Wife, mother creates project to define ‘normal’


Survey helps in comparing relationships

In 2005, Chrisanna Northrup snagged six figures for her first screenplay within a week of offering it for sale. The flurry of meetings and activities that followed wreaked havoc on what up until then had been a fairly traditional home life for Northrup, her chiropractor husband and their three children.

“It was probably one of the hardest times of my life, and it should have been the happiest time,” Northrup said.

Over the following months, while Northrup struggled to balance the new and exciting opportunities coming her way with the needs of her family, her relationship with her husband became increasingly strained. An appearance on the “Rachael Ray Show” interrupted their Easter celebration, underscoring the conflict already building within Northrup.

“Then you start questioning what your purpose in life is,” she said.

Frustrated by a tug of war she could not win, Northrup gave up her Hollywood dreams. But even that created a no-win situation. The resentment of forfeiting what had become critically important to her for the sake of her family resulted in Northrup separating from her husband for more than a year. They tried counseling, but over time, everyone, including the children, only seemed to be doing worse.

Working with therapists, Northrup said she felt like she was aiming for a target she couldn’t meet. She wondered: “What is normal? How do my husband and I find what is acceptable to us?”

In time, Northrup and her husband were able to renegotiate their relationship by communicating their most important needs. The exercise allowed them to reconnect and rebuild the passion in their marriage.

“Our relationship is a million times different,” Northrup said. “There’s no more gray area. We have reconnected on a whole other level that I never expected.”

Northrup said she empathized with others who were struggling through unhappy relationships and wanted to find a way to share what had worked for her. That’s when she came up with the idea of the Normal Bar.

What is normal?

“When we first got together, this is where our bar was,” Northrup said, explaining the concept behind the Normal Bar, a range of measurement that reflects an understanding and acceptance of what individuals need and want in a relationship. “As months and years went by, my husband’s bar stayed the same. My normal changed.”

While Northrup had a solid grasp on how she wanted to help others, she found a shortage of information on the topic of relationship normalcy. She realized the need to marry the academic world and the real world with solid, supportive data, information she planned to use in a series of books addressing topics such as relationships, raising children, and nutrition and fitness.

“What I’ve learned so far from this experience is that the academic world is very different from the real world,” Northrup said. “These people are brilliant, but they don’t know what the market is looking for. I’m perfect for this because I know what people are looking for.”

With confidence gained working in the private banking world, surrounded by very successful entrepreneurs, Northrup approached author and relationship expert Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., to partner with her on the project. A regularly featured guest on “Oprah,” Schwartz responded with enthusiasm.

They rounded out their team with sociologist and researcher Dr. James Witte, a professor at George Mason University. Witte was the designing genius behind the Normal Meter, an interactive survey created to gather data for Northrup’s venture.

“It is a very fun, visual way of helping people around the world compare their normal to other people’s normal and their peers,” Northrup said.

Northrup propositioned Reader’s Digest magazine about facilitating the study. The May issue featured Northrup’s project, and to date, she has assembled results from more than 20,000 surveys.

“It’s unbelievable how much data I have,” she said.

Northrup plans to complete a book proposal on her franchise idea by September, which will then be distributed to several well-known publishers. She expects results similar to the sale of her screenplay.

“For me, I don’t see boundaries when I take on a project,” Northrup said. “I think it’s all about attitude, too.”

Northrup has channeled what was a very dark and frustrating period of her life into personal and professional success. In addition to the Normal Bar project, she continues to work in the finance industry while raising her children — Jake, a sixth-grader at Muirlands Middle School; Shelby, a fourth-grader at Bird Rock Elementary School; and Luke, a second-grader, also at Bird Rock. Her mental and physical health are at their peak, she said, thanks to regular workouts at CrossFit La Jolla, and she volunteers as cheer director and a board member with La Jolla Pop Warner, and is a member of Women Give San Diego. Best of all, her relationship with her husband, Mark Northrup, has never been more “normal.”

“It can be dangerous to let ‘normal’ expectations dictate your decisions,” Northrup said. “You have to define your own normal, what makes you happy. It’s a matter of making it a healthy normal, what works for you and your family.”

10 things you thought were ‘abnormal’ in relationships ... but really aren’t

What’s normal in a relationship? It’s more varied than you might think. Here is a list of 10 myths about relationship-based issues and behaviors that author and sociologist Dr. Pepper Schwartz says are more normal than not.
  • Long silences
  • The need for space
  • Thinking about something else during sex
  • Thinking about the one “who got away”
  • Wanting to run away by yourself
  • Being seriously annoyed by a partner’s habit(s)
  • Giving out bad vibes to a friend of your partner who you wish would go away
  • Faking more sexual arousal than you are experiencing
  • Not taking care of yourself
  • Lying

Test yourself

To see how normal your relationship is, visit the Normal Meter at