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

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

by Iris Krasnow


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592407392
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 821,764
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Iris 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 lives in Maryland with her husband and four sons.

Table of Contents

Prologue xiii

I Who Needs Marriage? 3

II Then and Now 21

III Separate Summers 41

IV Through Sickness and Loathing and Death 63

V Resurrecting Childhood Passions 89

VI Why Love Lasts 117

VII Naughty Girls 149

VIII The Man Next Door 183

IX Believe-It-or-Not Marriages 201

X Lessons from the Golden Girls 231

Acknowledgments 261

Bibliography 265

What People are Saying About This

Bill Cloke

In this breathtaking book The Secret Lives of Wives, Iris Krasnow opens a window into the inner world of women whose unique courage and vision has enabled them to find relationship happiness over the long term. With wit and wisdom, she thoughtfully tells their stories and then fills the reader with brilliant ideas and concepts to apply to their own lives. This is as much of a men's book as it was written by and for women.

Suzanne Braun Levine

Iris Krasnow has managed to demystify the workings of long-term marriages by confirming the mysterious uniqueness of each one. The secret, she finds, lies in the way two people negotiate their own personal amalgam of companionship and sex, compromise and disappointment, lust and tenderness, trust and lies. The challenge for the rest of us is to do the same.

Leslie Morgan Steiner

At first this book terrified me: another submission and sacrifice marriage manual for wives? Instead Iris Krasnow delivers astonishing candor, realistic compassion, and invaluable wisdom when it comes to how paradoxically infuriating and rewarding long-term marriages can be. The best book on marriage ever.

Reading Group Guide

"There's much that is extraordinary about a life that is predictably ordinary" (p. 37).

Even the most starry-eyed newlywed knows that marriage is a roller coaster. 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 new book, The Secret Lives of Wives, Iris Krasnow draws from interviews with more than two hundred long-married women to share their strategies for building an enduring and fulfilling marriage.

Krasnow knows where of she speaks. She's been wed to her husband, Chuck, for twenty-three years. She's the first to admit that it hasn't always been easy—especially when they had four sons, ages three and under, in diapers together. (Twins made that happen.) One of her secrets to staying married, shared by other longtime wives she interviewed, is that as her children have gotten older Krasnow spends part of the summer apart from Chuck. As she writes: "Many of the happiest wives need time alone in which to remember and celebrate who they are" (p. 42).

Of course, Krasnow recognizes that each marriage is unique and there are no universal cure-alls. In Tracey's marriage, for example, too much separation was the biggest challenge that she and her husband faced. After Glenn was made partner in an accounting firm, he worked long hours and Tracey felt lonely—until she took a job as a yacht salesperson. By turning a favorite pastime into a fulfilling career, the mother of three grown children reinvigorated their thirty-six-year marriage.

Many of Krasnow's interview subjects praise strong outside friendships as a critical component of their marriages. Krasnow puts it bluntly, "you don't get it all from one person in one place" (p. 40). A strong circle of girlfriends and even boyfriends—with limits provides an important outlet for discussing interests not shared by one's husband.

Ideally, male friendships should remain platonic, though Krasnow's research reveals that a sexual attraction to another man can actually be good for a marriage, so long as it's not acted upon—repeatedly. Forty-eight-year-old Reed indulged in one secret, extramarital kiss and stopped it there. "I am careful to avoid him now," she says, "[but] our very short encounter gives me something extra… it's like having a valuable gold coin secretly hidden deep in my pocket." (p. 175).

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. She also knows that some choices—including Mimi's embrace of the swingers' lifestyle and Liza's willingness to sacrifice an important male friendship at a jealous husband's insistence—aren't for everyone.

Instead, Krasnow shares what she calls "real stories about real wives … [to] give all of us a break from feeling compelled to live up to a mythical model of what marriage should be" (p. 174). By turn funny, salacious, heartwarming, and tragic, The Secret Lives of Wives is a riveting read that inspires everyone to "push through the inevitable trouble by the sheer force of … love" (p. 5).


Iris Krasnow is a graduate of Stanford University who covered fashion for the Dallas Time-Herald before becoming the national feature writer for United Press International. She is currently a journalism professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

Krasnow 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.

Q. Almost ten years ago, your New York Times bestseller, Surrendering to Marriage, also encouraged wives to stick it out in imperfect marriages. If you were speaking to someone who read your earlier book, what would you tell her is different about The Secret Lives of Wives? How have you—and your marriage—changed since writing Surrendering to Marriage?

I wrote my first marriage book when our kids were young and our marriage was young. But I knew the score then and I know it now: Marriage can be hell. 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. I'll tell you what is different: A decade ago I was starting to realize that the happiest wives had full lives of their own. What I know now with wholehearted certainty is that the happiest wives are those who not only have work they love and separate interests, but they have many different people in their lives, men and women. Having a variety of friends 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.

Q. In your prologue, you recount seeing Dennis Kucinich and his young wife, Elizabeth, making out on an airplane. Silently, you wished them "grit and the ability to surrender in paving the way toward a forever marriage" (p. xi). Your previous three books also recommend that women surrender to motherhood, marriage, and themselves—surprising advice from a woman writer in the post-feminist world. Can you define what you mean by "surrender?

My use of the word "surrendering" in my book titles and in the body of my work is very much a spiritual embrace, a yielding to a purpose larger than our own selfish desires. Surrendering in marriage means you realize that happily-ever-after doesn't mean you get to be happy all the time. Surrender means an acceptance of imperfections. Surrendering to marriage means you work constantly to keep your commitment to forge onward through health, sickness and the inevitable battles. My view of the concept of surrender when it comes to love is that this is victory, and not defeat.

Q. "The battle cry of this book for all of us graying wives with teenage hearts: My kids are leaving home, and I need more than just marriage and my job. I want passion, change, surprises. I want more fun"(p. 18). You seem to have aimed the book toward boomers in long-established marriages, but it seems like a lot of newlyweds could really profit from these wives' candid stories.

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, their issues long-term relationships—the roller coaster of love and hate—are therapeutic for any woman, 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!

Q. Did any of the wives profiled in The Secret Lives of Wives make an appearance in one of your earlier books? How did you conduct your search for interview subjects?

My sister Fran, a divorce lawyer in Chicago, has been quoted in other books. And of course, the evolution of my own marriage appears again. Mostly, though, this is fresh material, new people in marriages I knew nothing about until I started digging. You'd be surprised how quickly I was able to find women to interview. It seems that most veteran wives are eager to dish about the ups and downs of their marriages. Their willingness to share the edgiest of sagas is even more pronounced when they are assured their identities will be concealed. You may not know the true names of some of my sources but I promise you all these stories, even the most unbelievable, are true to the bone.

Q. Of the numerous women you interviewed, whose story made the biggest impression on you personally?

Falisha is a woman who has stuck with me. She is a Muslim wife in an arranged marriage. Her husband, a loyal and respectful man 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, 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.

Q. What was the most interesting story that ended up leaving out of the book?

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. 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.

Q. You make it very clear that your husband, Chuck, is "a man of few words" (p. 258) and even sometimes "stingy about sharing other parts of himself" (p. 25). How does he feel about the fact that you are revelatory in your writing of some intimate aspects of your relationship?

I do not share the most intimate aspects of our relationship. 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. Over the course of a long journalism career writing about love and intimacy, I have found 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. 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!

Q. What is the most critical advice that you—as a wife—would like to pass on to your four sons—as future husbands?

I have two sons in college and their 17-year-old twin brothers are seniors in high school. The two most important pieces of advice I will give these boys when they are of the age when they are seriously choosing life partners is: 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.

Q. Now that you are facing an empty nest with the twins entering college in the fall of 2012, are you making any plans to re-arrange your marriage to accommodate this next step?

Our marriage of two separate people with separate interests, and sometimes separate lives, doesn't need changing or re-arranging once our children leave our nest. I have always had work I love independent of my family, and so has my husband. We will continue to branch out in our professions, me as an author and as a professor, Chuck as a woodworker and architect. And as we continue to grow as individuals our marriage will continue to strengthen and expand. Although our children may no longer live in our home, we will always be parents together of four sons who will need us at every juncture of their lives. I'm also told by older friends that often those college graduates move back into their bedrooms! I will welcome that. I often love marriage, and sometimes I loathe marriage. But I always love the family structure we've created together over the course of going on a quarter-of-a-century. Our marriage, and those portrayed in The Secret Lives of Wives, are examples of how to ride the roller coaster of a long relationship without sacrificing your commitment to the partnership or your need for personal growth. You can have it both ways!

Q. You lecture frequently and often address large crowds of women about issues of family and intimacy. What are some of the most common questions you are asked?

Young women want to know if marriage will dramatically alter their lives. That answer, of course, is yes. Midlife women often have the 20-year-itch. Many are settled in marriages that have lost their steamy quality and they are hungry for secrets on how to go the distance. I tell them to look within for power and direction and not to count on a spouse, or any other person, to make them happy. Happiness must first come from within and of course, a solid marriage adds to that sense of well-being. Women in their 80s have more answers than questions. I'm thinking of one 87-year-old wife of sixty-two years I met at a recent event. While I was signing her book she leaned over to me and said, "Honey, you want to know the real secret to staying married? Don't get divorced."

  • Did The Secret Lives of Wives challenge any of your beliefs about marriage? Whose story resonated most with you? Was there a wife whose marriage you wished you could have? If so, what are the steps you could take to achieve it?
  • Do you agree with Krasnow's assertion that "you can shake loose legally from a vintage marriage, but you will forever be entangled in a place so deep that even the best lawyer is incapable of performing a clean extraction" (p. 37)?
  • Whether it's taking up a discarded hobby or giving more attention to your appearance or taking a separate vacation, are you considering altering some behavior or attitude after reading this book?
  • Many of the women profiled gave up their jobs and careers when they married or became mothers. For them, returning to work revived their self-confidence as well as their marriages. But Alice and Jade are working wives and mothers. For them, the necessity of work breeds feelings of resentment toward their husbands. Jade complained, "even when I was working seventy hours a week … I still did the lion's share of the work around the house" (p. 143). Is a successful marriage a socioeconomic luxury?
  • Cynthia has never had sex with her college boyfriend, but they regularly meet for lunch and follow it up with a make out session in his car. Mimi and her husband, Gerald, are swingers who regularly engage in foursomes. Do you consider Cynthia and Mimi's marriages to be "technically" monogamous? Is Shauna's infidelity okay since her husband doesn't seem to care?
  • Do you think all of the wives profiled have an accurate sense of their husbands and marriages?
  • Were you surprised by Falisha's overwhelmingly positive experience as a wife in an arranged marriage? Krasnow writes that, "divorce rates in India, where 95 percent of marriages are arranged, are among the lowest in the world" (p. 219). What do you see as the benefits of an arranged marriage versus a "love" match?
  • How—if at all—do you think the surge in Internet dating will affect marriage and divorce statistics in the decades to come?
  • Would you recommend The Secret Lives of Wives to your husband?

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The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes to Stay Married 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
vickytren More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed it. Beautiful written. Great Read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book would make me smile. I was a paradigm shift for me. I'm so glad I read it. I have recommended it to 2 of my friends.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Most of the one-star reviews on this page seem to be about the size of the sample excerpt available. I agree that it's too short - especially because this is such a great book! Married for more than two decades herself, Krasnow interviews two hundred of her fellow "oldyweds" and combs their stories for the best insights about how to make marriage work. The most important insight is this: a happy marriage is between two happy and fulfilled individuals; it can't be a source of happiness and fulfillment in itself. How the individuals in a marriage achieve fulfillment differs wildly from couple to couple. Women in this book talk about things as diverse as rediscovering childhood passions, spending more time with girlfriends, and yes, having flirty friendships with men. Krasnow presents it all in an even-handed, nonjudgmental way. Her mantra: it's their marriage, not mine. A fascinating look at what marriage *really* looks like today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Giving a book a bad review based solely on the sample because you're too cheap to buy the whole book is really not fair. How dare you lower the score of a book because you didn't get enough for free. This is a great book that inspires you to push through when you're feeling like its time to throw in the towel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was one book that I did not want to end....that's how AWESOME it was!
Achalla More than 1 year ago
I have to say that I went into this book expecting something very different. I am glad to know that my married life is pretty much the same as all the other women - but I couldn't get over how in each woman's story I read over and over that the woman just 'submitted' or 'accepted' her life and then went on... There were not 'secrets' that I haven't heard myself saying. Maybe I interpreted it wrong, but it did very little for me or the growth of my married life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very hard to get thru and the message is repetitive. Could have been written in 25 pages or less.....
Diece More than 1 year ago
I am still young at only 27 but I have been with my husband of 2 years for nine. I never thought marriage would be easy but I have to tell you, this book made a world of difference in the way I view all the years I plan to be with my husband. It is a must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the concept, but the format was very repetitive. Every chapter goes a little like this: Introduction with flashback of authors life, followed by brief introduction of the person interviewed with a story, reflection of random memory by author that may or may not be relevent to the story just shared. Save some time by skipping over the flashbacks and read the stories of those interviewed. Which coincidently have the theme of "times will be tough, get a hobby and everything will be okay when you reflect on it later."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be a well written and interesting read. As a woman married for 16 years, I found alot of the stories in this book entertaining and the advice offered by other married women to be useful. I think this is a must read for all married women.
TJ68TP More than 1 year ago
This is a great book...I'm a young woman and hope to be married in my not too far future. This book is relevant to my life and makes me think about marriage in a little bit of a different light. I'm thankful for seeing the next step in my future through an alternate lens then the same one I've known for a long time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read for anyone who is in or plans to be in a relationship.
Mamafloof More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting look into real lives, some extreme, and what they do in order to keep it going.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
¿The Secret Lives of Wives¿ pulls back the blinds as well as the sheets on real marriages, some blissful, others rocky, still others outrageous. Regardless, these well-told stories prompt the reader to assess their own marriage, and for that the reader will be grateful. Iris Krasnow offers an entertaining, informative and thought-provoking read, one that should be welcomed in any bedroom, one that could generate plenty of conversation and even activity there ¿ under the sheets and behind the blinds.
athometarheel on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I had a hard time identifying with this book. To say that the happiest people are married people and they live longer is very opininated. I have been in a very stressful marriage for 19 years and if anything I have taken years off due to the amount of stress and feelings that I have. I kept waiting for the author to tell me how to have a successful marriage. All I read was how to tolerate a bad marriage by ignoring the real problems and focusing your attention to external matters. A successful marriage is love, trust and communication and I didn't read many examples of this type of marriage.
kaulsu on LibraryThing 7 months ago
It would seem basic to me to begin a book such as this with a basic definition of marriage. Living with someone foe 50 years prior to marrying doesn't count (to me) as a "long marriage." A long marriage with sex on the side with the handyman doesnt count, either.And while Krasnow was careful to include one African-American marriage, and one "arranged" marriage (American-Bengali couple), I guess it would have been over the top to interview same-gender couple in a committed relationship.Titillating? Yes. Informative? If you've been raised in a cave, perhaps.Overall, just a bit too boring.
readingfiend on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I'll be married for 24 years this year and always thought I had a really good marriage -- I think this book has pretty much confirmed it. The author interviews a variety of women on their marriages and their stories are divided into chapters based on their marriages and the "secret" of it. Some involve taking separate vacations others involve having affairs some involve always being there for each other.I enjoyed reading the stories of the women interspersed with stories of the author's marriage as well.
MEENIEREADS on LibraryThing 7 months ago
A bright,chatty book about wives nearing or beyond the 25th anniversary of marriage.I enjoyed the informative,friendly style of the author. In fact I could see Ms.Krasnow being a girl friend as we both like wine,need our girl friends and both married in our early 30's and went on to immediately have lots of kids by today's standards! We are also in a transitional state as our kids are all leaving the nest!The book is made up of many woman of varied ages and years married telling their stories of what has worked for them as far as staying married all those years. The main ingredient from the author's view seems to be patience,this too shall pass.The most happy woman who contributed to her research seem to be those who are very educated,have a career or artistic interest that brings them much joy and moola and also husbands who make a bunch of moola!!!
erinwtx on LibraryThing 7 months ago
As a woman who has been in an unconventional marriage for 9 years, I found this book to be very inspiring. I enjoyed reading different people's stories, including their trials and tribulations and how they made it work despite them. I found the message to be that different people have different priorities and when it comes down to it you must make yourself happy, whether or not your marriage is in a good place. I recommend this book.
harahel on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I really wanted to like this book. As a newlywed, advice on maintaining a strong, long term marriage sounded like just the ticket! Unfortunately, this is more like a collection of anecdotes with filler about the author's particular marriage. Essentially the advice boiled down to: every marriage is different and you should stick with it as long as your spouse isn't abusive. Fair enough and not exactly poor advice, but hardly what I was looking for from this book. One or two of the stories even made me wince a little as women rolled with things that I wouldn't have tolerated in my own marriage.
JanesList on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I started this book last night, read the prologue and first chapter, and then looked through the rest of the book. I am not going to finish it. I try to do due diligence when I pick Early Reviewer books, and had looked around briefly online to see what this book would be about before selecting it, but I somehow got a different impression of what it would be about. To be fair to the Early Reviewer system, I'm going to swap this book to someone in hopes that it gets the book out into other hands than mine. From what I read and the bits I read throughout:This book is part of the movement to encourage people to stay married, and I'm happy to see such encouragement out there. But when it talks about the fact that there is less marriage than there used to be in the lower and middle classes without mentioning that there are economic factors at play, it bothers me (for example, there are couples where if they get married their joint income becomes too high to continue receiving college or insurance assistance even though their joint income can't cover the difference). Also, some of the marriages she is describing just don't seem that appealing to me. If we had four young kids and I was the one taking care of them, my partner can darn well make their own breakfast and coffee while _we_ take care of the kids in the morning.Additionally, I had hoped that this book would be about _relationship_, which would have some cross-applicability with gay couples. (this is not an unreasonable hope!). It's fine that Krasnow was dealing with straight couples, but this book seems to have a very wives-are-people-married-to-husbands, can't-live-with-em-can't-kill-em attitude. Some of the women in here are not really that happy in their marriages but are finding ways to cope. Honestly, I want more from my marriage than coping.(this is for an Early Reviewer copy)
lfoster82 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I received this book through the Early Reviewers Club. I was excited to get it. The excitement stopped there. I thought this book would be witty and funny. It really wasn't. I was hoping the stories would provide interesting insight- they didn't. Some of the "advice/secrets" from the storytellers were a bit farfetched- for me at least. I had high expectations for this book but it didn't meet them at all.
karieh on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I don't like to review books that I haven't finished - I think I've only done it...three times? But I just can't read this book anymore. It's incredibly depressing and is making me feel bad about my very happy 21 year marriage. Halfway through, I am putting it down.I understand that the author is trying to point out that even the most successful marriages are tough - incredibly difficult at times. I also know that nearly everyone in a long term relationship has at least toyed with the idea of getting out. BUT - I did not expect to see so many powerfully negative words (loathe, hate, despair, rage, etc.) in this book. It makes me wonder what I am doing wrong that I have been happily married for the most part for as long as I have.Author Iris Krasnow spent two years interviewing dozens of women about their long marriages, and speaks from the experience of hers. When she does, I started to find her an unreliable narrator of sorts. Not meaning I don¿t believe her ¿ her experience is her own. Meaning that I found it unsettling to read a book on successful marriages when told through the lens of a marriage in which she is slightly jealous of Al & Tipper Gore¿s divorce when she hears of it, and who when she asks her husband if he thinks they will leave each other after forty years, he answers, ¿Haven¿t we already been married for forty years?¿ and she thinks, ¿Indeed, it seems like four hundred years.¿And some of the women she interviews have the ability (and money) to spend summers or long periods of time away from their spouses in order to stay happily married ¿ a choice few others have or possibly want. I agree that participants in a marriage need to have their own lives and identities in order to be happy and feel better about being part of a couple, but little of what I read would be probable for most people.There was also a pervasive feeling that many women stayed married just because it would be too much trouble to not be married anymore, or to start over with someone new. As one woman says, ¿Too many adulterous relationships are started when there¿s a geographical separation. Although in our marriage we were apart for long stretches of time, we both had a very strong sense of loyalty and commitment, and ¿ most important ¿ I just didn¿t have the time or energy to get involved in something like that.¿When I read that, the second half of that sentence completely negated the first part. It is most important that she didn¿t have the time or energy to have an affair? That kind of summarizes my feelings about this book. These are long marriages, true, but not ones I would care to emulate or, turns out, read about ¿ though I do wish the wives all the happiness in the world and I am glad it works for them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I did not find rhe stories inspiring or relatable to my marriage
Anonymous More than 1 year ago