Therapists, workshop co-leaders, and life partners Linda and Charlie Bloom have written a book that is more unusual than it should be. This book is packed with inspiring stories of pairs of people who manage to stay committed, to enjoy each other, and to move forward despite the many challenges life and marriage can offer. The Blooms networked through colleagues, relatives, and friends to locate twenty-seven married couples to feature in their book, each of whom have been together at least fifteen years and an average of thirty years. The list is diverse, including lesbian and gay couples, couples of various races including interracial couples, working-class people, four couples who like the Blooms co-lead relationship workshops, a restaurant manager, a dress shop owner, a multi-millionaire (who later ends up losing all he has), and professionals from a number of different fields.
The Blooms certainly cannot be accused of having picked out people lucky enough to have led relatively charmed lives free of serious conflict or strife. If anything, many of the couples depicted here have faced and overcome more than the typical level and number of issues. Deaths of children, marital infidelity, life-threatening health challenges, and many other difficulties crop up. Yet in ways as different as the individuals depicted, they somehow manage to negotiate these minefields, usually emerging with a stronger relationship with their spouse than when they started.
From the very first example, it is clear that the Blooms have located some great couples. Lobsterman Pete Smith hires Deanna as his first female assistant. Initially skeptical that any woman can do the job, he eventually becomes convinced and also ends up creating a successful, long-lasting marriage with her! Well-known Christic Institute lawyer Daniel Sheehan achieves perhaps his greatest success in his remarkable support for his wife Sara NelsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s recovery from breast cancer. Maya Spector leaves her marriage to Barry for another man, yet four years later, in the wake of an injury to their son, Maya and Barry reunite, re-open their hearts to each other, and re-marry. The portrait of Hassidic rabbi Nehemia Cohen and his wife Rachel (and their twelve children) provides a fascinating glimpse of a lifestyle that many of us might never directly encounter.
Workshop leaders (and my personal friends) Judith Sherven and Jim Sniechowski come together later in life than many couples in this book, making two important pledges: to place their relationship as a higher priority than their individual preferences, and Ã¢â‚¬Å“to honor our differences rather than try to homogenize them.Ã¢â‚¬Â WhenÃ¢â‚¬â€on their honeymoon–Judith leaves a beloved nightgown in a hotel, and Jim fails to understand the importance of it to her, both of them manage to learn and grow closer from the conflict. A gay couple confronting Steve SchalchlinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s AIDS find themselves going broke as Jim Brochu takes off work to care for Steve full-time. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We celebrated what we believed would be our last vacation, our last Christmas, and our last birthdays together. For about a year, I was so weak I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t even sit up.Ã¢â‚¬Â Medication rescues Steve just in time, and today their relationship is stronger than ever.
Yet all is not golden. Next we meet a married couple living in denial, so focused on their kids they make no time to nurture their marriage, with the result that husband Drew Coleman eventually has an affair. To DrewÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s surprise, when the news comes out, Shirley takes responsibility for her part in the breakdown, and the marriage recovers. Later when their daughter Anne becomes troubled, news emerges that a relative who babysat their daughter had molested her from ages ten to thirteen, and the couple are able to help their daughter through recovery from this trauma. Barbara Dossey travels with husband Larry back to Vietnam many years after he served in the military there, and with her support, he is able to go through a night of catharsis that rids him of the nightmares from which he had been suffering.
Inspiration can be found on practically every page. Hope JuberÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s chance meeting with her idol Ringo Starr finds her not only employment but also her husband Laurence. Later the couple join together to help see their 19-year-old daughter through successfully fighting off a life-threatening lymphoma. Jane Morton and Michael Jacobs could be described as a Ã¢â‚¬Å“power coupleÃ¢â‚¬Â of two tenured Stanford physicians, yet Ã¢â‚¬Å“[w]hen confronted with the need for a major life change, they completely removed themselves from their secure, predictable, and prestigious but stressed-out lifeÃ¢â‚¬Â and go on a year-long adventure, never making plans more than twenty-four hours in advance.
What can we learn from these couples? As the authors lay out in their introduction, we see throughout the book thatÃ¢â‚¬â€among other keys to their successful relationships–they: have a high level of mutual respect and trust for their partners; have a nonhierarchical relationship; tend not to hold grudges; address unfinished business expeditiously rather than putting things on the back burner; tend to avoid cycles of blame, express affection, appreciation, and need for each other frequently; are honest with themselves and their partner; and engage in frequent acts of service to each other. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The way to avoid divorce,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hal and Sidra Stone wisely counsel, Ã¢â‚¬Å“is to have a no-fault marriage.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Husband Ron GladisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s truly awe-inspiring support of his wife MariahÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s needs given her ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou GehrigÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease) enable her to survive and their marriage to thrive and, most remarkably, make it possible for her career to flourish as well. Shakti and Rick Butler, who are now thriving financially, once Ã¢â‚¬Å“lost everything financially and were actually homeless for six months.Ã¢â‚¬Â With the help of his wife Justine Toms, Michael survives the devastating suicide of his adult son Mike and eventually focuses on enriching his bond with MikeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s two children, MichaelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s grandchildren. Workshop leaders Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks (of whom I am a fan) haveÃ‚Â a great life except for many years they simply cannot bring financial matters under control. Then one day, Ã¢â‚¬Å“We made an agreement on the spot to let go of our scarcity orientation and consciously think in terms of abundance.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Barry and Joyce Vissell were able to endure the severe disapproval of both sets of parents when they married despite their different religious backgrounds (Jewish and Protestant), but when Barry has an affair with JoyceÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best friend, the relationship nearly ends.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sooner or later most couples are challenged in unwanted ways that they never imaginedÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. Your heart breaks, and you feel great painÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.Ã‚Â ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a chance to finally learn to live with an open heart.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Apart from a brief introduction to each chapter, the Blooms mostly abstain from inflicting lessons or conclusions on the reader, limiting themselves to presenting twenty-seven diverse stories from diverse couples. The people in this book are not simply halves of amazing (yet ordinary) couples but are also phenomenal individuals, yet they struggle with many of the same challenges the rest of us face. Highly, highly recommended.
Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love. By Charlie and Linda Bloom. Novato, California: New World Library, 2010. 233 pp. $14.95. www.newworldlibrary.com. Review by J. Steven Svoboda