After 20 charmed years together, Laura Munson's husband looked her in the eye and told her he didn't love her any more, and maybe never had. He said he was sick of watching her fail as a writer and wanted a woman without "any baggage." He was moving out - their two young children would understand.
Ms. Munson's response was weirdly calm: "I don't buy it."
Her husband's problem, the Montana woman realized with unusual clarity, was midlife career angst - not her. Refusing a separation, she decided to give him his space, whether that was sleeping in his office, dirt biking with his buddies or getting wasted at one of the 10 bars nearby.
Rather than giving into his aggressive baiting, Ms. Munson focused on her children, domestic rituals and intensive journal writing. After four and a half months - and watching his sister battle cancer - her husband returned to his family, announcing at Thanksgiving that they were all that mattered.
Ms. Munson tells the story in her memoir, This Is Not the Story You Think It Is: A Season of Unlikely Happiness, in stores this week.
She writes that she was able to "ride out the storm" with a deceptively simple philosophy, one she gleaned from the stack of self-help books on her bedside table: People are responsible for their own happiness, which thrives when you stop wanting things outside of your control - including a crisis-free husband.
Ms. Munson first told her story last summer in an essay for The New York Times. Public reaction was heated: Had she been a doormat or a sage? The author spoke with The Globe and Mail.
The title of your book is, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is. What story do we think it is?
This book is not about strategizing to keep your marriage or hold on to your partner. It's more of a philosophy to preserve your own well-being during any crisis.
How did you manage not to take your husband's "disaffection," as you call it, personally and remain stoic as he told he didn't love you any more?
It's one of the worse things we can think of - being told we're unloved by the people that we love - and certainly it was heartbreaking. But my better sense said there's something else here. It wasn't like I just blurted out that statement, "I don't buy it." It was work I'd been doing for a long time as a writer. I had been trying to get published for 20 years and been met with failure - I actually wrote 14 books. I finally got an agent and she was shopping around my first novel and then it fell apart. At the same time, my father died. He was a huge advocate for me and I was very close with him. At that point in 2006, I started realizing how much I was letting things outside my control define my happiness. I decided to say, 'No more, I'm fed up.' When my husband had his own crisis, I recognized it as his own crisis of self, much like the one I'd been through.
At one point, you offer him your joint savings so he can take an adventure, and he replies by bolting out the door to go dirt biking. Another day, he eats your cassoulet without looking at you or the kids and leaves his plate on the table to watch baseball. This person was a 180 from your husband. How did your head not explode?
I knew this man. We'd been together for 20 years. I saw the story that he was telling himself, which was that he was done with this marriage. I just didn't believe that it was true. I saw through those words. … The only thing I could do was step aside and get out of his way, but I didn't feel that we needed to separate. I felt we needed to do that in-house.
Would your veneer have cracked if he had cheated on you?
I don't know. As far as I know, that wasn't what I was dealing with. I was dealing with the truth as it was presented to me. It was about not entertaining those thoughts, but you can bet those thoughts were loud. I felt that my work was to exile those sorts of thoughts and really work with what I had in the moment, which was what I could control, what I could create - that was a big one for me - and what I had to let go of. One of those things was the fear of there being another woman.
What kind of criticism did you encounter for your approach?
I was careful about who I chose in my life to share this with. I chose people who believed in him and believed in us. In terms of the New York Times essay … I got a lot of thanks, and not just from married people. I heard from therapists and Buddhists and ministers and atheists, all sorts of people. Some of the criticism that I read out there felt really reactionary and part of what this whole message is, is to not engage in that kind of reactionary thinking and behaviour. I know we live in such a reactionary society. I think it's a shame that we think we have to fight in order to feel powerful.
You were in a sense rewarded for your grace under fire - your husband came to his senses. What if he had left?
That would've been a different memoir. The whole point of this was that I had to let go of the outcome. Even if he hadn't chosen to rejoin our marriage in an equal, respectful way, I still would consider that time in my life as one of great personal success. It's so powerful to live like that, being responsible for our own happiness. When I say happiness, I don't mean blissed out happiness: sometimes it's just one tiny step out of pain.
Where is your relationship at now? Is his career more fulfilling?
He's starting a green-building company. The minute I let go of being published, of being defined by things outside of my self or the outcome of my marriage, that's when all of this abundance comes in. It blows my mind.