If you were to ask one of Julie Anne Fidler's friends what has defined her young marriage thus far, "chaos" is the likely answer. Julie got the flu on her honeymoon and a week later her groom had emergency double knee surgery. "Frankly, I think this set the tone for several years to come," Julie writes in her book about their matrimonial misadventures.
ADVENTURES IN HOLY MATRIMONY is a unique and welcome addition to the pantheon of marriage literature. In it Fidler recounts the rough and tumble first few years of her marriage to Scott --- a marriage that stood on the brink of divorce and, happily, remains intact. But this is no fairy tale.
"I had these grandiose dreams about marriage, which were not entirely unlike the dreams of any other young woman. I had my entire wedding planned out by the time I was twelve, right down to the flavor of the filling in the cake. (It was raspberry and it was delicious.) Every love song on the radio evoked that first dance…
Sure you can have a beautiful marriage, but it's not all wine and roses. I can't tell you how many people tried to warn us that it wasn't always going to be a dream come true. We just didn't want to listen. Anyone who told us anything other than what we wanted to hear was promptly shut out and dismissed as trying to ruin the great thing we had…
We should have listened.
It turned out that married life was a trial by fire. We went from whispering sweet nothings into each other's ears at the reception to practically wringing each other's necks in the bedroom."
Fidler goes on to explain that her husband's medical condition, essentially super high levels of iron in his blood, began to affect his ability to have sex almost immediately after their wedding. That caused frustration for both of them, physical communication broke down, and other forms of communication quickly followed. Scott got sicker. Jobs were lost. Surgeries were had. Bills piled up. And the newlyweds drifted apart.
On top of these "external" forces pulling them apart, Julie and Scott were also carrying a fair amount of internal baggage in the form of difficult childhoods, different sexual histories and shared sexual missteps, and bipolar disorder. These "internal" forces also worked against the union and Julie shares them all with a refreshing honesty.
ADVENTURES IN HOLY MATRIMONY isn't your typical "rah-rah" book about marriage. It's actually a lot more useful (and hopeful) than most of those books. The problems in the Fidler marriage aren't sanitized or presented in a certain light just so they can be neatly resolved at the end. And because of that, anyone in a less-than-perfect marriage is going to recognize themselves here and take away this message: if Julie and Scott are making it work, my partner and I can too.
That's the hope part. The useful part comes in the form of reflection questions at the end of each chapter and practical advice on things like newlywed finances and what it will really take to patch the holes in troubled relationships.
Julie and Scott's relationship might be atypical to some extent. Perhaps most couples experience a more serene "honeymoon phase." They certainly have dealt with a confluence of very specific ailments. But for those facing rough matrimonial seas (or for those considering marriage), ADVENTURES IN HOLY MATRIMONY is an optimistic, yet frank, friend.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on June 1, 2005