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The Marriage in Trouble Trope: Love Is Hard Work

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I’m not sure how I came across this article about Olivia Wilde.  I’m not a fan of hers and wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a pretty actress line up.  But in an interview with Marie Claire, Wilde spoke about her divorce. “I don’t think love should be work,” she said.  She acknowledged that her parents, married 35 years told her that marriage was hard work, but “When the relationship becomes about working to make it work, it’s lost that beauty and that optimistic bohemian sense that brought us together.”

Unlike Wilde, I see beauty in the relationships that persevere and it is one reason why I like marriage in trouble romances.

Broken marriages come in all shapes in romance.  They are created through immaturity, sometimes through indifference, and even through cruelty.  In Erin McCarthy’s Hot Finish (reviewed here), Suzanne and Ryder’s marriage broke up because of a lack of communication and fear. Suzanne was insecure and married to a celebrity racecar driver whose default setting and “on” setting is laconic, those fears of self worth were heightened.  She began to lash out and Ryder, obtuse and unobservant, lacked any meaningful response.   The situation exacerbated until neither was happy and they divorced.  Two years of being within the same social circle, however, brings the two to the realization that their connection hasn’t been severed, only strained and because of their desire to begin anew, they begin to communicate in ways that they hadn’t before.

Perhaps the modern queen of the marriage in trouble trope is Sherry Thomas.  In Not Quite a Husband and PrivateArrangements, Thomas explores long time separations between married couples in the late 19th century.  In Private Arrangements, the duke perceived his newly obtained duchess deceived and abused his regard for her.  He leaves her and they live apart, literally separated by an ocean, for almost a decade until the duchess petitions for divorce.  In Not Quite a Husband, the heroine and hero made an improbable match.  She was barren, a surgeon, older.  He was a celebrity of sorts, well favored, younger. Yet they were so much in love until the heroine discovered something about the hero that ruined their marriage and they too spent several years physically and emotionally distant.

In both stories, the characters had to learn forgiveness both of themselves and each other.  Perhaps the greatest character trait they acquired in separation was tolerance. I asked Sherry Thomas what she thought about the Marriage in Trouble trope:

It is not marriages-in-trouble that interest me so much as disillusionment, which is a major theme in my writing, even when there is not a glimmer of a marriage is sight. We as a society have celebrated falling in love for a long time. But as anyone who’s been in a longterm relationship–the end goal of romance–can testify, the initial infatuation is the easy part. There are probably a few couples who never leave that state of pink hazy happy glow, but for the vast majority of us, it is what we do after the initial infatuation has worn off that determines the longevity of our relationships.

I’m a firm believer that disillusionment is not only something that can be dealt with, but a good thing. It means you look at your beloved not with lust-goggles, but realistically; not as an extension of yourself and your own wants and needs, but as a person in his/her own right. But it is not easy to arrive at that point of zen. Can you deal with another person’s flaws? Can you understand that it is by the same discomfiting process that they are dealing with your flaws? Cuz chances are, no matter whom you end up with, you’ll have to go through these stages.

So I explore these questions in my books, with much huger kinds of disillusionment than folks normally encounter. But the process is the same. Characters who first think of each other as all kinds shiny and perfect realize that holy cow, not only are they not perfect, they are all kinds of problematic. They sulk. They agonize. And then they man/woman up and say, “You know what, you are not perfect–and neither am I. I still love you and want to commit to you and I hope you feel the same way.”

And that makes me happy.

In Beth Andrews’ Feels Like Home, the heroine is a completely different person than who she was when she first met and then married the hero.  She had tried to be the perfect southern belle daughter and then the perfect beauty queen wife, but inside she felt empty and powerless and so she left her husband. In the period leading to their reconciliation, the heroine is sorry that she hurt her husband, the hero, but that she didn’t regret leaving him.

Tightening his hold on her, he yanked her to him. She pressed her palms against his chest, and could feel his heart beating strongly. “You left,” he growled, lifting her to her toes. “You. Left.”

“And you can’t forgive me. You want to stay angry, that’s your choice. You want to put the failure of our marriage squarely on my shoulders? I’ll carry that burden, because I did leave. You want honesty?” she cried hotly. “You want the truth? Leaving you was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was also the best decision of my life.”

The heroine had changed and thus, in order for their marriage to work the second time, the hero had to not only accept the change but fall in love with a different person.

In all marriage in trouble stories, I am looking for the author to convince me that these two individuals that the characters have learned from their past mistakes, grown as individuals, and still love what the person has become.  I particular like seeing how an author can bring that couple back together again without a near death experience or reveal of a big secret.

Most romance stories end at the beginning of the happy ever after.  The marriage in trouble explores what happens during the ever after.  It’s the struggle and hard work that make these stories beautiful, contrary to what Ms. Wilde may think about love, marriage and beauty.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

61 Comments

  1. Jan Oda
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 05:36:32

    I love, love love this trope. Loved the Sherry Thomas books, and I’m going to check out the others mentioned here. Any other recommendations?

    I know I read a very poignant category romance where the couple grew apart because they dealt with the death of their child differently and couldn’t communicate with each other about that. Very sad and moving, but I can’t seem to recall the title and I’m not at home to look it up.

  2. Sonya
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 06:18:18

    I started Beth Andrews’ Feels Like Home about an hour ago, and I’m really enjoying it so far. I’m still at the stage where the hero refuses to give in for anything, but am looking forward to seeing it happen.

    Are we saying reunion romances are the same as or different to marriage in trouble romances? I love reunions because often there was a very legitimate reason for the marriage to break up.
    Take Cindy Gerard’s To the Brink. The hero killed a man to protect his wife, and then their marriage just disintegrated. Of course there was a lot more to it than that, but there really wasn’t a way they could have survived back then. Seeing them reunite was a great experience.

    I find this trope so satisfying because there seems to be no value to a romance that can be achieved without any work.

    That actress is someone I’ve never seen or heard of before. I ignore Hollywood, and find most of the stuff those people have to say is not worth listening to.

  3. Sonya
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 06:23:16

    Was the book Terms of Surrender by Kylie Brant?

    I loved that one.

  4. Ros
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 06:38:53

    I love the marriage in trouble trope, too. For me, the happiest of happy endings are the ones that have really been worked hard for.

  5. Mari
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 06:43:07

    Have always found attitudes like Ms Wilde’s incredibly immature. Wow, marriage isn’t fun anymore, welcome to grown-upville,sounds like your stay will be short! That part in the vows, which says “for worse?”, sometimes means for worse and for worse and for worse…re. Romance books, if I have the sense the couple can’t weather for worse, there is no romance and the book failed.

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 06:54:45

    I so agree with you, and when this is done properly, it’s a fabulous trope.
    In the “Bad Blood” series from Harlequin, Janette Kenney’s “Illegitimate Tycoon” is a great example of this. (They might give it a different name when it comes out in the US). The couple are attractive, in love, still married, but they both lead busy, demanding lives and they can’t fit each other in. There’s a lot of growth in this book, which I think is essential for a believable “reunited” romance.

  7. Arloa
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 06:58:55

    I have to say that I can’t stand the marriage in trouble trope, mostly because it is incredibly difficult to get me to believe that whatever the problem was won’t come back to bite the couple in the a$$ again later — I say this because I’ve been married for 20 years and there are certain things, some pretty big, that keep coming up and getting “solved,” coming up and getting “solved,” etc. I’ve read a few that I liked, but I generally avoid this trope like the plague.

  8. Sharon
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 07:04:20

    Food for thought. Thank you!

  9. Jaclyn
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 07:11:50

    Something I appreciate in the marriage in trouble stories is that characters have faced problems (in their marriage, sometimes from external sources, too) that have caused them to grow and develop. These stories often offer characters who’ve faced/are facing emotional demons and that adds depth to them.

    A short-story erotic romance in this trope is Anne Calhoun’s Fight Fair. The couple has just begun marriage counseling, which clues the hero into the depth of the rift in their marriage and he stops and realizes just how much he loves his wife.

    Eloise James wrote a troubled marriage story, Your Wicked Ways. The hero was an arisocrat scoundrel artist (music composer). It’s been a long time since I read it.

  10. Amy Kathryn
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 07:33:08

    I think the reason I like this trope and also marriage of convenience stories is that so much time is spent on character development. In good ones, the H/h have to really explore what makes themselves and their partner tick in order to find or refind the love and respect that will contribute to their HEA.

  11. Kati
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 07:40:38

    My parents celebrated 54 years of marriage last month. They consistently modeled a hard working, dedicated marriage to my siblings and me. I once asked my mom why their marriage worked so well. Her response? “The most important relationship in my life isn’t with my children. I’d lay my life down for any of you, but my most important relationship is with your dad. And it’s the one I must keep foremost in my mind, and work the hardest at.” Hard words to hear as a cherished child, but as I head into my second marriage next year, I’ll try to keep them foremost in my mind.

    On to the actual subject:

    I adore marriages in trouble storylines, because generally the couple has an interesting past, and must by definition work to overcome real obstacles in order to get their HEA. That works for me.

  12. Keishon
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 07:55:29

    Agree with Kati above. I…love this trope. Love it, love it, love it. I go out of my way to find books with this trope. In fact you should, pretty please, put on your to do list a If You Like Marriage In Trouble stories….so we can get some recommendations. The Marriage in trouble trope is appealing for the reasons you and others have stated. It’s remembering why you fell in love in the first place while at the same time appreciating the person as an individual, accepting growth within the marriage, and reaffirming that emotional bond. I’ve always heard that a good marriage does takes work (Chris Rock said so anyway and while I’m mentioning him I hope he’s still married).

    Hmmm, when I think of this trope, a few good books come to mind. Kathleen Eagle’s Reason To Believe (not digitized), marriage in trouble because of alcoholism. Curtiss Ann Matlock wrote a good one and it’s available in digital format for $4.00, Love In A Small Town (she also has a good book called The Loves of Ruby Dee, btw). Two became distant,etc. Kathleen Gilles Seidel wrote one that I read last year, early category, When Love Isn’t Enough (OOP paperback), marriage in trouble because husband and wife are workaholics.

  13. Chelsea Spencer
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 08:31:22

    I haven’t read to many “marriage in trouble” books, but I like it when I find it. Relationships take a lot of work. Lots of problems arise between couples because they don’t understand this. They think if they fight sometimes, that something is wrong with them. And if they have to work things out, that means they aren’t really in love anymore. So not true. If your going to stay together, you have to be willing to grow and evolve as individuals and as a couple.

  14. LG
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 08:44:16

    Still, there are perfectly valid reasons for not liking the trope. While I wouldn’t avoid a book for having this trope, I probably wouldn’t seek it out, primarily because I read romance for enjoyment and fantasy, and this trope tends to be more grounded in real life than I’d like. For me, whether I would read and enjoy a book with this trope would probably depend on why the marriage is in trouble.

  15. Eliza Evans
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:07:03

    Marriage in trouble is probably my favorite trope, honestly. Love characters who have a big history to deal with, as opposed to those who are making the big history.

    Like someone said above, I would love a recommendation list of MIT books. I also agree that Sherry Thomas does a bang-up job with this one.

  16. May
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:38:38

    I don’t seek out marriage in trouble, but it is a good trope if done right. It *IS* work just like any relationship!! It takes nurturing and effort and understanding – and you have to want it. All relationships take work- perhaps in the beginning it’s more entertaining… but it’s work. Silly to think otherwise.

    I just read Lord & Lady Spy by Shana Galen (comes out next month) and that was an excellent tale of married people who work on a second chance, and real lasting relationship.

    Gerard does have a good one (or two?) second chance type, and while my mind is blanking at the moment I know I’ve enjoyed both historical and contemporary with this trope.

  17. sula
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:44:49

    Hmm, I have mixed feelings on this trope. When done well, it can really work. However, when the separation between the h/h includes infidelity (even if done when they were apart with no apparent future), I find that I cannot forgive and forget and believe the eventual coming-back-together.

  18. dick
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:46:44

    I agree with the poster who suggested that this trope makes a book fall closer to chick lit than romance. Romance almost requires a couple to wear blinders for a while, to encounter their “mate,” to revel in the first excitements of love. How can a fairy tale exist without the fantasy?

  19. Amy
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:51:01

    insightful.

  20. Sunita
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 09:56:09

    I love this trope. Working through the nuts and bolts of a relationship after you’ve fallen deeply in love may not be as “romantic,” but there’s something so satisfying about watching a couple come out the other side stronger and more knowledgeable about themselves and each other. And in each sub-genre I read (historical, contemporary, m/m) the conflicts and the resolution are slightly different.

    I also immediately thought of the Seidel book Keishon mentioned. Hard to read in some ways but worth it.

  21. KB/KT Grant
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 10:29:51

    My parents will be married 39 years this fall and they have had so many ups and downs and have stayed together. They are friends most of all, which I think is an important aspect in marriage.

    Marriage isn’t always easy and love doesn’t necessarily fix things. A relationship takes hard work and sacrifice.

    One of my favorite marriage in trouble books was Marie Force’s Line of Scrimmage. It was a very funny and emotional book that I recommend.

    Unfortunately for me, marriage is not in the cards, but I do love reading about the H/H working on making their relationship work and hopefully if the author has done it right I can believe these two characters will be committed to one another forever.

  22. library addict
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 11:20:48

    I love the marriage in trouble trope, too. I’ll second or third Cindy Gerard’s To the Brink. It was believable to me why their marriage fell apart even though they still loved one another, but more importantly, I also believed they had each changed enough to be confident they had a true HEA the second time around.

    I also liked Nora Robert’s Birthright, Jennifer Greene’s Just Like Old Times, Judith Duncan’s Better Than Before, Karen Templeton’s A Husband’s Watch, Linda Winstead Jones’ Madigan’s Wife, and Rachel Lee’s Point of No Return. I’m brain dead today so blanking on other examples, but I know I’ve got others on my keeper shelf.

    What makes the trope work is when both the h/h make the effort to communicate and change. It doesn’t work for me when one character (be it the hero or heroine) is cast as the one totally at fault for the breakup.

  23. Lynnd
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 11:27:17

    My mom and dad were married for 53 years when my dad died and my aunt and uncle are approaching their 61st wedding anniversary this year. They taught me that anything worth having is worthing working hard to achieve, especially a good marriage. My husband and I have been married for 15 years and it has definitely been worth the effort we put into it every single day.

    I also like marriage in trouble and reconciliation stories because, to me, they show that the couple is able to work through all the messiness and the ups and downs of a relationship to come out stronger on the other side.

  24. Lynnd
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 11:28:41

    Oh, I meant to include that Sherry Thomas’ Not Quite a Husband is one of my favourites.

  25. Las
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 11:39:27

    I’m not a fan of the trope, Sherry Thomas’ books being the exceptions that prove the rule. And that just might be because her stories are more about reunions than fixing existing relationships. Much easier to forgive after some time and distance.

    I know this makes no sense considering I’m such a romance fan, but I don’t believe that the length of a marriage counts for much. Pretty much all the long-term marriages I know of IRL have lasted because, when it comes right down to it, they don’t believe there are any other options. Tell me you’ve been married 40 years, and I’ll think, “Wow, you must have a very high tolerance for bullshit!” (Yes, there’s a whole lot of cultural baggage behind that belief.) Wilde’s comments might sound immature, but I really do believe that there comes a point when many marriages are all about working because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re married, rather than truly wanting to be together. And if they only reason to stay married is for marriage’s sake, then what’s the point? Saying you’ve been married for double-digit years? Why is that in itself a worthy accomplishment?

  26. Jan Oda
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 12:08:16

    Nope, the guy was a car racer, and the heroine worked in a diner I think. Definitely not a suspense.

  27. Vonda Sinclair
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 12:09:09

    Wonderful post! I love the reunion or marriage-in-trouble stories. They’re a bit different from a normal romance story. Variety is good. Plus it allows for exploring emotional pain, past baggage, forgiveness and a lot of other things I find interesting. I love to see the healing power of love in action. It is also wonderful when two people can’t forget each other, or stop loving each other, no matter the time and distance apart. These can be very rewarding and touching reads.

  28. Joanna K.
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 12:26:54

    I’m so picking up Beth Andrews’ Feels Like Home. I admit I’m fond of romance novels where the couple were lovers/married before and are given a second chance at love…without the big elephant in the room (in my case, infidelity as the cause of the breakup).

    It would be interesting to see the hero fall in love with his wife all over again, albeit changed and independent. :)

  29. John
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 12:58:20

    This trope is one that I really like to read about. While it definitely doesn’t explore the journey people associate with romance novels – meeting and falling in love – it focuses on a different kind of romance that’s still quite realistic. I personally think that the exploration of the romance post-marriage/dating is so much more intensive. Real relationships are always work. I see it in high school and in my own life all the time. Relationships with friends, boyfriends, husbands, ect. There’s always hot issues and things that could tear you apart.

    What’s great about the marriage-in-trouble trope is that is shows people that those problems don’t necessarily mean the end of being in love or the end of a romance. It’s just a part of working to keep the relationship and the love alive. It also works because the romance you have inside a marriage/relationship is so different from the romance you get first off. It’s a little grittier and deeper because of your history with the person, but the moment that you realize it’s worth it is maybe even more romantic than the initial realization of love.

    I’ll be watching this thread for recommendations. :)

  30. Nicole
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 15:06:47

    I really like this type of story, as long as it’s not one of those “huge misunderstanding thing.” I HATE, HATE, HATE it when the main characters are separated for years over something that ended up not being true (such as the ever popular “I thought you were sleeping with your boss/secretary”. Also, how come it’s always her boss and his secretary? Moving on…

    Anyway, I’m much more interested when an estrangement has a more solid basis. Maybe they married too young, like the former 18-year-old bride Olivia Wilde, or maybe they just grew apart. I like the perspective of Feels Like Home (which I haven’t yet read), where the heroine feels that the period of separation was good for her personal growth. I don’t want to read about people who are going to spend the rest of their days feeling bad about the time that they spent apart.

  31. shuzluva
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 15:27:14

    I like this trope when done right; as Sherry Thomas has managed to do. I can’t agree with Ms. Wilde’s attitude. True love, the deep, everlasting, yes there’s magical sparkles floating around, takes massive amounts of work.

    Yeah, I’ve been married 11 years come September, and there are still magical sparkles. But to make those fireworks takes a lot of set up.

  32. SonomaLass
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 16:02:38

    My favorite thing about marriage in trouble or reunion romances is that they can feel very real while still having the beauty of romance. Some romance HEAs leave me wondering if they aren’t more HFNs because I’m not convinced this couple will survive the inevitable ups and downs.

    This may be my age and personal experience talking. I’ve experienced marriage that didn’t work, due largely to an inability to sustain the romance in the face of real life. I am also lucky to have found a partner who understands and embraces real commitment and the kind of love Sherry Thomas talks about — accepting each other’s imperfections, knowing that neither of you is perfect nor is expected to be so.

  33. Emily
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 18:17:12

    I love the Trope and seek it out. I think I loved Cindy Gerard’s “To the Brink” because the beginning was so typical romance (falling in love in a short period) then when the heavy stuff drew them apart, then back together and you saw the change that would make it possible for reunion.

    @Las, I’m not married and I’ve never had a long-term relationship (I’m 23 so I’m not worried quite yet), but my parents have been married for 27 years. I’ve seen their ups and downs and maybe at one point your main concern in staying together is your children, or what people think, or finances. I think the point of sustaining a marriage is to enjoy each other’s company at every stage of life, have a person who supports you and is your best friend, and to enjoy milestones (grandchildren, children marrying and achievements) with someone who feels what you feel. There are stages and I think if my parents would have given up on marriage they wouldn’t be having the fun they’re having now as empty-nesters.

  34. SonomaLass
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 18:48:50

    My parents celebrated 51 years of marriage before my father died. They were best friends and lovers the whole time. It wasn’t always easy, but they were always first with each other. The last time I saw my dad, two days before he died of cancer, her was sitting in his hospital bed, holding hands with my mom, watching PBS. All his hair had fallen out, he was swollen and in pain, and yet the look in their eyes when she kissed him hello and good-bye ( every time she entered or left the room), or when they shared a look over something on the television, was to me the epitome of real love.

  35. Kaye55
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 19:07:47

    I just finished, and loved, Jeannie London’s “The Hisband Lesson” a Harlequin SuperRomance. It begins with the h/h having been divorce for 5 years and making their way back again.

    I think this trope really brings out character developement and personal growth story arcs. I find it refreshing and..I gues the word I am looking for is ‘mature’.

  36. Kaye55
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 19:09:05

    Jeez…let’s make that “The Husband Lesson”. All hisbands are off the hook

  37. Ridley
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 19:20:42

    I’ve never liked the “love/marriage is work” yarn either. Work is something you dread doing. It’s washing the dishes, scrubbing the toilets or showing up at the office. It’s something time-consuming that you do because you have to.

    If my marriage ever starts to feel like that, it’s time to move on. I don’t want a marriage of duty or attrition. My own parents split after 10 years of marriage, and it was a great decision for them both. They’re such great friends to this day that my dad’s girlfriend gets jealous of my mom. My in-laws, meanwhile, have stayed married because, well, because, and they make each other miserable and everyone around them feel awkward. Hard work is not its own reward.

  38. Las
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 19:30:18

    I don’t doubt for a second that many people are truly happy after being married for so long, but, along with the hard work of maintaining a relationship, there’s a lot of luck involved. Two different people, with different personalities and experiences, who each change over the years…that they manage to stay compatible and mostly happy and in love requires a hell of a lot of luck. Sure a couple can last just from pure stick-to-it-ness, but that’s one of the reasons I’m so happy to be born when I was and not 60 years ago–we don’t have to do that anymore.

    And that’s why I have a problem with Wilde’s comments being brushed off as immature and naive, and why my first instinct is to reject the implication that marriages that fail do so because people aren’t willing to work hard enough…it’s ignoring the fact that not everyone gets lucky, and it implies that there’s something wrong with refusing to be a martyr. And I think there’s nothing less romantic than martyrdom.

  39. Las
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 19:35:32

    My parents divorced when I was 18 after 25 years of marriage, and I still wished they had divorced when I was a child. There was no violence or yelling or anything like that, but I just knew from a very young age that my parents were together because of us kids and because there was just no “reason” to get divorced.

    That’s why, while I’m willing to work to make my relationships work, there is definite limit to just how long those stretches of work last.

  40. Ridley
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 19:42:48

    I’m willing to say love and marriage take effort, but not work. You put effort into a flower garden, knitting or a dinner party. That’s how my marriage is, anyway. If staying together starts to become less like dividing perennials and more like cleaning up cat puke, it’s run its course.

  41. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 19:56:57

    Well, having had both long and short relationships, I can honestly say that long is best. You get more fun, more togetherness and the sex just improves the more you practice. Move from man to man and you’ll get the butterfly effect – lots of tastes, but you don’t really get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes it takes work, like when one partner has a family bereavement, or there’s a redundancy at work, that kind of thing. Then you have to step up but you know your partner will do it for you. You have to take the long view. But I like Ridley’s word for it. Effort.

  42. Kaetrin
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 20:46:53

    I love this trope. There is something very satisfying about seeing a couple work out a second HEA. I love the Sherry Thomas books but I haven’t read the Beth Andrews (yet). I’m going to have to cobble together a list of all the recommendations on the list so I can add them to my (massive) TBR.

  43. Robin/Janet
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 20:50:26

    I love, love, love the marriage in trouble trope, and find it completely appropriate to genre Romance, because the elements are the same as for unmarried couples (attraction, courtship, attachment, commitment).

    But with MIT scenarios, you get a couple who already has a history, and so I think you can get to the emotional depth much more quickly, which can result in a much more believable emotional bond and commitment to lasting happiness. With books getting shorter and shorter, I am often unconvinced when a couple who barely knows each other has to move quickly from acquaintance to HEA.

    Tom and Sharon Curtis wrote a great MIT, Testimony, in which the husband returns from a 6 month stint in prison for failing to reveal a journalistic source, and his experience, as well as the separation, has imperiled his marriage. It’s a very unique story, IMO.

    I also loved Pam Rosenthal’s The Slightest Provocation, Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite A Husband, and Mirrors and Mistakes by Kethleen Gilles Seidel. Oh, and Michelle Reid’s Gold Ring of Betrayal. I know there are more, but those are the ones I thought of right away. I remember a LaVyrle Spencer MIT story, as well, but can’t remember the title (hero gets heroine pregnant and has to marry her; IIRC there’s quite a class difference between them, too).

  44. Na
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 21:30:53

    Yes, love is hard work but the best things in life usually are. For love, I am willing to work for it because it is so worthwhile and meaningful when it works out. Sherry Thomas is a new author for me but I am going to add her books to my TBR pile.

  45. Sherry Thomas
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 21:42:59

    Jane’s request for comments came last night and I banged out a few paragraphs in between revising other stuff.

    But now that I’ve sat on it for a day, I realized I forgot to make an important point: I think when a couple overcome a great obstacle and manage to stay together, they love each other more. Love builds with time and trust and common purpose.

    (This is not to say every couple under the sun should try to stay together. My parents divorced after only 5 years of marriage and that was a good decision for them. But I am immeasurably glad that I remained married to the same dude.)

  46. Ridley
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 23:07:25

    Separate Beds?

  47. Janine
    Aug 09, 2011 @ 23:43:54

    Yes, that has to be Separate Beds, Robin.

  48. Ivy
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 00:54:47

    I love the marriage in trouble trope also. I like to see how they work out their disillusionment and differences to reach their HEA. The Beth Andrews sounds like a good read. The fact that she’s changed so much should make it even better.

  49. Isabel C.
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 06:53:38

    Right, this. It’s also an individual preference, I think.

    My parents and grandparents, and my friends in long term relationships, do work at keeping love going, and it is beautiful.

    Me? I look for the exit when a guy starts being too much trouble–I already *have* a job.

    Also, what Las says.

  50. Eileen
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 07:10:29

    Las & Ridley – I agree with you both about “work” in relationships. I hate when I hear people say that relationships take tons of work. Maybe my idea of “work” is different than what other people mean when they say it. I can’t help but think that if a relationship is taking a lot of work all the time then something is seriously wrong. I like the word “effort” much better. I’ve been happily married for ten years so I know what it is to sustain a good relationship. If mine ever becomes nothing but “work” all the time then it will be time to reassess. Effort is fine but work is not. I didn’t find the actress’s comments to be so immature.

    As for the MIT trope, I don’t go out of my way to find it but I have certainly enjoyed books with it.

  51. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 09:19:14

    I love this trope to pieces. My favorite Eloisa James novel, An Affair Before Christmas, features it. I’m sure there are tons of others I’ve read but I’m drawing a blank. I agree that Sherry Thomas does it well. I also agree with her comment #38.

    My husband and I just celebrated our 10 yr. anniversary last week so this is a timely topic for me. I wouldn’t say that our marriage has been constant work, but we’ve hit some rough patches. Having kids can add stress and emphasize the weak points in any relationship. That happened with us. The fact that we got through it makes me appreciate the good times so much more.

    I’ve also seen many marriages of close friends end up in divorce in recent years. This doesn’t make me feel superior–everyone’s situation is different–but it does make me hug my husband a little tighter.

  52. Maggie
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 10:13:02

    I recently read a non-[obvious]-Romance called “What Alice Forgot” and was just thinking about this very thing!

    I picked up “What Alice Forgot” because, frankly, Borders is going out of business and it was $10…for a hardcover. Anyway, I digress. The book is about a woman who is happily married to the man of her dreams and expecting a baby, when she wakes up in her spin class after passing out and hitting her head and finds out she has can’t remember the last ten years of her life, she’s actually 39, not 29, the child she was pregnant with is 10 and a brat, she has two more she can’t remember, and her idyllic marriage is headed towards divorce.

    Though the book deals with all these issues, the most interesting is how the heroine navigates through her marriage thinking that just a second ago, she was crazy in love with this person that she is now supposed to hate. The author did this well, I think, because, she focused on the “fixing” part as opposed to the “past recriminations” part – which, of course, the heroine didn’t know about.

    Anyway, the point of my little diatribe is that, this was an interesting way to deal with a marriage-falling-apart story.

  53. DianeN
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 13:33:45

    For the most part I try to avoid marriage in trouble stories. I like the “getting to know you” stuff a lot, and a couple that’s been married and broken up or are still married don’t get to experience that in the same way, even though they do fall in love again. I think the fact that I have a failed marriage in my past has a lot to do with my aversion to the trope. OTOH, I generally enjoy stories in which 2 people who knew each other or were boyfriend and girlfriend years ago get together. Seems like this happens all the time in contemporary romances, since going home again after years away is one of the staples of the genre. I even wrote one of those myself once upon a time!

  54. JenM
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 17:19:27

    This is probably one of my favorite tropes, mainly because it usually lends itself to stories with lots of emotional intensity which I love. I’ll definitely be checking out some of the recommendations in this thread. I’d have to say that Sherry Thomas’ two books mentioned above are two of my favorites, especially Not Quite a Husband.

    Another book that I read recently that I loved was Seducing the Duchess by Ashley March. One of the things that struck me in that one was that about 3/4 of the way through the book, the hero finally came to the realization that he’d been manipulating his wife all along, so no wonder she didn’t trust him when he now declared his love to her. I felt like he really had changed and gained some self-awareness and therefore they had a decent shot at an HEA. Without real change on the characters’ parts (as in real life), they are just as likely to break up a second time and the HEA isn’t realistic to me.

  55. Keri Ford
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 19:56:31

    I picked up Contentment by Margaret Etheridge because she’s a friend and writes for my publisher, so I was mostly reading it for curiosity sake.

    But, I’m SO GLAD I read it. It’s a marriage on the rocks story. If you like this troupe, check it out. I had a few problems keeping up as the story flipped from the “flush” of their first romance to after 20years of marriage and where their issues had risen to a head. You got to see why they fell in love and where their problems (minor at first) began to build, to both of them being completely unhappy.

    I couldn’t put the book down because it was such a strong emotional book. The heroine’s character and her problems was something I could really identify with. Her thoughts and confusion and of being lost really hit me hard in the chest. And the hero was just the same. He wanted so much for their marriage to work, but didn’t know what to do but hang on best he could.

    Their issues weren’t created over night and they weren’t solved overnight either. That was something else I really appreciated.

  56. SonomaLass
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 20:34:07

    I like “effort” better than “work,” too. The rewards from a long-term relationship are definitely different — better in my opinion, but I don’t pretend that’s universal.

    My dad told me once that he asked himself the same question every morning that he asked the morning after the wedding: did I do the right thing, marrying this woman? The answer was always yes.

    In romance, I have to believe the couple is better together than apart. Some MIT plots have failed for me on that count. I think there’s a difference in context, too; in a contemporary romance, I need to know why they are still trying, or trying again, in practical terms. In historical romance, I’m more focused on the emotional side.

  57. Jennifer
    Aug 10, 2011 @ 21:30:06

    When done well, the marriage in trouble trope can be a lot of fun to read. But I have to be convinced that a. there were good reasons for the couple to fall in love and marry, b. there were LOGICAL reasons for the break-up (none of this “I saw you talking to my hated enemy so obviously the two of you are having an affair and I’m going to flounce out without talking to you!”) and c. I need to see character growth and plausible growth at that, to justify the two of them getting back together. I’ve read one or two where one person had (or virtually) had an affair while still married and I didn’t buy the reconciliation – and in one case the wife was too kind/sympathetic to the other woman – “I know you couldn’t help it – he’s just wonderful!”

  58. Loosheesh
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 11:14:40

    I don’t seek out MIT books but if the book description grabs me and/or I get a recommendation, I’m game.

    And speaking of recommendations, thanks for mentioning Sherry Thomas; I finished Not Quite a Husband yesterday and LOVED it! I will be trying Private Arrangements soon (along with Gold Ring of Betrayal – Michelle Reid is one of my favorite HP authors).

  59. Jane
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 14:50:44

    Hey folks. Great comments and interesting perspectives from those who aren’t fans of the trope as well.

    I read the Cindy Gerard book on the recommendation of the commenters and while I liked it, I felt like I got cheated by not seeing the point where the marriage fell apart. We had so many flashbacks and not to actually experience the divorce and how that played out was a real let down.

    Another reader recommended A Whirlwind Marriage by Helen Brooks and I was really surprised, pleasantly, about how modern in tone the story was. I’ve read many Brooks’ books and she has a pretty conservative tone to them (driven career women are often referred to with some amount of opposition). The heroine in this book was tired of just sitting at home, twiddling her thumbs and so she leaves her wealthy husband, rents a dingy bedsit and works at a grocery store and plans to attend college. Her husband hunts her down and tries to win her back but it isn’t until he comes to the acceptance that she needs a life outside the home that they can get back together. Pretty cool.

  60. Loosheesh
    Aug 12, 2011 @ 16:28:08

    @Jane: I read the one by Helen Brooks back in January and really enjoyed it – I like how the heroine stood her ground.

  61. Ariel/Sycorax Pine
    Aug 14, 2011 @ 20:50:37

    This is a trope I love as well. I think it’s because I don’t really think of romance as a genre of fantasy so much as a genre centered on love and its conflicts.

    What I like to read about most are ethically complex and well-meaning characters who are each equally convinced of their rightness and led into conflict with one another because of the reality of their environment, human relationships, their society, their choices, etc. Coming to terms with their conflicts, and coming to a relationship of mutual respect, often seems more realistic (and, oddly enough, more successfully feminist – I’ll have to think more about why this is) than my least favorite trope, the fated mate trope.

    Where fated mate romances too often trigger a “Does who the beloved is or how s/he behaves even *matter* here?” reaction in me, MIT romances focus on the fact that actions have ethical and emotional consequences. They show that it’s possible to love real human beings, people who have flaws as well as impeccable pecs and never-frizzing hair. They are longitudinal rather than pheromonal (as love-at-first-sight novels often seem to be): dramas of redemption and development and mutual history. They are palimpsests of subtext: every incident in the couple’s encounters is shadowed by layers of meaning and memory that make the novel infinitely richer for us and for them.

    One of the things I love about marriage-in-trouble (I’m a bit of a marriage-skeptic/relationship-romantic myself, so maybe I should say reunion or relationship-in-trouble) plot is that it successfully undercuts and critiques so many simplistic clichés about love, without losing the idealism and optimism that I go to romance for.

    (P.S. I began to think to that one of my favorites, Carolyn Jewel’s Scandal, has a lot in common with this trope. Although the couple in question was never married in their earlier encounters, they have a long history together, a history that has real and profound ethical consequences they both must grapple with when they reunite.)

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