In THE FIRST FIVE YEARS, husband and wife Bill and Pam Farrel offer a conservative take on navigating the early stages of marriage in a way that ensures a long-lasting commitment and good communication.
It’s no secret that the current divorce rate hovers around 50 percent, and the Farrels cite statistics that say more than half of all divorces occur in the first seven years. In their own 25 years as “relationship specialists,” they have come to the conclusion that strong marriages begin with premarital counseling and follow-up studies on marriage. “The first five years of your marriage are the GIFT you give to the rest of your life,” they write.
With this in mind, the Farrels outline their book’s hook: a GIFT acronym (Get in the game, Invest in your sex life, Figure it out and Tough on me, tender on you.) Loosely translated, these amount to following God’s guidelines for marriage, working on your sex life, making competent decisions and offering forgiveness and grace to your spouse when needed. These are all good ideas.
The Farrels also tackle such wide-ranging and important topics as PMS, motivation, creative lovemaking, birth control methods (they are big cheerleaders for Natural Family Planning but give space to others), finding a church, pornography, building a network of friends, mentors and professionals, affording and buying your first home, and making the decision to have a baby. Activities for couples to do together that apply the lessons of each chapter are scattered throughout. At the end of each chapter are GIFT exercises, which are designed to take the conversation further. I appreciated the questions --- lots of good conversation starters that will help couples wrestle through important decisions. Readers will also enjoy the copious use of humor in the book that leavens what otherwise might be a heavy topic.
A few trouble spots may crop up for readers. The Farrels also authored MEN ARE LIKE WAFFLES, WOMEN ARE LIKE SPAGHETTI, a book about the differences between the sexes. Some might take issue with their perceived gender stereotypes (“Men can focus on only one issue at a time,” “Men…dream of the rugged outdoors,” or for women, “multi-tasking is a joy and a breeze”). As a backpacker who loves the outdoors and has to make lists to keep track of any tasks, married to a man who loves beach resorts and can juggle multiple projects, this sort of thing leaves me scratching my head. So reader be warned: If “gender generalizing” offends you, this is not your book. If you say “right on!” this will be more to your taste.
The Farrels also seem to imply that an “evangelical” church is the best choice for newlyweds, which seems pretty conservative, considering the number of Bible-believing, scripture-based, main-line Orthodox and Catholic churches who would fall into what they call the “Jesus-loving” category to join. Their take on “submission” will also be conservative for some readers.
Even if you quibble with a few of their points, it’s tough to argue with the need for better marriages in the first five years. Ideas that cement relationships for the long haul are always welcome in a world torn by divorce. If couples come away with a few good tips from the Farrels to keep their marriage healthy --- and solid discussions are launched about decisions and issues in their relationship --- then it’s worth the cost of the book.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on September 27, 2007