Project Happily Ever After: How Alisa Bowman Saved Her Marriage When the Fairy Tale Failed
Five years ago, when Alisa Bowman entertained fantasies, they weren't about Colin Firth in a top hat and tails seducing her in a 19th-century Victorian house (is that just me?) -- they were about giving the eulogy at her husband's funeral or how she was going to divide assets with him when they signed the divorce papers.
Bowman was in a bad marriage. Her husband was a man who, the night before she was due to have a C-section with their first child, wanted to go have beers with his friends; a man who spent all of the money she had saved for a babymoon to New Zealand on a skiing trip (without her); a man who didn't crack a smile when his daughter took her first steps; a man who appeared to be a lazy slacker with no regard for his wife's feelings, desires or needs.
Bowman was ready to leave, until a friend advised her to "try everything" before she gave up on her marriage. So Bowman did. And she chronicled the four-month journey to save her marriage in the book "Project Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters."
The surprising part? With no therapy and just 12 self-help relationship tomes, Bowman says her marriage is now better than ever. We wanted to know, among other things, how it's possible to turn a frog into a prince in such a short time, so we sat down with her to find out.
MyDaily: For starters, your husband sounds like he was a real jerk. Why did you fall in love with him -- and marry him -- to begin with?
Alisa Bowman: When we first met, Mark really pursued me, but I didn't fall in love with him as quickly. During the first year we were together I came down with the flu and I went to his house because it was closer to my work. When he got home, he nursed me for the rest of that night. I had the chills and he just kept piling blankets on me, but I couldn't get warm so at some point he just snuggled his warm body next to mine. Much later he told me he was sweating all night long but he never once complained, he just wanted to keep me warm. It was that incident plus a few others when he was so there for me, and I just thought, This is the guy that I want to spend the rest of my life with.
When did it all start to fall apart?
Looking back, is there anything you could have done to prevent your marriage from getting to that place?
Ohhhh, yes. I could have communicated better and learned to be assertive. I didn't even know I had a communication problem. I was a writer, I thought I knew how to communicate. It took me a long time and a lot of denial before I could face that. If I had been a good communicator and had worked on it, it would have saved us a load of grief. Communication makes everything work. Even if you feel you've grown apart, it's communication that's going to bring you back together. And even if your sex life is boring, it's communication that will make it interesting again. If people learn that skill, it will help them in every aspect of their relationships.
It's interesting to hear you say that you could have learned to be a better communicator. It seems like Mark was the one who needed to change -- and be less jerky.
That was a big lesson for me, and I learned this early on in the project. I had to be the change I wanted to see in my marriage. I needed to be the spouse I wanted to be married to. I really struggled with that because it wasn't fair. I wanted him to grow up and be the big person, and change into a new husband by Friday. But once I embraced it, I realized it's a lot easier to change myself, than for me to change him. I looked at it like "how good of a spouse can I make myself?" It was almost a contest to see who could be the bigger person, rather than who can be the smaller person, which is what we had been having a contest about.
How did the changes you made create changes in him?
One thing that was very effective for us was the three-sentence rule. I used to go on and on and on about my feelings, and why I was mad or resentful and I would lose him. He would just tune me out. So now I just keep it short, to three sentences or less. "I'm tired. She needs a bath. Could you do it?" And lo and behold, it's a lot more effective. It was hard to get used to the idea that I'm not going to unload all that emotional crap on him, but over time, I had less emotional crap to unload because he was actually doing stuff that made me happy.
Speaking of changing, we always hear the phrase "A leopard never changes its spots." Is it fair or even realistic to expect your partner to change?
Yes and no. Some things don't ever change. My husband is really into fitness and really into riding his bike. If I expected him to not love riding his bike anymore, that would never happen. Or if I expected him to all of a sudden become the most talkative person and entertain me with stories, it's not going to happen. But if I want him to start doing his fair share around the house, that's a behavior. It's not part of his personality, so he can do that. Humans are capable of serious behavior change. But you do have to accept aspects of your spouse that are who they are. You chose to marry that person and you knew who they were when you got married. I knew my husband wasn't the most talkative person when I married him. So I had to find ways to have a connection with him that didn't involve him coming home and regaling me with stories about his day. Because personality traits aren't going to change.
When Mark read the book, did he look at the things he did and think, Wow, I was such a jerk?
I think he did finally understand my side of all those incidents. After he read it, I remember thinking, Gosh, our marriage has gotten even better, and I think it's because he really understood me. It's weird, though. I don't think he sees all of those things he did as being negative. And other men that have read the book have commented that they think Mark was being a really a good guy and that I didn't appreciate him enough. It's a completely different perspective.
You read 12 self-help books to improve your marriage. If you could only pick one to recommend to people, which would it be?
"Hot Monogamy," by Pat Love. Even though it's basically about what's going on in the bedroom, it changes what's going on in your marriage. That said, I don't think there is just one thing that can save your marriage. It's a constant process. We always look for these cookie-cutter approaches, one magical fast fix, but there isn't one solution that works for everybody.
Do you think the majority of divorces could be prevented if everyone tried everything, as you did, before they walked away?
I do think a lot less people would get divorced if they knew how to be married and knew it was about skills and not about soul mates or a fairytale. And when things go bad, it's not that you married the wrong person, it's that you're not doing the right things with the person you married. If we taught people that, I think more people would stay together.
If you could go back in time, would you marry Mark all over again?
I would. I don't even have to think about it. Especially now, having the perspective of where our relationship has gotten to. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said marrying him was a mistake. But now, my life is so good. He really knows and understands me in a way that nobody else does. That's precious and I would never give that up.
Colleen Oakley is a freelance writer who would kill her husband if he ever spent our babymoon savings on a ski trip with his friends. That's a warning, Fred.
Around the Web
- What Drives Men Away and What Attracts Them - YourTango
- Bill Clinton: It's Still the Economy, Stupid - The Daily Beast
- Do You Want to Know When Your Friends Run Into Your Ex? - The Frisky
- Would You Marry Someone Who Didn't Have a Job? - The Gloss
- And the City That Has the Most Sex Is ... - The Stir, CafeMom
- 3 Easy Ways to Keep Your Makeup Sweat-Proof This Summer - BellaSugar