One Marriage, Many Drifts, Thousands of Course Corrections
The First Few Years of Marriage
Here’s a fascinating fact about space travel: “Our people at NASA are in control of our flights about 3 percent of the time, and 97 percent of the time, we [astronauts] are just [making] course corrections.”
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Doug Fields: Hi, everybody. My name is Doug Fields, and this is my good friend, Jim Burns, and together we wrote a book called The First Few Years Of Marriage: 8 Ways To Strengthen Your “I Do”. We’ve got a lot to talk about, Jim. We’ve got some couples here, we’re inviting other people to watch and dialogue. Why did we write this book?
Jim Burns: We were desperate. We were actually desperate because our kids were getting married, and, frankly, we realized that we didn’t have something like this when we were married. Thirty-three years, 43 years of marriage, and really we didn’t set a foundation. So our kids were getting to that place, and we knew that they needed it, but much more than that, we realized that if you want to have a good marriage, then you want to be able to build a foundation.
And it’s in the first few years, right when people are busy and distracted and sometimes drifting. So we said, “No, let’s give the first few years of marriage what it deserves and some great practical ideas.” That’s why we wrote the book, and actually I’m pretty excited about the content we’re going to be doing right now.
Doug Fields: Yeah, so the idea is you read a couple of chapters before you come, you ask questions based on what you read. Half of you will have read, the other half won’t, we know how that works, but whoever’s read, you can start with the first questions.
Speaker 3: Hey Jim, hey Doug. When we first started dating, and when we were engaged, our relationship was pretty smooth. But once we got married, we found the adjustments were pretty difficult and a bit intense. Is this normal? Are we normal?
Jim Burns: That’s a great question. We all ask, “Are we normal?” Yes. No. Now, what I mean by that is yes, it’s normal to have adjustments. Some are intense, but some aren’t as intense. Like for me, Cathy and myself, we got married, and we thought it was going to be great. We dated all through college, we got married after college, we were best friends, the engagement had gone pretty smooth. And all of a sudden, two kids from dysfunctional families, both from dysfunctional families, both first-generation Christians who were in ministry, actually, came together. And it was tough.
I can remember, I was a youth pastor, we would argue on the way to church on whatever, and then I would talk to the students about the joy of a Christian marriage or a Christian family, feeling really hypocritical. So for ours, it was an intense first year. It was hard, really hard. Some people don’t have it as hard, and I think that’s your situation.
Doug Fields: Yeah, Cathy and I didn’t have it that hard. And by the way, just so you know, we’re both married to Cathy’s, and both start with the letter C. I actually tried to get his wife to change her name, but she wouldn’t. Jim, you’ve described your marriage with Cathy as a high maintenance marriage. And ours, I would say it’s a little bit of a more low maintenance marriage. Not because we’re better people, but because it’s easier for us, for whatever reason. It doesn’t mean it’s perfect, it just means it’s a little bit easier.
But I want to use this as an opportunity to establish a principle that really is important for everybody. And it’s this: don’t compare your marriage to other people’s marriage. Because here’s the reality. You know everything about your marriage, but you don’t know everything about theirs. And everybody looks better from a distance, so be careful about that.
Also, there is no one secret, there’s no one strategy, there’s no one tip that is helpful for all marriages. There’s not a script. Actually, you get to write the script, and as you write the script for your marriage, especially in these first few years, you can edit along the way. But that’s going to be the playbook for you as you relate to one another for the rest of your life.
Jim Burns: Yeah, that’s really good to write the script. We need to have the same priorities. A lot of us have real confused priorities. Interestingly enough, if we were talking amongst ourselves, and we talked about priorities, we’d all say the first priority is God. And even if a person’s not all that spiritual, they’re going to say God. And then marriage, and then if you have children, your children, and then your vocation, and on and on.
But for a lot of us, that doesn’t happen. Especially in the first few years, we totally have confused priorities. For Cathy and I, we were involved in ministry, so the God part was also the vocation part, and we got that all messed up. As we started having children, we became a child-focused marriage, and it was a very natural bent to us. So in the first few years, I think it’s so critical for us to make sure that we’re on the same page with priorities.
And that’s why when Doug talks about writing this script, what we want to help you do is to write your own personal script with the right priorities, so that you can kind of have that map and the direction. When people do that, we find that their marriages go much, much better. When they don’t, we see that they kind of struggle along the way. And that’s what Cathy and I did, that’s one of the reasons why we kept saying we needed this book.
Speaker 4: In the book, you guys talk about the slow drift, and I feel like we’ve lately been feeling the drift happen between us. Can you explain to me what that means?
Doug Fields: Yeah. The slow drift is when you set the course of your marriage. Think about before you got married, you had this ideal destination, it’s going to be like this, and you had this dream in your mind, and it’s a good dream and it’s a beautiful dream, but you set out on that course. And then, if you just get one degree off, you just drift one degree for whatever reason, over a long period of time that one degree actually can become a shipwreck and a disaster, and lead to divorce.
And so when we talk about the drift, all marriages drift. Let’s just make that really clear. Let me make another thing really clear. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage, okay? There’s just no such thing as a perfect marriage. And because of that, all marriages are going to drift. Now, what we’re going to talk about a lot in this series is making course corrections, because that’s really what marriage comes down to. Drift, course-correct, drift, course-correct. And when you send something, when you feel something, when you’re tired of something, that is a time for the course correction.
Now, in this journey of marriage, in chapter one we call it One Marriage, Many Drifts, Thousands of Course Corrections. So you may be feeling the drift right now, another marriage might not be feeling the drift, but their drift is coming. So, when you feel that drift, you need to face each other and go, “Okay, where are we drifting and what’s our needed course correction?”
Speaker 5: You guys say that a happy marriage is a choice and not a coincidence. We want a happy marriage, so what does that look like?
Jim Burns: Yeah, well the word choice is an interesting phrase, because really we choose a happy marriage. If we just think it’s going to be a coincidence, it doesn’t happen. Circumstance and chance don’t make it work. Words that we don’t think about a lot when it comes to marriage, two words that are huge, intentionality and perseverance. A good marriage is one that’s intentional, it’s one that’s going in a direction because you chose that direction. So you can choose happiness. Now, again, you won’t always be happy, but you can choose that course, and you can choose the decisions to keep you from shipwreck, as Doug was talking about.
So again, it goes back to intentionality, but there’s also perseverance. You’ll go through seasons where, even in a stage of marriage, you get stuck, and so you work through that stage, and you can persevere. Nobody really wants us to say, at the very beginning, “intentionality and perseverance”, because it doesn’t sound as romantic and spontaneous. But that’s what makes a good happy marriage.
Doug Fields: Now, here’s the deal. We don’t want to do all the talking. We want you as couples to talk, and those of you who are watching, we want you to talk to one another, and if you’re watching with a group, we’d love for you to discuss some of the things that you might be learning throughout this series. Maybe you talk about what causes drifts in your marriage. What are some of your key course corrections? What does choice look like in your marriage? Are you being intentional? Are you choosing a happy marriage, rather than hoping it’ll just happen to you?
We want you to talk with one another. Because we think, in the context of relationships, there’s power in other couples, there’s healing and hope and other couples, and we encourage you to meet together regularly to watch this, to dialogue with it, and we’re going to be with you along the journey. Thanks for joining us.