Online Course

Celebrate Differences & Choose the Positive

The First Few Years of Marriage

Many couples believe that the fewer differences they have with their spouses, the better their marriages will be. While that might be true with some marriages, it’s not necessarily a truism.

Doug Fields: Hi, welcome back. I’m Doug Fields. This is Jim Burns. We’re talking about the first few years of marriage. We’ve had a great time so far, and we’re in the session where we’re talking about the chapters of celebrate differences and choose the positive. Now, for those of you that have read and you’ve prepared, you have great questions to ask. Sarah, you want to start us off?

Sarah: Sure. My husband and I are really, really different, and so how can we avoid getting frustrated with each other?

Doug Fields: Differences are a big, big deal.

Jim Burns: Sure.

Doug Fields: Because before you get married, you’ve heard the phrase differences attract, right? And then you get married and then it’s differences attack. My Cathy could not be more different than me. I’m an extrovert. I knew everybody in the room. She walks into a room, she’s more quiet. She’ll have a conversation with one person. They’ll go deep. I’ll talk to everybody about nothing, so we’re like that.

She’s really kicked back. I’m a little intense. She likes to walk on the treadmill, and I like to run. I mean, we’re just different in just about every … She watches the dumbest like Hallmark TV shows that I just I can’t even sit through one, but she won’t watch UFC with me. You know what I’m saying? So we’re very different.

Here’s the deal. It’s not about trying to marry somebody like you. It’s actually what do you do with those differences when they’re nothing like you? Now, let me give you a couple options, because you have options. The first thing you can do is you can say, “Why are you not more like me?” Okay, why are you not more like me? And when you do, you know what that screams? It screams rejection. Okay. “Why are you not like me?” It just shouts to your spouse, I reject who you are in this situation because you’re not like me.

Now, here’s something that’s interesting. The heart actually is repelled from that which rejects it. Okay, the heart is repelled from that which rejects it. So if you reject your spouse, their heart is going to be repelled from you. So when you don’t accept their difference, you’re actually pushing them away.

Now, there’s another angle, and this is the more positive angle, is what is beautiful about those differences? So with Cathy, early in our marriage I used to not like the fact that she was so laid back, because it made us late to everything. Then what happened is, “Why are you not more like me? Why are you not more punctual?” I was rejecting her, and her heart was moving away from me.

But as I began to think about that difference, what I love about her being laid back is she has more time for people. She’s not as stressful all the time. With our children, she’s the kind of mom that lays on the carpet and reads a book and doesn’t skip to the end. There’s all these beautiful things about her. When I accept that difference, what I do is I value her.

Really when it comes to differences, you’re either going to reject their heart or you’re going to value them, and that is your choice, and you’ve got to make that choice in the midst of those differences.

Sarah: What do you guys think are the most important ingredients for a successful marriage?

Jim Burns: Well, there’s no magic wand, no simple answer, and yet, a lot of people might think it’s about a sexual intimacy. They might think it’s about spiritual intimacy. They might think it’s about you name it, but it’s all of those. I mean there’s not one simple answer, but there are two words that rise above for Doug and myself.

It’s interesting. We were sitting in a office with a man named Doctor Neil Clark Warren. Most people know who he is. He’s the founder of What they don’t know is he’s a strong Christian and he’s a marriage expert. He’s been a mentor of mine for years and years. We ask him that question, and what was interesting, without a moment’s hesitation he said adaptability, that for him a successful marriage is about adaptability.

Doug was talking about embracing differences, and if we’re going to embrace differences, we have to be people who are adaptable. If we’re not, then our relationship is going to struggle in big ways a lot of times. Few realities in life are more important than this. Storms come to your life, and if they aren’t going to come today, then they have already come and they’re going to come later. When those storms come, healthy relationships have the same storms as not healthy relationships, but what we find is that the ones that are adaptable are the ones who have a good vibrant marriage and have a successful relationship, and the ones that aren’t adaptable, well they tend to struggle.

Doctor Warren went on to say, “If I could wrap up one gift on somebody’s wedding day, I’d wrap up a large box and fill it with adaptability.” Again, it goes back to this that there are no differences between what happens with consequences with good relationships or bad relationships. I mean consequences come, negativity comes, and yet how people handle that is the big thing.

Doug Fields: Jim and I do a lot of reading, and writing, and research on marriage, and people who study marriage say there’s a five to one ratio. It’s a magic ratio, that you need five positive interactions with your spouse to counteract the one negative. Now, think about that, five to one. So we’ve got to choose to be positive.

Now, one of the things that I’ve done, this is just a little tip, on my phone in my notes section, I have a list of things that I love about Cathy. When something happens, I just like, “I love you because you’re my best friend. You want to be with me. You’re calm. You love our kids so deeply. You love Jesus. You’re secure. You don’t try to prove yourself. You’re funny, even though we don’t admit that to you. You’re adventurous. You’re present. You’re fun to be with.” I just have this long list that I just add to all the time, because sometimes when I’m frustrated or disappointed, all I need to do is look at this list and be reminded of who I married, and how incredible she is, and how fun she is to be with, and a lot of that negativity goes away.

Jim Burns: Right.

Doug Fields: Jim, for me, I’m not naturally a positive person. I have to choose positivity.

Jim Burns: You have to work on it. It’s fascinating. When you talk about the net magic ratio of five to one, what authorities say is if it’s one-to-one, people are bound to get a divorce, so you really do want to work on how you interact with your spouse in a positive manner. Not fake positive, but making sure that you are positive.

Now, Doug talked about negativity. Let me just speak to the issue for a bit. Negativity kills a relationship, and what’s hard about it again is that some people are more naturally bent to being Negative Nancy, or Negative Ned or whatever, and yet negativity can kill relationship. I love what Winston Churchill said. It wasn’t necessarily about marriage. It was about life, but it works. He said, “You never will reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that parks.”

In a relationship, if you’re throwing stones at each other all the time, and you could because you can be mad at each other 24/7/365, that’s what happens in a relationship. But just know that if you’re moving toward negativity, you’re moving toward hurting your relationship in a big way.

Doug Fields: What we want you to do is talk about some of these things. Maybe you go positive in the differences. Why don’t you share with one another, what is one difference or two differences that you really love about one another, and then talk about how those differences sometimes get in the way and what you might do. Remember, you can’t change your spouse. You can only change yourself. What you might do to be more positive in your relationship.

If you’re watching, talk about it with your spouse. If you’re with a group, turn and face one another, and really engage with this material. Because the more you talk about it, the more you process it, the more you think about it in the context of community and other caring couples, the more transformation it has for your life.


Welcome to the interactive Digital Session Guide

This contains the teaching outline and personal reflection exercise.

You can use this section to take notes and answer questions. Your notes are private, no one from HomeWord can read them. When you are finished, you can download them, email them, or save them for later--don't leave the page without saving! If you prefer pen and paper, you can also download and print the notes.

In this online course, parenting expert Jim Burns helps you navigate the toughest and the most rewarding parts of a new marriage.

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