Before we started reading The Husbands and Wives Club: A Year in the Life of a Couples Therapy Group by Laurie Abraham (based on this NYT mag cover story), we had a number of preconceived notions. (1) Okay, so other people’s therapy might be interesting when Gabriel Byrne plays the therapist on HBO, but real-life couples and real-therapy therapy? It’s a miserable thing to say about other people’s marital troubles, but they can be so boring. (2) Group couples therapy? Isn’t that a little ’70s? (3) Wouldn’t you want to throw yourself off a bridge after a year of being embedded in five couples’ marital misery? Would you ever be able to have happy thoughts about the institution of marriage again?
Turns out we were wrong on all three fronts. First of all, this book reads like a novel. (Though we do recommend making a bookmark for yourself and writing down each couple’s names and major attributes to help you keep track [or just print this out]; at times it feels like a Russian novel with so many protagonists and side plots.) At one point Abraham notes that another book — portraits of couples in the Victoria era — broadens the repertoire of “plots” for couples, adding to the number of models for long-lasting relationships. Abraham’s experience of couples therapy — and, by extension, her book about it — offers the same solace. And “plot” is an apt word — you’ll find yourself racing through the final chapters to find out how each couple turned out. No plot spoilers here (who knew that a book on marital therapy could even be subject to those?); we will just say that there’s more than one way to a happy ending.