-one, a perky woman dressed in a navy jogging suit with turquoise
piping. Her eyes are bright blue and her hair is champagne blond. "So
even though his injuries were very serious, I wasn't overwhelmed with
sorrow because I thought 'he's alive, he's coming home.'" In between
treatments at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Terry and Pat got
married.  "I had a lot of loss all at once," Terry adds softly. "I lost
my dad and my mother and my brother very close to each other. We lost
one of our grandchildren, and I lost a breast to cancer. I am someone
who is able to deal with challenges well. Because instead I focus on
what we have!"

Terry rises and shows me a large photograph on the
entry hall wall of what she calls "Attridge Nation"-their four
children, who spawned eleven grandchildren, all of whom have Attridge
Nation bumper stickers on their cars.

"I know we've been through a
lot but I got off easy compared to what other people have gone
through," she says. "Truthfully, you live long enough, bad things
eventually happen to us all. I've been able to handle just about
everything because I know my husband is there for me, and I am there for

"You ride the waves together."

As she walks me to my
car, Pat, a vigorous eighty- two- year old with some facial paralysis,
is on his knees planting heather in their garden. Terry holds my hands
tightly and tells me that she hopes I stay married as long as she did so
I can experience my own "grandmother joys." She witnessed the first
marriage of a grandchild in the summer of 2010: "It was the happiest day
of my life," Terry says, choking back tears. "Neither of us ever
expected to live this long to see this; we were so proud of this dynasty
we created.  As a couple we have been so fortunate, to have one long
life with the same person. I can still look at my old Pat and see the
boy from Brooklyn.

"When things got tough I always believed that
something good was around the corner. I was brought up to believe in my
faith and that marriage was forever, and so I stuck it out. And the
reward is that after making it this far I get to be Queen of Attridge

I pull up in my driveway, and in the approach to our
house I walk by the thirty- two- foot leyland cypress trees my husband
and I planted as saplings when our four sons were toddlers. Our
children, ages seventeen through twenty- one, now stand six feet to six
feet five, and they've lived in the same house with the same parents for
nearly their entire lives. As they venture out and start their own
tribes I will be the queen waiting for them to come home again, so I can
fuss over Anthony Nation, in our old house, in our old marriage, amid
the towering trees.

As I write these last words in this book on
long marriages, many regions in our world are rippled with chaos and
instability, from earthquakes, tsunamis, or multiple wars. I am grateful
that this husband and wife have been able to provide a safe and stable
harbor for our children and for each other.

What a relief.

from The Secret Lives of Wives by Iris Krasnow by arrangement with
Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2011
by Iris Krasnow.

Connect with the Talk