About the time she began wishing her husband would drop dead, Alisa Bowman decided she had married the wrong man. Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of parenting a colicky baby (then spirited toddler) while self-employed and working from home, Alisa was exhausted and frustrated. She and her husband had taken out a second mortgage on their house so her husband could follow his dream of opening a bike shop. There was no time left for love, marriage, sex or even sleep. They hadn’t been intimate in more than six months. They argued frequently, with no resolution.
Alisa began writing a novel in which a wife murdered her husband and got away with it. She started dreaming about her own husband’s funeral. Then, she began considering filing for divorce. But when a divorced friend asked her what she had done to try to salvage her marriage, she had to admit she hadn’t tried anything at all. She hadn’t even expressed her own needs in the marriage. “That was a turning point for me. I wanted my marriage to improve, but I didn’t know if we could,” says Alisa. Less than four months later, they were renewing their marriage vows.
In a new memoir/advice book called Project: Happily Ever After, Alisa shares the journey and lessons learned during those months of reading stacks of marriage books and implementing many ideas—some crazy, some mainstream—to see what would work for them.
She now says good marriages are a result of learning and practicing skills, including being assertive, communicating well, and learning to forgive. “It really only takes one person to learn the skills; the other generally follows suit,” she says.
“People often feel doomed when they try a skill once and it doesn’t work. But it takes practice. It’s like weight loss. If it took a long time to gain the weight, it will take time to get it off. And if it took a long time for your marriage to go bad, it will take a long time to improve,” Alisa says. “Patience and practice are key.”
After renewing their vows, the real work took place in the following year, says Alisa, when they had to learn to control their words and anger and continue to practice their new positive skills.
Rekindling their sex life is another important part of her book. Alisa planned an elaborate evening in New York City, where their love first bloomed, to re-consummate their marriage. She got a pedicure, manicure, new underwear, and her first bikini wax. “Lingerie and bikini waxes are more for the woman than for the man,” she says. “They make you feel sexy, and they help with desire.”
As for what led them to be so dissatisfied in marriage, she says her husband wasn’t nearly as frustrated as she had been, since he had time for work and hobbies like biking. “I wasn’t taking care of myself, and I was exhausted. I allowed my husband to walk all over me,” says Alisa. Part of her new skill set was learning to express her needs.
“I also had misconceptions about parenting. I thought babies slept a lot, so I would be able to work,” she says. “Looking back, I can see almost all of our arguments were about time. I felt we were out of love and I wasn’t being respected. I couldn’t see it at the time, but we were really struggling over time.”
Now, three years later, Alisa and her husband maintain a passionate love life and rarely argue, thanks to the skills they still practice. Alisa’s husband now feels it’s his turn to be supportive of her dreams and calling. And he doesn’t even mind her writing about their sex life.
In addition to the book coming out this fall, Alisa shares strategies in her marriage blog. If you subscribe, you will receive her free eBook Relationship Rules.
Alisa’s experience bears out research that shows the year after having a first child is often the most stressful time for a couple. In my experience, the level of stress has a lot to do with whether the baby is cranky and sleepless or easy and compliant to your scheduling. These factors are often out of your control. (I had one of each.) If you have children, it’s important to still put your marriage first—for their benefit and your own.
Alisa’s book comes out this Christmas and is sure to generate a lot of buzz and to inspire couples to put their marriages first. You can pre-order your copy here.
If you have children, did you experience a high level of stress during the early parenting years? What lessons did you learn? If you plan to have children, have you talked realistically about roles and responsibilities in the home?