Learning from bad, good examples of marriages

I’d like to make a confession. I watch Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

I know. Don’t judge me until you hear why.

I’m intrigued by many of the housewives shows. I used to watch the ones about the women in Orange County and New York. But these days it’s just the Atlanta version.

To my husband’s dismay, I’m hooked. Whenever he walks in and catches me absorbed in shows I’ve recorded, he turns around in a huff, mumbling about shallow people with grating personalities. In my defense, as I try to talk to the back of his head, I frequently argue that there are lessons to be learned from the materialistic musings of these women.

In particular, I was disturbed about a recent story line involving Kandi Burruss, a singer and businesswoman who technically wasn’t even a housewife. She got married in April to producer Todd Tucker. But leading up to their wedding, the couple fought over the prenuptial agreement Burruss demanded that Tucker sign.

The fighting was ugly. Burruss didn’t seem to want the man she said she loved to walk out of the marriage with anything more than he came in with. If they split, Burruss wanted Tucker out of her mansion within 30 days. And if she died, he would get nothing, according the discussion they had on the show.

When you watch any of the “Real Housewives” shows, you see a lot of emphasis on material things — big rings, brand-name purses, houses, cars — and a lot of unhappy people despite their wealth. Lesson: More money doesn’t mean happily ever after.

Which brings me to the reason I’m telling you this — the next Color of Money Book Club selection. This time I’m reaching a little to pick a book that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with money — but it does offer lessons. I’ve selected “Happy Wives Club” by Fawn Weaver (Nelson Books, $16.99).

Those of us who work with couples fighting about financial issues know that it’s rarely just about the money. It’s often about something else that manifests in overspending, miserly behavior or micromanaging what your spouse spends.

Earlier this year, the National Endowment for Financial Education released the results of a survey about financial infidelity. The organization found that roughly 1 in 3 adults who have combined their finances admitted they had hid a purchase, bank account, statement, bill or cash from their partner or spouse. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of folks who have been deceptive say their actions affected their relationships.

If you think your marriage is in trouble because of money, perhaps you need to examine your relationship.

Are you happy?

If not, what can you do to take the focus off your financial fights, which you assume is the source of your unhappiness?

Here’s a start, read “Happy Wives Club.” Weaver went on a tour of 12 countries to talk to women who were happily married. She started HappyWivesClub.com to counter the negativity we see and hear about marriages.

“The truths at the core of a great marriage are so stunningly simple; we can live by them every day without getting caught up in the little things that rear their ugly heads,” writes Weaver, who has been married for 10 years.

It’s refreshing to read about real housewives who, despite various disagreements, adversities and even infidelity, have found ways for their marriages to work. One chapter, “And It’s All Just Stuff,” Weaver interviews Annett Davis, who competed in beach volleyball in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Money at times has been tight for Davis and her husband and yet they never let the rough financial times affect their marriage.

“We made some poor investment decisions, had foreclosures, and lost all our material possessions,” Davis tells Weaver. “But we never lost us. Our family was not negatively impacted by the loss of stuff. It’s just stuff.”

There is a travelogue feel to Weaver’s book, which makes it a nice summer read. This is not a marriage advice book. It’s not meant to demean or criticize people in bad marriages or who have divorced. It offers insights into the lives of couples who have supported each other to success.

“Sometimes the husband supported the household, and sometimes the wife did,” Weaver writes. “Which spouse brought in more money didn’t matter. The respect and support of one another is what mattered.”

Michelle Singletary: michelle.singletary@washpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group

Online chat

Michelle Singletary will host a live online discussion about “Happy Wives Club” at 9 a.m. Pacific, Aug. 28 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Fawn Weaver will join her to take your questions and talk marriage and money or just about what it takes to be happily married. You can send questions in advance of the online chat to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please put “Happy Wives Club” in the subject line.

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