Double review: Halfway to Each Other & The Stuff That Never Happened

In the past few months I've read two books on long-term marriages. Long-term marriages on the rocks, to be specific. As a partner in a long-term marriage, one that's admittedly seen its share of rocks, I was intrigued by the two books that came my way, each with a different look at marriages on the verge of dissolution.

First let me make clear that my marriage is fine; it's definitly not on the verge of dissolution. There are just so many hunka-hunka-burning-love, life-is-rosy-and-blissful books about the excitement of budding romance out there (and I'm not even talking about romance novels!) that it's refreshing to see characters who look like me and live lives similar to mine.

The first book is Halfway to Each Other by Susan Pohlman. It's the true story of a couple who are days away from visiting the divorce lawyer when they decide to give their 18-year marriage one more shot -- by leaving Los Angeles with their teen daughter and pre-teen son to live one year in Italy.

The book is published by Guideposts so I assumed it would be filled with Bible verses and platitudes that might make me gag a bit. I'm a Christian, no doubt about it, but I don't like being bonked over the head with syrupy sweet messages about how grand life is as one of the forgiven. Luckily, Pohlman didn't do anything like that. In fact, I found it quite refreshing the way she shared moments of her marriage that were surprisingly similar to my own, uncomfortable moments such as realizing an innocent remark led to slammed doors and stonewalling. And wondering how the cuss it devolved so quickly. Moments that have nothing to do with being a Christian but everything to do with being real and human and disillusioned with the state of one's primary relationship.

If you've been married very long at all, you've likely experienced the stuff of which Pohlman writes.

The stuff you've likely not experienced, things of which Polhman also writes, are the breathtaking moments that helped heal her marriage and strengthened her relationship with her kids, many courtesy of the people, customs and landscape the ex-pats found in Italy.

I found the balance of the reality of a long-term marriage -- and the honest revelation of the thoughts, feelings and fears of a middle-aged woman -- countered by the novelty of a new environment fascinating, refreshing and uplifting. In a non-saccharine way.

To say that things worked out for the Pohlman's in the end gives nothing away as the subtitle of the book is "How a year in Italy brought our family home." Even knowing the ending, Halfway to Each Other is an excellent read for anyone in a long-term marriage -- one on the rocks or not -- as it points out that sometimes all you may need to freshen things up a bit is a new perspective. 

Fortunately a new perspective doesn't require a trip to Italy -- although wouldn't that be nice!

The second book I read on a similar topic is the novel The Stuff That Never Happened by Maddie Dawson. It, too, takes an unflinching look at a long-term marriage and all the nit-picking that threatens even a seemingly stable 26-year relationship as it heads into the empty-nest phase. (Sound familiar?)

What's not so familiar -- at least not to my marriage -- is that Annabelle McKay, the narrator of the book has a secret: A longing for the man she fell in love with during the first few years of her marriage. That man wasn't her husband, but one with whom she'd had an affair long, long ago.

In the midst of what has become an unfulfilling life, Annabelle reflects on her life-changing affair and the way things might have been. If only ... .

A realistic portrayal of what it's like to be the mother of young adults while struggling with coming to terms with how one's life turned out keeps The Stuff That Never Happened from reading like a romance novel. There's not much romantic about the things Annabelle, her husband or her lover did in the past -- or in the present -- and it was waiting for a realistic resolution of what the future might hold that kept me reading Annabelle's story.

It's not a deep read, but it was an interesting read, for I'd venture to say that each one of us has entertained a few "if only" moments at one time or another, even in the happiest of marriages. I enjoyed reading how Annabelle's "if only" worked out for her.

Click on the book covers for more information on the books. They are NOT affiliate links; I earn nothing by you clicking.