Happily Ever After

I don't usually read self-help books, even if I need help, but after hearing author Alisa Bowman speak at last month's book and author fair, I was so taken with her honesty and humor that I wanted to read her book, "Project Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters." The book will be released Dec. 28, but she kindly offered me an advance copy for this review.

Part memoir, part self-help guide, the book is a brave discussion of topics that a lot of married couples have encountered, but don't often talk about. Bowman is not a marriage therapist. She is a writer and, most importantly, a wife who at one point nearly divorced her husband.

In "Project Happily Ever After," Bowman shares the story of how she went from fantasizing about her husband's funeral to renewing her vows with him after a four-month effort that included reading 12 marital improvement books and implementing their advice. Though readers know from the title and jacket copy that this book has a happy ending, it is hard in the beginning to imagine exactly how that is possible. Hers was a marriage she says that many friends and even her own mother had concluded was hopeless.

During the first eight years of her marriage, Bowman went from feeling very much in love with her man to wondering why she had married him at all. Readers can understand her frustration as she chronicles his two long bouts of unemployment, how he spent their vacation savings on a ski trip he took without her, his many absences both physical and emotional after the birth of their child, and their frequent fights. With humor and brutal honesty, she details her husband's flaws, his huge errors in judgment, and his constant failure to communicate, but also tries to be just as candid about her own flaws and failures.

Bowman opens her doors wide and gives us a peek at a marriage in deep crisis, then she explains how she and her husband changed things. Using information from self-help books, friends, and her own instincts, she sets out to forgive, to teach her husband to romance her, to enjoy having sex again, and to better communicate.

Within each chapter, she describes a setback or turning point and then highlights advice germane to the topic. For example, after her husband compliments her during a shopping trip, Bowman offers this tip: "As you work on your marriage, focus on the small positive changes — the smile, the compliment, the empty dishwasher, the hug. Champion what is changing for the better rather than obsessing over what is still left to change."

Tips like this one are great, and useful even to those whose marriage is not in crisis. About 15 minutes after I read it, I noticed that my husband — who had left a trail of food from the refrigerator to the dining area, failed to feed the dog and left every light in the house on — had also folded and put away laundry I left in the dryer for two days. So, yes, he can be sloppy, forgetful, and is single-handedly destroying the environment, but he helped me when he saw help was needed, and that shouldn't go unnoticed.

No marriage is perfect and the good advice Bowman offers can be applied to almost any relationship.

In addition to focused tips, Bowman lays out a 10-step plan for "divorce daydreamers" to start their own projects. The best part of Bowman's book is the idea of turning a bad situation into a project, setting a deadline and working your buns off to make it happen. Though she felt ready for a divorce, Bowman took the advice of a divorced friend and decided she would try absolutely everything before she ended her marriage.

That's the lesson here. It is easy to give up on something, even something you love, but don't give up unless you have truly tried everything you can to fix it.

Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at decker4@gmail.com.

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