COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE FIRST FIVE YEARS OF MARRIAGE: Launching a Lifelong, Successful Relationship
edited by Phillip J. Swihart, Ph.D. & Wilford Wooten, L.M.F.T.
Focus on the Family Publishing/Tyndale House Publishers
Love & Marriage
With divorce rates among conservative Christians at abysmal levels, getting the right start in marriage seems more important than ever. Focus on the Family's COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE FIRST FIVE YEARS OF MARRIAGE, which addresses more than 100 different questions newlyweds face, offers advice on everything from finances to in-laws, from blended families to becoming parents. There's even assistance with handling disagreements about how you squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube.
The format allows you to mine the text for specific answers to different problems, as well as reading it from front to back. So, for example, if you are a newlywed, you might want to read the book straight through, then later refer to specific sections as needed. Those married couples wrestling with a particular issue (pornography use, postpartum depression, budgeting) can turn directly to that section.
I appreciated that the authors realize that the first five years of marriage may include children from previous unions. This broadens the audience for the book. Also praiseworthy: The advice is often concrete rather than theoretical, which many couples will appreciate. Just one example: In answer to the question, "How Can We Have Sex When Kids are in the House?" there are suggestions from everything from communicating honestly and clearly about the issue with your spouse to installing locks on the door and using white noise to muffle sounds from the bedroom.
While Focus on the Family takes somewhat of a complementarian perspective (man as leader) rather than an egalitarian perspective (both partners are equal) on marriage, women who hold the complementarian position will appreciate how this is unpacked. The wife is NOT a doormat nor is she supposed to be a maid. Although the book notes "…the husband is the 'head of the wife, and that wives are to be in submission to their husbands…" it also emphasizes the importance of teamwork and a wife's own freedom and rights as a human being.
As you'd expect from a Focus on the Family book, the position on birth control is fairly conservative, although not as conservative as a traditional Catholic position. Focus on the Family makes a case for birth control pills or IUD's as a controversial choice, while still leaving things somewhat open: "You and your spouse should examine the facts and prayerfully consider your approach to family planning." Laudably, they note that expecting the wife to carry total responsibility for birth control is "a recipe for trouble" --- "Make sure that in your marriage, both spouses understand birth control as a his-and-hers issue."
A few sections will instigate debate. Although the book stops short of saying that Christians should always have children, it does heavily weight its advice toward parenthood when not prevented by infertility. And, while the authors clearly draw lines for a zero-tolerance of abuse, including passive abuse (such as chronic moodiness, punching walls, sarcasm and screaming), they rather squeamishly sidestep the fact that abused spouses may find divorce necessary. "Talk to your pastor about your church's view on this subject."
Readers who run into trouble shortly after tying the knot will appreciate the emphasis on marriage counseling when needed (and particularly using a licensed counselor). There's also a welcome acknowledgment that medication may be needed for post-partum depression, something not all Christian-based books are willing to recommend.
This is an easy-to-use resource book for conservative Christians who are considering marriage or for newly-married couples. Even if readers disagree with some of the advice, they'll find good conversation-starters within these pages.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at email@example.com.
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