It is interesting to note that The Secret Lives of Wives appeared in bookstores around the same time the television series Desperate Housewives began its final season this past fall.
Though the hit show brought dark comedy and Hollywood sizzle to "what could go wrong" scenarios of suburban married life, Iris Krasnow's investigation of real-life long-term relationships brings the vow "for better or worse" into sharp focus.
Unlike the frothy nighttime soap, Krasnow's epic guide to marriage survival is packed with a more interesting cast of lead characters — strong women from varied cultural and religious backgrounds with sometimes harrowing stories to tell.
If you are seeking hearts-and-flowers advice on spicing up your marriage, this is not the book. Her collection of personal anecdotes spliced with interpretations and statistics from noted relationship experts is effectively a field guide tracking how women have soldiered forth to stay married for the sake of family, financial security and emotional stability.
The book is not an easy read. Krasnow will occasionally express surprise with how and why some kept the home fires burning, even with the cold realities of children with disabilities, spousal illness and infidelity.
A common theme that runs through the book is that, while marriage is never happily-ever-after, maintaining vows and bonds is still worth the struggle, heartache and land mines that pick up where the honeymoon leaves off.
Krasnow is also a strong believer that all women can benefit and even triumph from each other's mistakes and life changes. She even asserts that every reader, no matter age or marital status, will find herself identifying with some of the interviewees.
She has written this book to be "the first 'get real' guide to making marriage last," says Krasnow, veteran author and noted journalism professor at American University.
"My subjects included women whose marriages survived situations such as losing an adult daughter in a canoe accident in Alaska; being married to somebody with cancer; and raising a child with severe disabilities.
"Based on the feedback I have gotten," she adds, "what resonates is that the wives faced their situations with the strength and dignity that enabled them to keep their marriages alive."
Though the more than 200 women Krasnow interviewed have been married anywhere from 15 to 70 years, she is pleased with the fact that the book struck a nerve with younger readers, including her students and women in their 20s and 30s.
"While I focused on women who are in older and mid-life marriages, I now feel that any young woman who has just gotten engaged or is looking to get married should consider listing this book on her bridal registry list alongside the blender," Krasnow says playfully.
"My students ask me, 'How do I know if this man is the right one?' My response, which is also a consistent theme that runs through the book, is that you have to have the right mix of trust, respect, friendship and sexual crackle.
"You have to feel as if you are 'home' when you are with this person. You have to feel comfortable, and that you can truly be yourself around this person."
Krasnow tells the story of American marriage through many sets of eyes: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, rich, poor, black and white. However, in the process of putting the book together, she says the thing she found most enlightening was that the women had more similarities than differences.
Their basic, common desires for family and stability transcended religion and culture, she claims. "I was quite surprised when I realized that women have not changed much since the Book of Genesis," Krasnow muses. Indeed, she adds, "nothing much has changed since Sarah, Ruth, Leah and the other great matriarchs" of the Bible.
Krasnow knew her approach to documenting marriage survival would be provocative. There are some anecdotes that even push that envelope, covering infidelity, multiple partners and even the emotional dynamite of a one-time stolen kiss on one woman.
Says the author: "The stories that offer hope for marriage survival even with major challenges are the reason why I feel the book has gotten so much attention. Those stories reveal one secret to marital success is having a great group of girlfriends with whom to drink and eat, travel and vent.
"Another secret among the happiest women I interviewed is that they've got a purpose, a passion and many arteries of fulfillment outside their marriages."
Though Krasnow, 57, has experienced her fair share of ups and downs in her marriage of 23 years, and counts herself as the proud mother of four adult sons, she felt her upbringing provided some good grounding for the realities of marriage that she would face over the years.
"I am the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who was the only person in her immediate family to survive," she says.
"My study of relationships over the past 30 years comes from the wisdom of a mother who lost everyone. She's taught me time and again that you have to love and cherish the people closest to you, and that family is all there is."