Thursday, March 24, 2011

Q and A with Author Jim Burns

Melissa and I have read close to 100 books on marriage and relationships. One of our top 5 is Creating an Intimate Marriage by Jim Burns, President of HomeWord a ministry to families. He, along with his wife Cathy, also wrote a great couples devotional called Closer. Recently, Jim took some time out of his busy schedule to tackle some questions for us:

Jake: I've heard you and Cathy talk a couple times about having a "high maintenance marriage." How would you guys define that and what have you guys found that it takes to survive in a marriage that is high maintenance? Especially in a culture that tends to relate "high maintenance" to something we should avoid. 

Jim: Actually I think most couples have “high maintenance marriages” like Cathy and myself. It means we need constant attention to making our marriage work and we have to do this by being intentional about our priorities surrounding our marriage. For example, we have a non-negotiable date night. We also meet weekly to take care of the “business of doing our life” instead of having the insurance conversations, schedule, or money issues on the run. The intentionality of this meeting is really helpful to keeping our priorities in place and not making the relationship feel like a business relationship all the time. We choose to have a 20 to 30 minute “Closer time” a week where we work on our spiritual intimacy. Anyway, a good marriage takes a lot of time and attention and a high maintenance one like ours, means we can’t let it slip.

Jake: Often times, maintenance within a marriage means the need for some good marriage counseling. What advice would you give to a couple who needs counseling, but one person is not open to counseling?

Jim: The person who is willing to seek counsel should go alone. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I have seen one person make the courageous move to get counsel and then a few weeks or months later the spouse sees positive change and decides to join in. The Bible says, “where there is no counsel a people fall but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” I’m big on getting good solid counseling as well as finding mentors and peer support. Marriage and life was not meant to be done all alone.

Jake: Another area where Melissa and I have experienced our marriage being "high maintenance" concerns how we each serve God. When you have two people within a marriage that have very different personalities, how do you serve God together as a couple?

It’s possible but not always easy. Cathy and I have some major differences. Early in our marriage I had to work on my expectations about Cathy and ministry. I’m an extrovert and Cathy is an introvert. We would be at a youth event or church function and she would sit in the corner and have a significant conversation with one person and I was meeting everyone. Then I would be frustrated that she wasn’t meeting everyone. Finally I realized we were “designed to be different” and her strengths and weaknesses would often compliment mine. Part of this happens when you get comfortable with your own ministry and self. Part of it comes from recognizing that God creates us all to be different. I think when we stop trying to change our spouse and only work on our own stuff, that’s when ministry together gets much more effective in every way.

Jake: As we have talked before, you have mentioned that you and Cathy struggled with fertility issues early in your marriage. Looking back, what were the things that you most appreciated about the other while you were going through that?

Cathy and I struggled in infertility for the first 10 years of our marriage. In fact our oldest daughter, Christy, is our gift from God who we had the privilege to adopt. When we got married infertility never entered our mind. Living in Southern California we actually planned our first pregnancy around one more summer at the beach but things didn’t turn out like we thought. During the years of seeking every kind of medical help for our infertility life, our emotional and even spiritual life was tough. Cathy is an incredible woman who can do most anything but she felt so much like a failure because the one thing she wanted more than anything else was to have children. My part of the journey was to be a support to Cathy and not downplay her pain through that season. I think it was helpful to be open and transparent about our pain and disappointment because we were surrounded by support. At the same time because we were open about the infertility we received some of the most bizarre advice from people in our church about sure fire ways to get pregnant. Little old ladies we didn’t even know would give me advice about the underwear I should wear and give Cathy thoughts on sex positions. (A bit too much information:)) Anyway, we were surrounded by people who did care and will also be grateful for the support. Today one of our goals is to bring a listening ear to any of the 1 out of 5 couples who at one time in their marriage will go this problem.

Jake: Once you and Cathy adopted and started your family, in what ways did your relationship change and how did you work through those changes?

Jim: Like many couples we started moving toward a “child-focused” relationship. We had to keep working at having our couple time and not just putting all of our attention on the kids or our ministry. The date nights help. Stealing away for a walk together helps. Being in a couples group helped a lot.

We love hanging out with our kids but we also need individual couple time.

Jake: If you could tell a just married couple only one bit of advice, what would you say to them?

Don’t give your spouse only your emotional scraps. On a regular basis never tire of doing the special little things for each other. I love Ephesians 5:21: “Therefore submit to one another.” This is no 50/50 deal. Marriage means mutual submission is the goal. I would also have to add that intentionality is a major key to an intimate marriage. As mentioned before, we also schedule a weekly non-negotiable date night and our “Closer meeting.” If spontaneity is working for you, keep doing it but for most of us scheduling our top priorities is more effective. I think I just jammed more than one piece of advice in here :)

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Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.