By Kaitlyn Herzog
After falling in love and marrying young, veteran writer Susan Shapiro Barash watched her relationship crumble before her eyes. Happily married now, Barash’s newest book, The Nine Phases of Marriage: How to Make It, Break It, Keep It, focuses on how to avoid the common problems and missteps that often lead to divorce. In our exclusive interview with the author, she discusses the typical struggles faced by husbands and wives and offers advice to new brides on maintaing long and happy marriages as well as ways to keep the passion alive for already-married couples.
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Your previous work focuses heavily on women and the various relationships between them. What keeps you so interested in that topic?
We are raised to be good girls in our culture, and good girls can’t have any negative feelings or at least admit to it. I always wonder: How do women really feel about their mothers, their best friends, their work, their husbands? The faces women wear verses the lives they really lead is an issue that I enjoy exploring.
In your new book, you tackle women’s relationship with their husbands. Do you believe the women you interviewed were more or less willing to open up about their marriages as compared to their other relationships?
Well, these are anonymous interviews, and once you guarantee a woman anonymity, she’s more willing to open up. I have found over the years (this is my thirteenth book, and I’ve interviewed thousands of women) that they prefer to not be identified. During the interviews, we always talk about how sharing their stories allows them to reach out to and connect with other women. I think it’s almost like free therapy. You’re getting to talk about how you feel, free of judgement.
On the topic of free therapy, you wrote about your own experiences of marriage and the downfall of your first. Did you feel a sense of relief writing this book and getting your own story out there?
Although the book is not about my personal journey, I identify so closely with the role of wife, as a wife twice in two very different marriages. I think that we really see, both in my story and in millions of women’s stories, that marriage is a big piece of the pie of life.
In the beginning of the book, you state that 85 percent of women believe the most memorable part of marriage is the “passionate stage” or the “honeymoon period.” What can couples do to keep that passion alive years into their marriage?
Of course, having a date night and making time for your spouse is important – and a big issue in today’s world. You need to have constant communication and make the very deliberate choice to grow together, so that if you and your husband are in very different places, you can really talk about why you are diverging. By being honest and feeling that sense of comfort and protection, you create a very rich, secure environment that allows you to still be passionate.
How common is it for a couple to go through all nine stages mentioned in your book?
Honestly, it depends on the couple. When you have children, it changes the balance of the marriage. Are you going to work, or are you going to be a stay-at-home mom? What does that do to you as a person and as a wife? It either becomes easier or harder, depending on if you have the same values and style of raising children. If you are quite different, it’s really highlighted during this time.
How do you think gender roles have changed in the last twenty years or so?
I interviewed women from their early twenties to their mid-to-late eighties, and what is so interesting is how much the world has opened up for women. This change affects your preception of being a wife too. The traditional wife was much more reliant on her husband – both financially and physically. But look at women now: a third of women are the major bread winners in their households, creating a very different type of marriage.
It makes me think how simple marriage would be without money.
Well, we live in a capatalistic society, and money is very riveting. If there are problems with money, it can be a huge cause of tension. If you’re really all about the money, then that’s troubling.
One final question: Is there any advice you can offer a new bride? Is there a certain age or point in a person’s life that can help them stay in that long-term partnership?
Young women today are very confident that their marriage will succeed and, based on my research, very determined to not have the same issues that their mothers experienced. With those beliefs comes a more flexible wife than those of previous generations. The commitment, the honesty, the communication and the constant working together contributes to a successful marriage.
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