Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Book Review: Marriage Confidential by Pamela Haag

I was pretty excited to have the opportunity to read this one, I'm not going to lie.  I love non-fiction, especially in regards to cultures or ideas that I'm not familiar with.  Sociology and psychology in particular interest me, and this looked like a good sociological view of changing attitudes regarding marriage.  Another reason this one appealed to me is that Luke and I have a very traditional marriage.  We're conservative Christians and support (almost) all of the "traditional marriage values".  I knew this book would present the polar opposite views, given the "rewriting the rules" tagline.  So this gave me a chance to see a different opinion of marriage than what I've been exposed to before.

The writing is well done.  The author uses and cites sociological studes appropriate and provides a good critique of the methods used in the studies, as well as their shortcomings.  You guys know how I feel about a good citation.  This is also one of the few cases in which I didn't mind the author inserting a political and moral bias.  From the subtitle that mentions "rewriting the rules", I knew in advance this one wasn't going to be my typical fare.  So yes, the book does include several critiques of and a few mildly snide remarks concerning traditional family values, but nothing that I felt affected the accuracy of the research presented or compromised the author's integrity as an objective reporter.  I can actually really appreciate books that go against my own personal beliefs when they are handled in an appropriately academic way, without mockery.  The author did a good job of this and I enjoyed seeing things from a different point of view.

Entertainment Value
What was really cool about this book was how much it made me think.  I loved reading something so different from what I have read before and seeing where my own opinions diverge and where, interestingly enough, my opinions and beliefs merge well with a very liberal view of marriage.

A good portion of the book deals with nonmonogamous lifestlyes (the couples who are rebelling against the rules).  This can be anything from an open marriage to a "dont' ask, don't tell" marriage, to hidden affairs, to a swingers lifestyle.  Obviously, those were the portions that I identified the least with.  I don't share well, and these options are just not congruent with my faith system.  And did I mention I don't share well?  Regardless of personal beliefs, I just am not sharing my husband's time, affections, passions, etc with another woman.  Ain't gonna happen.

However, I was really surprised to see (and I think the author might be too if she knew) how similar some of the liberal ideas about marriage and family are to the traditional.  One section of the book deals with the issues raised when children are introduced into a marriage, and it was this section that I found myself agreeing strongly with.  The author describes the negative affect attachment parenting and the harm that can be done to a marriage by putting your children above your spouse.  Interestingly enough, I have been raised with the exact same view the author has: that putting your children before your spouse can kill your marriage.  I don't know that liberals and conservatives realize that they are essentially coming to the same conclusion on this.  I certainly didn't realize that this was a rising idea among liberal marriages.  So those chapters interested me the most.

So overall I found the book highly entertaining, in terms of seeing both a completely different viewpoint than me own and in terms of finding common ground that I didn't know existed with more liberal lifestyles.  However, I do have to say that, overall, the book was pretty discouraging regarding the posibilities of happiness in marriage.  The author takes the position that almost all marriages are somewhat unfulfilling, boring, or melancholy.  I realize that most people probably still consider me a newlywed (four years of happy marriage) so maybe my mind will change later on, but I just don't agree that marriage can't be wonderful long-term.  I think it kind of goes along with some of my views on depression.  I have depression and I will probably have it forever.  I'll have to fight it and work hard to keep it from taking over my life, but I am committed to doing that.  I'm committed to making my life happy and to doing the things I know I need to do to make it that way.  I'm not willing to just give up and roll over and accept a life of sadness and boredom.  And I'm not willing to do so in my marriage either.

I recommend giving this one a try if you're interested in sociology or changing views on marriage, even if you don't agree with the author's opinions.  If you've grown up conservative/evangelical like I have (my parents were actually missionaries with a marriage ministry called FamilyLife), this is a great book to give you a very different perspective on marriage and a good way to see how those values are different and how they are surprisingly similar.


  1. This sounds really interesting! I do a lot of couples counseling so this might benefit me with that too.. I need to keep it in mind. I totally agree about the kids thing... I think it's an unpopular opinion to have because people don't seem to understand what that means, but having a strong foundation for the kids is so important.

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  3. That's really cool that you can read something that's the polar opposite of your belief system but still have respect for the material and how it's presented. I think it's very interesting that the liberal and conservative thoughts can sometimes be much closer than either side thinks!

    Thanks for being on the tour!