The first time I heard the phrase "happy wife, happy life," I thought the man was kidding.
When a friend said, "My husband just wants me to be happy," I exclaimed, "He does?"
When the husband looks at the wife on House Hunters and asks, "Which house do you want to buy?" I say out loud to no one, "Who says that?"
When a friend said, in passing, "I just feel cherished," I almost had to sit down and breathe into a paper bag.
Foreign concepts to the heart of a woman in a marriage that was frail and disappearing.
I told my friend, "My husband told me that if I want a new cell phone, I have to promise to wear it at all times, even when I go sit outside. I have to explain my Target purchases . . . like Q-Tips. And one time I stood in front of the thermostat, after having the air conditioning on all day, praying and willing it to go to a higher temperature so I wouldn't be 'found out.' And he told me my behavior would make sense if I were bipolar."
"Honey," she said, "those things aren't normal." Oh.
Every marriage is hard. Hard is normal. But not every marriage is bad. Bad is not normal. There is a world of difference between the two. When you're in it, it can be very tricky to know which is which.
Even after going to counselor after counselor, participating in one small group after another, and reading myriad books on marriage, I didn't know what was normal and what was not, what was hard and what was bad. One minute I thought things were really not right between us, and the next moment I had convinced myself that my expectations were too high, that I just needed to be a better wife.1