Posted by: counselorcarmella | February 28, 2012

Book Review: “Happens Every Day: An All Too Common Tale” by Isabel Gillies

Isabel Gillies’ memoir “Happens Every Day: An All Too Common Tale”  was a short read. Very intense and honest.  This is the author’s story of how her nearly six-year marriage fell apart.  I  didn’t realize that was what the story was about when I  started reading it. If I had, I very likely would have avoided it.  I hear such stories in my office all the time.  Still, there’s something to be  said for being able to take in a story  and think about it without  feeling as though you have to  do  anything.   Reading allows me that space.  There’s also the fact that the  specifics of every painful experience are  different for each person, even if  there are uni versal themes or emotions. I was hooked once I started reading.
 
Gillies was 35. She and her husband  Josiah had two  very young sons and had recently moved to a small college town in Ohio.  They both taught classes there and were a part of a close community.  The book begins by showing how happy and normal things seemed.  If it weren’t for things she says that clearly indicate a change is coming, the reader would be caught off guard when  things suddenly change.   They had pet names for each other, enjoyed their children and their jobs, seemed to be able to communicate well,  had a supportive network of family and friends, a cat and a dog, and  a comfortable home in a nice neighborhood. Isabel  Gillies was happy with her life, the life she and her husband had created together. 
 
The author begins to suspect that “something’s going on” between her husband and a woman they’ve both recently become friends with who works in his department.  She notices how they act around each other.  This woman is married, too, but her husband lives elsewhere and she rarely speaks of him. Rather than being sensitive to her concerns about this other person, her husband gets angry and defensive and seems to turn the issue back on her. He accuses Isabel of being  jealous and paranoid. She tries to convince herself that he’s right.  She had worked as an actress and was teaching courses on acting and drama, after all.  She  knows she can be  a little “over the top” sometimes.
 
They have a conversation  at one point when  the author is beginning to have  a sense of vague discomfort about her husband and this other woman, regarding opposite gender friendships. She says that she feels having close friends of the opposite sex is  not something you do when you’re married. She gives as an example another couple they’re friends with. The four of them do things together and she  calls and gets together with the wife, but she says she wouldn’t  call the husband up  or make plans for lunch with him the same way.  Her husband tells her that’s ridiculous and that everyone should be able to be friends with  whoever they want, male or female, and  trust each other.
 
I’ve heard this so many times.  “We’re just friends; You’re so  jealous and controlling.  I would never do that.  You need to trust me.” ” I tell people over and over that married or seriously committed people should have very clear boundaries around opposite gender friendships.  Plenty of people have  good intentions and don’t set out to have affairs, but they slippery slope themselves into  feelings and  intimacy  because they  just  know they would “never” cheat on their spouse. They just enjoy  being around their “friend” from work or wherever. They  share personal thoughts and feelings,  have coffee or lunch, talk on the phone or text a lot, etc.  What may have started as an innocent friendship gradually begins to change into attraction and the emotional affair begins and intensifies. Physical cheating usually follows, but even when it doesn’t, a lot  of damage has already been done. It can happen to anyone.

 

So many people seem to think that simply being married or committed  will magically prevent them from developing feelings for someone else. If it doesn’t, that must mean  something huge was wrong with the marriage anyway. That’s not necessarily true. Once it does happen, many times, they start thinking that they deserve to  be happy with someone who surely must be  more of a “soul mate” to them. The reality is that  the grass is greener wherever you water it and its always better to water your own grass. Keeping a safe  distance helps prevent these issues. Protecting  one’s most important relationship  involves  conscious choices, such as avoiding lunch dates, taking business trips alone in the same car, confiding  about one’s personal life,  bantering or flirting via text or FaceBook, and other  boundaries. 

 
Isabel is shocked when, during an argument, her husband blurts out that he doesn’t want to be  married to her anymore.  The argument was about her reaction when she found her husband and their new “friend” alone in his office, involved in intense conversation and looking very  chummy. He says that, for her to react the way she did,  their marriage  must be in a pretty unhealthy  place.  Isabel  thinks he is just speaking out of emotion and  that  he’ll take the words back once he  calms down.  They’ve had arguments before and always work things out. She  quickly realizes during the next several days that’s not  going to happen.  He cries and tells her he “just can’t do this” anymore and that he is no longer in love with her. She is, of course,  shocked and devastated.  They move into separate bedrooms. 
 
The story  of how their marriage fell apart was truly sad. As a therapist,  though, I  had to wonder why Isabel was so entirely shocked. I guess we all think  “that” won’t happen to us. Her husband, Josiah, had been married before and had a son from that marriage, as well.  She kept saying she couldn’t believe he would  walk out on  their marriage because they had children together, but  he had apparently already done that once to someone else. Maybe there were “extenuating circumstances” in that situation. There  always are, to some extent. He’d also cheated on his first wife. Of course, the author  thinks they’re “different,” that he realized the pain  he’d caused everyone by his actions, and that he’d never do that to her. Going through all that must surely have made him wiser and  more committed than ever to doing whatever is needed to make a marriage work. I hear that line of reasoning a lot, and I’m sure there are cases where it is true. His father cheated on his mother, too, though they both wound up happily remarried and  on friendly terms. They’ve discussed  concerns about history repeating itself. They even have  a phrase “No sharing” that they say to each other to remind each other of their trust and  fidelity.
 
The most annoying thing he says is, “I’m  just not in love with you anymore.”  At the risk of sounding like Dr. Laura, a big part of me wanted to say, “So what?” Making decisions about one’s marriage based on whether or not you feel “in love” is  not the best idea. Being “in love” is one of those phrases that   I think we give too much weight to.  The “in love” phase of a relationship  is all about excitement, euphoric feelings, and  the release of hormones that enable us to bond with someone else.  It is normal for those feelings to  eventually calm down some and settle into a deeper  sort of love that is stronger but less intense.  This  second phase of love  is comfortable, based on truly knowing each other and shared history and  commitment. It is much more real but maintaining it can feel like more effort. “In love” is often really about lust or infatuation. It is about excitement and  passion and   doesn’t always survive and turn into  real love when  faced with the  routines and challenges of day-to-day life.  This is why its important for couples to  take the time to see if their relationship  has the emotional  foundation it needs for a long-term commitment.  A lot of  people realize that, once that initial phase of  being “in love” starts simmering down, there isn’t much underneath. 
 
The other thing is that love is a choice.  We can choose to  do things that nurture it and  help  us connect with  our positive feelings about another person.  Honoring commitments is not about  how we feel.  Its about  being faithful and caring and  knowing we’ve created a life and family with someone.  Not being “in love” anymore is a crappy reason to  leave  a marriage, particularly when children are  involved.  Feelings may come and go and there is a lot that can be done to help two people feel closer and more connected.   
 
Isabel wants  them to try and “fix” their relationship. She seeks to persuade him to “try” instead of giving up.  He says he’s been trying for a long time, but its hard for her to believe  that because he changed so suddenly.  She  tells him she knows its about the other woman. He insists that this is about their marriage and has nothing to do with anyone else. The author seems to  try and be  honest about her own faults and ways she knows she could have handled things differently as this man’s wife.  She tries to  talk with him about making changes.  They  go to counseling, but her suspicion that he’s having an affair isn’t brought up. He focusses on all the ways they’re “different.” 

 
Their families  try  to help.  They  reassure her,  but she knows things are ending.  Once everyone else sees this, too, they try and  intervene on behalf of the marriage. One of her friends suggests she  talk with one of her husband’s closest friends. She  says she probably shouldn’t because that’s “his” friend.  Her friend reminds her that  this man is also her son’s godfather and that, as such, he made a commitment to try and support their marriage.  I agree. Josiah’s friend tells her that, when Josiah started talking about a new woman at work, he  told him he didn’t want to hear about  his interest in someone other than his wife.  They didn’t talk much after that. Other friends say they  don’t want to “get involved” or “take sides.”  I  believe that, if you’re a true friend,  its your responsibility to be honest when you’re concerned that  the people you care about  might be going  down a wrong path and to take a stand for what’s right.
 
Sadness comes with her feelings of shock.  Isabel cries a lot in this book.  She drinks quite a bit, too. She loses weight, has trouble sleeping, and  often feels as though she’s living through a waking nightmare. She is devastated that their family is breaking up. She  states  being angry at times, and describes times when she  expressed anger and frustration.  She also says she does not want  to  become filled with anger and bitterness. She knows anger is “normal,” but   doesn’t want to make choices out of anger. She doesn’t want  her sons to have a mother who hates their father. She discourages her friends and family from expressing their anger to her. 
 
She’s sad about  what  her husband’s choice means for their sons. She  doesn’t want them to have to go through this, wishes she could  change things for their sakes so they don’t have to grow up as children of divorce. Its hard to argue this point, even though people want to.  Children do better in a two-parent household unless it is just complete chaos and high conflict.  The stability  of not going back and forth between homes, seeing their parents work  together to raise them and run a household, and the security of knowing they have a Mom and Dad who  love each other and love them  and aren’t  going anywhere is the healthiest environment for kids.  Lots of research has been done on this. Adults pursuing their own happiness  does not translate into  happiness for children  most of the time. 
 
The thing is, two people have to commit to each other  when they get married. This means  doing what is necessary to keep their commitment strong and healthy.  Talking, making time for each other, doing fun things, etc.  Nothing guarantees that a marriage will work out, but an ounce of prevention  is always worth a pound of cure.  It seemed like Isabel and Josiah were doing the things that  keep a marriage solid, but one person can  decide to check out and end a marriage.  All the other spouse can do is try  and react in healthy ways   and know that they are not responsible for their spouse’s behaviors. Once its clear that  Josiah isn’t changing his mind, Isabel wants to make it as undramatic as possible for the kids.  They   continue trying to be civil around their little boys and  to  cooperate as parents.  They work together to  decide what to do about custody, finances, and  the other “business details” so that  the whole thing doesn’t  spend months in  court.  
 
Josiah claims to be sad, too. There are a couple of  times when they cry together, but I wasn’t really convinced. I  felt as though he was sad that he couldn’t have everything he wanted. When the semester ends, Isabel packs up to move to her parents’ home in New York. She doesn’t want to move back in with her parents, but it seems clear that she needs to, if only for a while. The kids will have to adjust to a new city that is very different  from where they lived before.  Isabel  will have to get used to living under the same roof again, as adults this time. She  knows this move will be tough on all of them.  She hates to leave her life in Ohio, including the house they  had only lived in for a few months.  They all agree to “make the best of it.”  
 
A couple months after she moves, her husband lets her know he is with the woman she suspected him of seeing.  She doesn’t say whether  or not they  admitted to being together  before  the divorce or not.  The signs she saw, such as him primping and smiling in front of mirrors and  taking up smoking again (a habit the other woman engaged in) seemed to indicate that her suspicions were correct. Isabel had even confronted the other woman at one point. She went to her as a supposed friend and begged her to stay away from her husband so  they could try and work on their marriage.  The other woman said she would, but called Isabel’s husband as soon as she left.  He was angry with her, of course. Josiah and the other woman actually get married.  Isabel says she is a caring stepmom to  her children. 
 
Isabel gets remarried, too, but the book only mentions  these facts at the very end. She doesn’t describe how she felt when her  feelings  turnout to be right.  She also doesn’t  talk about how she met her  current husband or about the life they’ve built together.  It seems like she wanted to offer readers the  idea that there was a happy ending where everything turned out fine, but the majority of the story was  very sad and I don’t know enough  about the happy ending to know if I can believe in it. I would  have liked for  the author to share a little more about these things.  Maybe another book is planned.
 
I wonder how long it will take her former husband to cheat on  his new wife.  I know that sounds cynical, but  I think  many cheaters  cheat again.  His new wife knows how their relationship came about and probably thinks they’ll be “different,” too.  What happens if he “falls out of love” with his new wife?  What happens when he gets bored with that relationship and  starts paying attention to other women?  How is all this going to impact their sons long-term?   How hard is it for Isabel to trust her new husband?  I was left asking these questions, as well as others,  at the end of the book.   
 
To me, this was a very sad story about what one spouse experiences when the other decides the marriage is over.  In Isabel’s case,  unless she was oblivious to a lot of things, it all fell apart really quickly.  Its a slower process for many couples, but the pain is surely similar.  Its a helpless feeling to know someone has changed their mind  and that  you can’t reach them anymore.  It must be that much harder when you strongly suspect that another person is involved but  don’t have “proof.”  Isabel was encouraged to  get a PI and such, but she really didn’t want to do all that.  I hope she has years of  caring, trust, and faithfulness with her current husband.  I hope she learned and grew as a person from this experience, but that she does not ever have to repeat it.
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