Well, this was a terrifying read. I can see why the author says he doesn’t get invited to cocktail parties. (He does, however, point out that he still gets invited to weddings. So there’s that.)
James Sexton has litigated over twelve hundred divorces in his career. He’s seen the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats. The acrimonious and amicable. He’s represented the ones blind-sided by the divorce papers, he’s represented an actual pimp in a custody hearing. He’s been described as a ruthless sociopath, and I might believe that on some level. He also may be a bit of a romantic. In this book, Sexton addresses various recurring themes he has noticed over the years in the hopes that couples might learn from the mistakes of others.
In sum: a marital advice book written in reverse.
You’re not going to come out of this book with newfound respect for lawyers. Sexton may certainly be a sociopath, as a past client has described him. But that may be part and parcel of being an attorney what with the rules about providing fair representation.
Even so, Sexton possesses a modicum of charm, like all the best sociopaths. His writing is casual–lots of f-bombs, for those who care about that sort of thing–and his stories are engaging. It’s a good read, full of humor, charm, and a great deal of blunt talk about the real challenges of maintaining a good enough marriage.
The book does not traffic in unexpected advice. I suspect very little of it would surprise any reader. (Except for the chapter “Hit Send Now” when he recommends that you let your spouse know what’s troubling you right away, before it has a chance to fester. I feel comfortable saying that would be a disaster in my marriage. I already pick at every little thing, and I don’t give voice to even half the things that I want to.) What’s useful about it is how Sexton frames marriage. He is a romantic who eschews rose-colored glasses.
…marriage is not an end. It is a means to an end. It’s about getting you to the destination; the destination is connection and companionship, comfort and trust. Getting you to the destination is an ongoing process that requires alertness, energy, and consistency.
In discussing the marital bed, Sexton points out the obvious: marriage is an exclusive contract for sex with a specific partner. This will not go well if you aren’t honest with your partner about what you need and what you’re willing to do. If your/your partner’s needs aren’t met, then someone will have to choose between going without or going outside the marriage. The simplicity of that realization belies the difficulty of execution.
As I worked my way through the book, I found myself really wishing that I could talk to my husband about it, that we were reading it together. Some of the traps Sexton points out are ones that are a regular feature of our marriage, and I wanted his perspective. For example, Sexton suggests that couples discuss what divorce would look like, just as they ought to discuss end of life matters. That sounds maybe more mature than I could manage, but the idea is interesting.
I have quite a few thoughts on this book, but most of them are ones that I’d prefer to share with my spouse. For everyone else, I recommend this book, ideally as a couple read if you’re one of those couples who likes to talk. (No judgment. Not all couples talk over every little thing.)
I’m rushing this review a bit because there’s a Goodreads giveaway on this book that closes March 6th. The book itself comes out on April 10.
I was given a complimentary copy of this review via NetGalley in order to facilitate this review.