Jump directly to the Content

Go Ahead. Kiss Your Spouse!

And do it in front of the kids. Youth specialist Jim Burns talks about the power of a loving marriage.
Go Ahead. Kiss Your Spouse!

There are few things Jim Burns enjoys more than kissing his wife, Cathy. Especially in front of their kids.

When his kids were younger, their typical response: "Yuck!"

"But," says Jim, "our youngest would say 'yuck' with a smile, because she saw me affirming her mother. We need to kiss in front of our kids."

Having worked with teenagers and their parents for more than three decades, Jim has seen the effect marriages have on children. He knows what works and what doesn't. So he has plenty of ideas about what kinds of marriages produce young people who develop into healthy adults with their spiritual lives intact.

You've met a lot of kids over the years. Think of the kids who turned out well. What are the characteristics of their parents' marriages?

One is that the parents continue to court each other. It's great for kids to see Mom and Dad putting their relationship first. Most of the time the opposite happens: Parents make their kids such a priority that they don't have any time left for each other.

Part of courting is affirming each other. Even if it's just, "Thanks for a great meal!" Or, to a kid, "You know, I think your mom is the most beautiful woman in the world." One time I told the girls, "Okay, you guys do the dishes. Mom and I are going to sit on the couch." I put my arm around Cathy and we had a great talk.

I try to show Cathy love and respect. The byproduct is that my kids see their parents "date." Seeing their parents give each other time, affection, and respect make kids feel secure.

Where does the oft-recommended "date night" fit in?

Cathy and I are obsessive when it comes to keeping that commitment once a week. There was a time, even before we had our girls, when Cathy had to tell me, "I resent the fact that you give your best time to the church."

We came up with three solutions: We'd have a regular date night; Cathy would have veto power over my schedule; and I'd try to be out only three nights a week doing youth work. Part of the reason our marriage is strong today is because we've been faithful to have a date night.

So good parents keep on dating each other. What else makes for healthy kids?

It seems obvious, but just do things with them! Pray together, play together, take vacations together. They don't have to be big-deal outings like a trip to Disneyland or a night at the movies. Our best communication times happen when we're out cruising on our bikes or walking on the beach.

Why is family togetherness so hard to pull off?

One of the biggest problems in marriages today is overcommitment. We live our lives at a breathless pace, and that hurts kids like crazy—more than parents realize. It's that old story where the dad says, "I work two jobs because I love my kids so much." Meanwhile, the kids are out doing drugs because they have no relationship with their dad.

When I graduated from college, a friend wrote me a note that said, "Jim, if the devil can't make you bad, he'll make you busy." If I'm not careful, I can become so busy that the most important things get run over.

Little choices make a big difference. Cathy and I decided years ago that I would quit making early-morning breakfast appointments so I could get breakfast ready for the kids and take them to school. I work major hours now, but I don't work that early-morning shift. While our kids were still at home (they're adults now), it was such a joy for me to have those mornings with our kids. Perhaps it cost me, work-wise. But it was worth it. While kids and parents are together, the kids are learning—how to live a life of faith, how to live together in a family, how to fight.

Um … you were teaching your kids how to fight?

Every marriage has conflict, and kids need to see conflict being resolved. Parents often go behind closed doors before they really let it rip, and the kids never see them work through the tension.

Cathy and I tried not to leave the girls hanging. If we had a disagreement that couldn't be worked out in front of them, we'd say, "We need to go settle this, gang, and then we'll come back."

So after the argument was over, did you explain to your daughters how you and Cathy worked things out?

Well, take one example. We had just gotten home from a family trip, and our flights were delayed so we were running late. I was getting ready to go out of town again. Then I found that a family friend, Pam, was coming over. I wanted to call her and say, "Hey, Pam, things are nutso around here. The kids have homework to do. We still haven't had dinner. Can we reschedule?"

But Cathy really wanted Pam to come over, so eventually she said, "So are you telling me what to do?" Our kids were in the room, and Christy, who was 13, said, "You know what, Mom? Dad's right." But the other girls insisted Cathy was right.

Sometimes we let our girls give input; that's part of learning how to resolve conflict. But this time I said, "This is not about you guys. Mom and I are going up to our room to discuss this." Cathy and I had ten minutes to iron out the problem. We ended up doing what Cathy wanted because the visit from Pam was so important to her. We told the kids what we'd decided and, generally, why.

The point is, the kids saw Cathy and me each being intense about what we wanted, and then they saw that it could be worked out. Cathy and I didn't resolve every issue, but in those instances the kids saw us "agree to disagree" and move on.

And I hope my girls noticed that I love Cathy like crazy. Because that's life—conflict and love and appreciation. Way too many kids have this idealistic view that they're gonna fall in love with Prince or Princess Charming, ride away on a great white horse and live happily ever after. Okay, life is passion and love, but it's also conflict and give-and-take.

Did you and Cathy learn how to solve problems from your own families?

I was raised in a family that avoided fights. So when Cathy and I had our first argument, I didn't have a clue how to handle it. And get this: We were on our way to a youth-group meeting to lead a talk about the joys of marriage! I felt like a hypocrite while I gave that talk. Today, I'd handle it differently. I'd tell the students, "Look, Cathy and I had a disagreement on the way over here." Young people should know that adults don't have it all together, but God's principles can help us make it.

When we got married, we had no idea we'd have so much conflict. But early in our marriage we agreed divorce was never going to be an option. That decision brought security. We said, "If we're gonna have conflict for the rest of our marriage, how can we work through it instead of running from it?"

We believe God has kept us together. Now we're quick to say, "Look what God has done for us."

That fits in with your commitment to live out your faith in front of your daughters.

You know, of all the students I've worked with since 1971, probably 85 percent of the young people who are thriving came from homes where there was an active faith. When parents have a solid faith, the kids often follow suit. Cathy and I believe our primary reason for living is to instill our faith into the lives of our children.

We know that our Christian commitments are the only reason we're still together. We want our kids to have the stability that comes from giving your life to God, so it's good for them to see us praying—to watch us give our problems and issues and conflicts and joys and everything else to God. Our active faith teaches them how to have an active faith.

Cathy would regularly take the girls with her to a nursing home. She is also the most disciplined person I've ever seen when it comes to having devotions. One day when our middle daughter was four, I found her sitting in the chair where Cathy reads her Bible. She had a Disney book—and it was upside down because she couldn't read yet. "I'm doing 'votions'," she told me. Our kids know that Mom values her time with God.

Do you have formal "family devotions"?

We started with traditional devotions when our girls were young, but it didn't work very well. So we started to have a family meeting—we tried to do it weekly. Sometimes we'd do skits and let the kids act out passages of Scripture. Once we did the story of Adam and Eve. They made me be the serpent. No one wanted to be Adam; I had to talk Christy into it. She drew a mustache on her face and put on a flowered shirt—you know, the garden motif. Rebecca, who was eight, played Eve, and she showed up without any clothes on. She said, "Well, Eve wasn't wearing anything, was she?" Cathy and I looked at each other and said, "Nope!" Later I told her, "Rebecca, just don't do that in Sunday school!"

Sometimes we do "affirmation bombardment," where we say, "Heidi, the thing I appreciate about you is … " Each person does it for every other family member. Or we play a thankful game: "I'm thankful because … "

One week we tried a game called "Start, Continue, and Stop." I said to the girls, "Fill in this blank: I'd like us as a family to start … " And then, "I'd like us as a family to continue … " and then "stop." Heidi said, "I'd like to continue our devotions." And when we got to "stop," the conversation revolved around conflict: "I'd like us to stop arguing so much." It was great to gauge how the kids were feeling about our family life, and then we prayed together.

There's no magic formula that works for every family all the time. If typical devotions don't work, keep trying other books, other activities until you find something that does.

What do you hope your marriage is saying to tweens and teens in general?

A healthy Christian marriage provides a lot of hope. In one poll, 74 percent of teens said they'd live with someone before marriage or instead of marriage. The majority of kids also said they didn't think their parents had a great marriage. However, more than 90 percent of them still said they want to get married someday. Fifty percent of today's kids don't live at home with both parents, yet the majority still want to marry. They need hope and role models. Folks like Cathy and me and others are trying to make that happen.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Free CT Women Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: CT's weekly newsletter to help you make sense of how faith and family intersect with the world.

Read These Next


Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter

Follow Us

More Newsletters