When I browsed the reviews on Husbands and Wives Club, I felt a little protective when I read the criticism. Namely, it was too technical and detached and had too much theory and highlights of therapy methods. “Too much psychobabble, not enough narrative,” I think I read somewhere on Goodreads.com. The author is a journalist following a marriage therapy group for a year and documenting the observations and supporting her real observations with theories. It is not a memoir nor it is it a novel. If I came in expecting a novel, I would be disappointed too. Though Abraham was privy to very intimate marital details of the five couples she observed in therapy, it is still just a small window. The book entices the voyeur in you but does not satisfy it. Her role is that of an observer and an occasional active participant, the scope of her experience is limited.
I read this book as it was intended. A piece of nonfiction questioning and exploring the benefits and value of group therapy through the lens of a journalist (not a psychologist), who was granted a seat for a year in a therapy group consisting of five couples. The way psychology is presented in this book fascinates me. Pages of theory are interlaced with the very real problems experienced by five couples ranging from sexual dysfunction, homosexuality, complacency, childhood traumas, and infertility. I very much enjoyed the layman’s perspective. I can sense the author’s curiosity and the due diligence she practiced as an observer and researcher.
I recommend this book if you think you would enjoy a hybrid of nonfiction and fiction. It’s a light dose of technical writing and a light dose of narrative. Per usual, some excerpts I pulled out while reading can be found below.
We didn’t joke [her problem] away, we didn’t tell stories to get away from it. We allowed the moment to happen. Now it’s not magical, and she’s not going to leave here and her marriage will be fantastic. But this is what intimacy is – it’s allowing the truth between people to happen, in a way that’s helpful rather than terrifying.
Clem is exhibiting the stickiness of the negative emotional and behavioral loops marital researchers have observed. Or, in the words of therapist Michael Miller, who’s never seen the inside of a lab: “Much of the unchanging character of distrubed, anxiety-ridden intimacy comes from the reduced perceptions each person has of t he other. At the beginning, these projections, as psychologists call them, tend to result in overly idealized images of each other; later intimate partners are likely to take a paranoid reading of the other’s motives and dwell on the worst episodes in their history together, which exacerbates their freezing each other into negative snapshots.”
“Many jobs – like many marriages – don’t consistently provide the “wows,” she says, “but they do provide the whys and wherefores: I’m doing this for a reason, my children know I’, doing this for a reason.” For the existentialist psychologist, the cultivation of meaning is the foundation for living. “you’re all struggling with some individual preference that can be hard to mesh with being married. And there needs to be a way for you to feel you’re not giving yourself up by remaining in the relationship.”
“Anger can be your friend…” “Anger lets you know when something is not correct,” Marie tells Michael. “It’s your body’s way of saying things are not right,” Coche piles on. Feelings, including anger, are harmless in and of themselves; it’s disconnected from your negative feelings as you have, anger is in charge of you. It disconnects you from yourself; it puts a smile on your face. It leads you to do things that aren’t good for your wife.”