Listen to the Marriage: A Novel by John Jay Osborne


“I honestly don’t know, I’d like him to suffer but he seems to be immune to suffering. He seems to always land on his feet.”

Listen to the Marriage made me realize I would make a terrible therapist, I was so fed up with their issues. You can see all the problems from the outside, of course it’s entirely different when you’re in it. This is the story of Gretchen and Steve, their marriage has fallen apart and it isn’t for any one reason, it never is. Sometimes Sandy, the marriage counselor, drove me nuts. She’s meant to be the calm, maintain the gravity but people don’t really love to open up to walls. I know, they’re adults, we are all meant to be very mature when dissecting our mistakes, seeing the obstructions we place in our own lives, but old hurts, old behaviors are hard to conquer. Steve and Gretchen betray each other with affairs, they want to give up and yet both are still clinging. Gretchen feels nothing ever really lands on Steve, nothing affects him as it does her. Take their children, for example, he certainly treats them as if he is babysitting when it’s his turn (that is a very common complaint women have, at least my generation).  Naturally the children are pawns,  happens in so many separations and divorces, which makes it a step in the right direction they are in therapy.

Gretchen isn’t perfect, Steve is sort of on a cliff and she seems undecided, do I want him, do I want to end it. She is wounded, and she wants him to feel pain too, it shouldn’t be easy for him to just be forgiven and he gets his marriage and family as is. Who the heck wants to be the victim all the time? She holds the power, though, and he is trying, he does want to change. Steve hasn’t really ever had a chance, nor a reason, to be a better more involved father. This is a chance for him to be present, and when it begins to work she gets scared.

How many marriages could be saved if people could learn to understand their own behavior patterns and each others? It’s a lot of humble pie partners have to swallow, a lot of wrongs each person must own to get past all the wreckage. Is it possible for Steve and Gretchen to remain together, or if it ends, to do so without destroying their children and each other?

I was admittedly sick and tired of the couple, I know there is an important lesson here, learning to listen to my spouse’s needs, not simply my own. Fair is a hilarious word in marriage as much as in life. When exactly has fair ever played into anything? Most of us figure out early on tit for tat gets you nowhere, there is aways fall out. A balanced marriage isn’t an easy thing, both partners have to be willing and present. Even when we ‘know thyself’ and understand why we do what we do, we are creatures of habit and it’s hard to break old ways. When you try to, sometimes your wife/husband won’t let you, because they have seen you as being one way for so long that it’s hard from them to trust the new you, or give you room to grow.  Gretchen does that with Steve as much as he belittles her as a person.

Women often feel furious their husband isn’t helping enough as a father all the while refusing to let him take the reins. We often want it done our way, not his. The other side of the coin, what to do if your partner isn’t interested much in parenting? Therapy can’t always fix everyone, some people just aren’t willing. Luckily that’s not the case with Steve and Gretchen, both equally screwing up their family and yet both still wanting it to work, maybe.

If you want to play therapist, this is for you. Taking place in office visits, Sandy guides Steve and Gretchen through marital counseling. I wanted to divorce them both at times, but I also understood each side. Are we all this difficult, self-righteous and self-centered? It’s so hard to see ourselves, isn’t it? We all have our own level of ridiculous.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux






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