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Bridges to Intimacy

By Robert W. Herron
Thomas More. 2000. 188 pp. Pb. $15.95.
ISBN 0-88347-460-3

Reviewed by Margret Barnes Perry, a pastoral counselor
in Asheville, N.C.

Yet another book on marriage? Yes, and this one is a worthwhile read in large part because it has a particular focus: making it through midlife with your spouse. In writing this book, Robert W. Herron claims his hope: that he will help couples "navigate this transitional period in life and marriage and feel better about themselves as they do."

I, for one, believe that Herron has provided the kind of reader-friendly guidebook that can help couples with such a “couple journey” and “self journey.” It helps point the way for this midlife transition to be a hopeful and even redemptive one.

And just what is a midlife marriage? It is described as married couples in their 30s, 40s and 50s, couples married at least 10 years and where at least one partner is somewhere in that age range. Actually, Herron’s first four chapters paint the particular landscape for midlife marriages.

Herron’s paintbrush strokes clarify the profound shifts that happen within self at midlife. The reader/viewer is able to capture the powerful force that seeks correction and balance within self and within the marital relationship. For those who have eyes to see, Herron brings into focus the false perceptions and myths about love and marriage which distort the reality of marriage. The viewer of the painting begins to grasp what is causing the shifts and seismic-like rumblings of the midlife landscape.

Given the changes, dilemmas and pressures of midlife, many midlife couples ask the question, “Is there hope for our marriage?” To this Herron replies: This question “obviously applies to the marriage in which one or both of the mates feel there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. But it also relates to almost every midlife marriage at some point when we ask, ŒWill our relationship ever get better, or must we mud-dle along and tolerate it for the rest of our time together? Do I dare hope for more?'”

I was relieved to hear Herron confess that he hasn’t found any magical formulas or techniques that will revolutionize a relationship. I applauded when he acknowledged that “the key is a willingness to be fiercely honest in examining your own soul and behavior and to commit as much energy as you possibly can to nurturing your marriage.”

What follows the midlife context chapters is an elegantly simple guidebook for navigating the practical issues and expected challenges for midlife couples: sexuality, how to find intimacy again, affairs, moods and changes in body chemistry, finances, leisure, spirituality and growing old together.

Herron’s guidance keeps us honest with ourselves. He doesn’t let any partner “off the hook.” Instead, he insists that we come to grips with our own humanness and that we dismantle the false belief that everything will work out on its own because we love each other. Thus, Herron helps us look at ways we can change ourselves, see our partners differently and stretch to work on nurturing our marriage.

I found Herron to be insightful and practical, drawing on his own work with clients over the past 26 years as a marriage and family therapist, and as an ordained minister.

Bridges to Intimacy will be helpful for pastors, Christian education directors, adult class teachers, marriage enrichment group leaders, marriage therapists and, certainly, for couples on their own. Throughout the book Herron uses lists of questions, quotes and real-life stories that prod, challenge and invite reflection. He has useful end-of-book discussion questions for each chapter. Overall, this book is sprinkled throughout with a good sense of humor and good resources, including a resource list of books and organizations, and a guide for “How to Choose a Marriage Counselor.”

For those midlifers who are doing some marriage work for the first time or for those who are seasoned in their couples’ work, this commonsense book is a good buy. There is much wisdom woven into its tapestry. It will take you beyond the myth of marital happiness into the real-life struggles and gifts within midlife marriages. Reading it will be a journey worth taking. It is on my reading list for those clients with whom I work.