Broadway Books


Excerpts from
An Unfinished Marriage
By bestselling author Joan Anderson

After a year of reassembling a marriage gone stale, I looked back to see what steps were taken to revitalize our long-term commitment. Always at the forefront were the words of Eric Fromm:

"Nothing, especially love, can be mastered without practice--and practice involves discipline, concentration, and supreme concern."

On Reassembling a Marriage

We had become estranged for reasons no more complicated than laziness, indifference, and ignorance. In deciding to recommit we also desired to fight for the openness where the faults of each other could be admitted, and in so doing, unlearn that which keeps us away from the immediacy of our lives and our connection to one another.

With no model to follow, we must accept that we are simply two unique souls who merged some thirty years ago and from that union was born an original couple, impossible to replicate.

The unfinished elements of our relationship will forever rise and fall, like the incoming tide, constantly and irresistibly moving within us.

Where are the guidebooks for maintaining long-term relationships? There are a plethora of prescriptions for raising children, getting jobs, being sexual, and understanding the self. But veterans of long-term marriage, deserted by their youthful hormones, are left to muddle along in their middle-aged bodies.

On Retracing

Our time in Africa (long ago) stands as evidence of our shared idealism and dedication to social causes--a time that most certainly empowered our friendship. As we rebuild our life together, we need to develop some new dreams that might reignite our spirits.

It's the little details in the old photo album that grab my attention: my husband's arm around my shoulder as we watched our son in a sailboat race; a naked Mommy with boys in arms, rinsing off the salt water and sand in the outside shower after a day at the beach; father and sons looking for conch shells at sunset on the bay. I must honor the energy we gave to those years, now past, and then use my goodness to empower the ride to the next stage.

We were once those golden people in the photographs, but we are not that any longer--not better, nor worse, only different. You go through certain experiences and they leave a mark on you and you look back and think: I'll never be that way again. Like everybody else we are, have been, and will be tempered by life.

On Revelations

I'm struck by the concentration it takes to recycle. If we spent equal amounts of time recycling ourselves we might resurrect something vital and new out of the old. All this glass and plastic will be reduced to its original properties and then become something different. Have I been heading down the wrong path thinking we needed to rediscover something that only needs recycling? I didn't come to the Cape to reinvent myself! I came to return to myself. Perhaps the same lessons are applicable to relationships.

Love's deep realization is found in the growing, struggling, and reaching for perfection, all the while learning to live in the here and now and enjoy the ordinary.

A sweet earnestness is overshadowing my husband's normal brooding personality. I'm feeling a peace that only comes from yielding.

On Repair

Drifting along without course or direction is true freedom, an incubator for the care and feeding of new life. I sit with tears of joyful recognition.

Trauma, problem-solving, crisis--all those dark spots that we try to avoid--may be just what relationships need to keep them bubbling along. It occurs to me that we spend most of our lives learning to avoid difficulty in order to project an image of confidence and success, thus losing the chance to express our authentic selves, one to another.

There is hope for any couple who earnestly constructs their own shelter--not unlike the commitment to have children. You believe enough in your combined strengths to go ahead, even though you are unsure how your mutual values will surface once the final product emerges.

Holding your own in a disagreement means that one's ego is intact—it hasn't been beaten away. My aim should always be to obtain my desires.

On Rediscovery

After a time, life with another should not be about gazing at each other, but looking outward together at the same sight.

New adventures can shake a couple up and provide new energy to their life. Like the recalcitrant forsythia that will soon announce springtime, our cozy cottage is about to burst its seams in the name of family.

I find a broken moon shell on the ledge over the sink. As I pick it up and look clear through to its multicolored center, I have the odd thought that my husband, by the end of our stay (at the dune shack), will be able to see clear through me. Perhaps that's been my subconscious intention in coming out to this remote place--to see and be seen.

I spot several stones lying together on the sand, as if they've been arranged by someone -each one with a stripe down the middle. They make me think of duality, the state we are in--very much together, yet two individuals apart.

Always, always it is the next attempt that matters. I certainly don't want to miss out on happiness. Besides, at our age we don't have days to squander.

On Receiving

Perhaps I once wanted to be a helpless female but subconsciously sought a mate who would let me wear the pants because I never really trusted anyone to design a life as well as I would. What I never realized is that givers retain all the control while receivers are left to be vulnerable and gracious. Astonishing how we fall so easily into the cycle of withholding.

It occurs to me that so much of love is not natural. Falling in love and falling out of love happens with little assistance, but staying in love demands practice and acceptance. It feels good to get out from behind the effort and simply yield to one another.

(Being laid up with a broken ankle) My inability to receive love has been broken down by my need to accept care. Blessings come when we least expect them

On Risk and Retreat

There is a sign tacked to the dune shack door. It says: "As Is Everything Here Will Be Just That." What we bring to this experience or have in our possession in the way of food or clothing is all there is. We are two human beings pared to the essentials, devoid of anything but dreams, metaphors, and wonders. Love needs space around it in order to grow. We certainly have that here.

We seem to be taking our voyage away from the safety of the shore, no longer tied to the familiar roles of the past. Some sort of spiritual regeneration is occurring and I'm basking in the moment.

An Unfinished Marriage
Joan Anderson
March 2003