The most well-known romance storyline is when two people fall in love and overcome obstacles to be together. They fight for their relationship, make a commitment and live happily-ever-after. The end.
But obstacles don’t suddenly disappear once a couple gets married. What happens when the love, trust and intimacy wanes? And if the husband and wife are on the verge of divorce, is it too late to hope for a happy ending?
There are many romance novels that explores the after of the happily-ever-after. In most of these stories, the hero and heroine had married for love. When the book begins, they’re struggling to connect or they’re already separated. It’s obvious that the husband and wife still love one another but they’ve been through too much and divorce seems inevitable.
For example, in The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams, Gavin and Thea are in a trial separation. They had a whirlwind romance and got married when she became pregnant. Thea had put her dreams on hold once the twins were born and as Gavin pursued his baseball career. She doesn’t feel supported in the marriage and she’s ready to move on. She asks for a divorce and it sends Gavin into a tailspin. He’s prepared to do anything to win his wife back, even if it means joining a secret book club comprised of men who read romance books to become better in their relationships.
Gavin thought the main problem was discovering his wife had been faking orgasms throughout their marriage. He had not reacted well with the knowledge that he couldn’t satisfy his wife. But when he gradually realizes that he has failed Thea in so many ways, Gavin needs to work on himself just as much as he needs to work on their marriage.
Intimacy often plays a big part in marriage-in-trouble storylines. Sometimes the sex is the only part of their relationship that works and it temporarily eclipses the issues they have outside the bedroom. Most of the time, the trouble the main characters have with intimacy is a symptom of a deeper problem.
This is what happens in Marriage Bed Secrets by Nalini Singh. Vicki and Caleb are headed for divorce until she discovers that she’s pregnant. Caleb sees this as an opportunity for reconciliation. He loves his wife but they struggle to communicate in bed.
Vicki has difficulty expressing the love and desire she feels for her husband. Caleb perceives her lack of response as rejection. This, of course, amplifies Vicki’s sense of inadequacy and she thinks it’s only a matter of time before Caleb finds satisfaction elsewhere.
Vicki is aware that their sex life isn’t the only obstacle. She and Caleb hold back—in and out of bed—afraid of exposing their vulnerabilities. If this marriage is going to work, they need to break their destructive patterns or risk repeating them.
The failure to communicate is a common thread found in these marriage-in-jeopardy scenarios. It’s not about “The Big Misunderstanding” or an argument that could be resolved in one calm discussion. It’s a communication breakdown that has been in the making for a long time.
Readers understand that at the start of Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey. Rosie moves out, refusing to take her husband’s silence and lack of attention anymore. It hadn’t always been like that. Dominic and Rosie had been childhood sweethearts and married for years. Now the only way they seem to connect is through the hot, filthy sex they both crave. When Rosie suggests sessions with a bohemian therapist in a last-ditch effort, she’s surprised that her traditional alpha male husband agrees. She doesn’t understand how much Dominic wants his wife back home, even if it means he has to follow the no-sex rule while they’re in therapy.
And, like in many romance novels about troubled marriages, Rosie has to face the hard reality that she must share the blame in the communication breakdown. She and her husband need to learn how to love out loud if they want a future together.
The marriage in trouble romance trope offers an emotional rollercoaster ride like no other. There’s already a bond between the hero and heroine and they share a complicated history. The stakes are high and every misstep and setback is painful to the reader. But when the husband and wife dig deep, break the destructive patterns and learn how to make their marriage stronger, the happily-ever-after is the sweetest reward.