Laugh for a Happier Marriage
The best thing a couple can do for their marriage is to pray together every day. The second best: laugh. Author and counselor Jim Burns encourages any couple who wants to win in marriage to laugh a lot. Burns realized the fun had slipped from his own marriage when his daughter came home one day and said the couple she had been babysitting had told her that her parents used to be so fun and funny. She wondered why they were so different now. Burns tells how they got their fun back by investing in their marriage.
About the Guest
The best thing a couple can do for their marriage is to pray together every day. The second best: laugh. Author and counselor Jim Burns encourages any couple who wants to win in marriage to laugh a lot.
Laugh for a Happier Marriage
Bob: You may not have thought about it this way, but one of the threats to your marriage is your schedule. Here’s Jim Burns—
Jim: I understand how hard it is for a young couple. They have babysitting—they have, maybe a mortgage payment or a rent payment—they have all these things. If they have kids, it’s so hard for them to find all the right ways. What we’re saying is, “Look. Invest 1% of your week—that’s one hour and 40 minutes. Spend 1% of your week having fun on a date.” You can find that time! If your kids are too young, then put them to bed and eat Chinese food on the couch.
Whatever it is, but just enjoy each other’s company. We’ve just found that—for us personally—fun has kept a spark going in a way that other things don’t.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 15th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Is busyness having an impact on your marriage? Can you carve out 1% of your week to focus on each other? We’ll talk more about that today with Jim Burns. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a hundred times. With young couples getting married—“What’s the best piece of advice you’d give them in the first year of their marriage?” And I know we’ve already talked this week--
Dennis: —and you know my answer.
Bob: I know we’ve talked this week about eliminating the “D” word—take that out of the equation. Is there something else?
Dennis: Well, that would not be the first one.
Bob: Okay, what would be the first one?
Dennis: The first one is to pray together—every day. You’ve heard me tell the story—and I’ll not tell it again—but I think there is something profoundly spiritual—I think it’s mystical—and I think it is also permanent when you invite God to come into your midst on a daily basis, and you both humble your wills and you bend your necks—even if you’re lying in bed together. You don’t have to get out and get on the floor and kneel to have the right posture when you pray.
Just acknowledge: “God, You’re in charge. We are not. We are broken. You are not. We need You to build our home.”
Dennis: And, if you do that over a lifetime—Bob, you’ve heard me tell the story. I’ve probably shared this with who knows how many men, challenging them to take their wife’s hands and pray with her. Just a short prayer—it doesn’t have to be long, but begin.
I made this pledge, and it’s not found in the Bible, but I’ve said this: If you’ll do this for two years, at the end of two years, you will have experienced a sense of oneness that will transcend the previous years of your marriage. And if you keep on doing it for a lifetime—
Barbara and I were married in 1972—our guest was married in 1974 to his wife, Kathy. I just want to ask Jim Burns. Jim, do you pray every day with Kathy?
Jim: Well, I didn’t at the start.
We would pray. We were both in ministry, and both caring for people—but we didn’t. One day, we had realized we really needed mentors. We were talking with a couple, and this mentor of ours—we were talking actually, more about parenting—but then I said, “What do you do for spiritual intimacy?”
He said, “Well, we pray every day.” He said, “Sometimes it’s only 20 or 30 seconds. Then we actually spend about 20 or 30 minutes per week in spiritual intimacy.” As we were driving out of the driveway, and she said, “You know that 20-minute thing? And you know that daily thing? I want to do that.”
So we made a commitment to do that. I would have to say that, the 20-minute thing, we call our “Closer Time.” Sometimes there’s not bells and whistles on it, but I think that’s where some of the anointing and the good part of our marriage and our ministry comes. Praying daily? Absolutely!
Kathy just said, while we were speaking together one night, she told a bunch of people that, “Jim was in the middle of his prayer in bed, and he fell asleep—in the middle of me speaking!” [Laughter]
Just so you know, I’m not always doing it right, but I wholeheartedly—I’m so glad you brought that up! I almost got chills, because what we’re challenging young couples to do is—“Build your spiritual intimacy. Build your compatibility.” You do that through prayer.
Now here’s a fascinating thing! You know, studies are now showing that when couples pray together daily, the divorce rate goes way, way, way down. So, some of us wouldn’t have to deal with marriage counseling if only people would start praying together regularly. Now, I’m not saying that that is the magic wand that takes away all of your problems, but you said it right—people pray on a daily basis—if they would do that, it’s going to change the way that they have their relationship go.
Bob: For those of you who don’t know Jim Burns, Jim is an author and a speaker. He gives leadership to a marriage and family program at Azusa Pacific University and has been a guest on FamilyLife Today before. He’s also a cheerleader for the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.
Let me just jump in here and let listeners know about the special offer that we’ve got going on this week and next week.
We’re about to begin the spring season of getaways—start in early February. We’ve got about 60 events happening this spring. This is a fun, two-and-a-half day getaway for couples. It’s happening all across the country. If you register for an upcoming getaway now, you can save 50% off the regular registration fee.
That’s good this week and next week, so I’m encouraging listeners to go to FamilyLifeToday.com and get the information. Find out when a getaway is going to be happening in a city near where you live or a city you’d like to visit. Get it put on the schedule now so that you guys can plan to get away for a weekend. Then, when you register this week or next week, you’ll save 50% off the regular registration fee.
Find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com, and plan to join us at one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember getaways. I know, Jim, you’ve been to the getaway. You and Doug Fields have written a book called, The First Few Years of Marriage.
You’ve done a lot of weddings for couples who are getting married, and this book is kind of a compendium of the advice that you give to those couples as you give them the charge for their first few years of marriage. I think it’s interesting where you start with couples, by saying, “You’re going to need to laugh a lot.”
Jim: Yes, yes.
Bob: Why there? Why start there?
Jim: Well, we started with that because too many couples get so distracted at the beginning of their marriages—they quit having fun together. What brought them together? They had fun! They went on dates. They enjoyed each other’s company. They laughed together.
All of the sudden, they have lost the fun factor. You look up a couple of years later and you’re sort of lost—you’re distracted. It was that great theologian, Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers [Laughter], who said, “When you’ve strayed away from the basics, you’ve gone a long ways toward defeat.” The basics are prayer, and the basics would also be having fun together.
What Kathy and I realized was we had lost some of the fun factor—not because we didn’t want to have fun! So Kathy and I made a decision—and we actually believe that this was as spiritual of a decision as you can make—to start enjoying each other with time together more; to go out on more dates and enjoy each other’s company. As we did that, we kind of re-found our focus.
Jim: You know, I understand how hard it is for a young couple. They have babysitting—they have, maybe a mortgage payment or a rent payment—they have all these things. If they have kids, it’s so hard for them to find all the right ways. What we’re saying is, “Look. Invest 1% of your week—that’s one hour and 40 minutes. Spend 1% of your week having fun on a date.” You can find that time! If your kids are too young, then put them to bed and eat Chinese food on the couch or someplace. [Laughter]
Whatever it is—but just enjoy each other’s company. We’ve just found that, for us personally, fun has kept a spark going in a way that other things don’t.
Dennis: Jim, you don’t know this, but Barbara and I had—I guess in the first 12 years of our marriage, we had—six kids.
Jim: I do know that. You’re an animal! [Laughter]
Dennis: One right after another. You know, children—I’ll never forget a listener who wrote in: “Our romance gave us our children, and then our children took our romance.” [Laughter] And so we started a date night.
Dennis: And we tried to hit all four Sunday nights each month. We didn’t always hit four. Sometimes, we hit three and sometimes, because of sickness, or travel, or whatever, we’d only get two.
Dennis: But the point is, we were regular in our date nights. Now here’s the kicker! Even a date night that is designed to be fun, romantic, and a reconnection of two partners in life—it can get in a rut.
Bob: It can turn into a business meeting!
Dennis: Well, that’s what it did, Bob.
Jim: Yes, yes.
Dennis: It turned into a business meeting around which child needed the most help now. You know, the puck moved to different spots on the ice.
Bob: And those are important conversations for parents to have.
Dennis: They are! They are, but you just have to protect that hour and 40 minutes.
I think that’s a really good idea, to just say, “What do we need to do to enliven, and spark up, and go do something totally out of the box?” So, for a while, we went through a process where—“his turn, her turn.” Pick something fun.
Bob: So we’re going fishing this week. . .
Bob: . . . and then we’re going to garden the next week.” That kind of thing?
Dennis: Well, yes, but it wouldn’t be chores.
Dennis: It wouldn’t be chores. It would be, “Where are we going to go eat? Well, maybe we’ll drive aways out into the country, to a spot that is a cute little spot that’s just out of the way. You’ve got to go there on purpose.” Those kind of things go a long way in keeping that spark alive.
Jim: It does! You know what’s crazy is that’s really simple, but where we miss it sometimes is in the simple. By going to that faraway place, you got to talk in the car—the kids weren’t there. You have to make sure that you’re taking care of the kids, especially when you’re talking about kids. You’ve got to make sure—like, for Kathy—she would do the date as long as we had the babysitting, I told her how the money was working, and all this kind of stuff. She needed that.
As long as that was the case—and we still do “your date, my date.” But when the kids were around, and it was babysitting time, it was my job to go find the right babysitter.
Jim: It was not Kathy’s time.
Dennis: You’re talking about something really important. If a husband will help his wife get the sitter.
Dennis: I mean, find her, book her, go get her—then take her back after the evening’s over—he’ll win points with his wife.
Jim: Yes, you do. You have to be careful with that in today’s world—
Jim: —because of the male/female side, oftentimes, as you would know.
Dennis: Of course.
Jim: But you’re 100% right. If the male initiates some of the logistics of the date, that’s huge. You haven’t even been on the date yet, and you’ve already got points.
Bob: You mentioned the great theologian Vince Lombardi. I’m going to bring up a different great theologian, and that’s Brian Wilson, who said when we were growing up, “You know, it’s going to make it that much better when we can say ‘Good night’ and stay together. Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.”
The idea was—marriage is just going to be so much better than dating because we can be together all the time.
Well, here’s what we found—when you’re not together all of the time, you make the most of the time you’re together.
Bob: When you’re together all of the time, you start to take for granted—
Dennis: That’s a good point.
Bob: —the fact that you’re together all of the time. Then—this is where you’ve got to step back in and say, “We need some time where we are purposeful and intentional about valuing one another.”
Jim: Well, what you do so well at all of the conferences that you’re speaking at on marriage, is talking about intentionality.
Jim: There’s a lot about marriage that’s just intentional. Whether it be Brian Wilson—Are you talking about Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys?
Bob: Oh, yes! Yes.
Jim: I am so impressed!
Bob: [Singing] “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then. . .”
Bob: There you go!
Jim: I would sing with you, but I can’t carry a tune. [Laughter]
You know, it is intentional—it’s about intentionality.
Jim: Why is that so bad? What’s wrong with intentionality?
Dennis: Here’s another thing you need to be intentional about, especially for this generation of young marrieds—slow down.
Dennis: Stop the breakneck pace, and give yourselves a chance to breathe.
Jim: Oh, exactly!
I mean, just when you said that, I felt more comfortable. Do you know what the truth is? It’s that one of the biggest problems in America—both in marriage and in parenting—and I know you guys agree with me on this—is this breathless pace in which we’re living our lives.
Jim: I’m not saying everybody has to move to Wyoming and live in a commune. I’m saying we have to figure out here and now, “How do we do this?!”
But that—again—takes some discipline. When I graduated from grad school, a friend of mine wrote me a note, because I didn’t stay for graduation. I was going back to do ministry. He said, “Dear Jim, We missed you at graduation. If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” You know, that was prophetic for me. Now I’m not the one who’s going to be in the arms of another woman, or who’s going to embezzle money—I’m going to be busy doing “important” things, and I’m going to miss the most important things.
Jim: So that’s been an issue for me. But I find these couples, in their first few years, are so busy. I think, maybe, they need to take a step back. And I think we, as leaders, need to sometimes say, “Hey, we invite you to take a step back. Don’t be so busy.”
My friend, Doug Fields, who co-wrote the book with me, I hear him say often when we do our marriage conference—he says, “Busy people are broken people a lot of times.” That hurts—because I always thought if you were busy, you were successful. But truly, sometimes our busyness keeps us from having intimacy. What does intimacy mean? Connecting with our spouse. Because we’re so busy, we don’t get to ever have those connection times.
Bob: Yes. You stop and think about God’s design for us, and He modeled, at creation—
Bob: —that there would be a day where we rest. We don’t have a whole lot of rest built into our days or our weeks. I think that has us never being fully present where we are because we’re always thinking about the important thing that is coming next.
Bob: When that happens, it’s back to the premise of your book, there’s going to be a drift toward isolation in your marriage if you don’t have that time to just slow down and be with one another.
Jim: You’re right. You know, that Scripture that you were referring to is fascinating to me, because it says, “He rested”—talking about God—“He rested and was refreshed.”
Jim: Well, many times, we’re never refreshed in our relationships.
Jim: And the Hebrew could actually be “refreshed,” or it actually could be translated, “He exhaled. He took a deep breath.” You know, Dennis, when you were slowing it down, you exhaled. Sometimes, in a marriage, you’ve got to exhale. We just keep going at this pace, thinking that it’s going to—What are you going to do? It’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again. Sometimes we have to just stop and slow down.
Bob: So if you had a young couple who had gotten married, and they were in the first year—both of them busy in career growth and development—there’s travel involved. Life just seems pretty frantic. They live around you, so the commute wherever they’re going is 45 minutes to an hour both ways. They say, “Okay, yes. We get it, but how do you do that—practically—given the realities of life in our world?”
Jim: Well, I don’t think there are easy answers, Bob, but I do think that one of the things we have to do is challenge them to have certain situations that they just must do.
Prayer—we talked about prayer at the beginning of this broadcast.
Jim: Pray daily.
We were talking about 1% of your week. Could you do 1% of your day? That’s 14 minutes.
Jim: Where you just slow down and connect. I think part of that is the discipline. You have a busy life and you have a busy job—I understand that. At the same time, if you’re not having a date night, and you don’t have regular time together spiritually—if you’re not in some kind of a small group—there are certain things you build around, that are key to a marriage.
Jim: When you build those elements into it, then the other things—it’s going to happen.
Bob: And the things that keep you busy are the things that are your priorities.
Jim: Well, you’re right! Years ago, I was speaking at the PromiseKeepers Pastors’ Conference. A man named Jack Hayford—whom I adore—was the pastor of the ceremony. I was sitting in the back with him, before I was going to go on. The band was playing, and I said, “Jack, what’s the secret to your leadership success?” You know, I love to ask old guys—I guess now, like me! He said, “You know, Jim, it’s not what I’ve chosen to do. It’s what I’ve chosen not to do.”
Jim: “Because I’ve had to say ‘no’ to some pretty important things to say ‘yes’ to the most important.” I pushed him. “What are those?”
He said, “Well, it’s my wife,” and then he named his kids—he named his grandkids.
What he was saying was, “I’ve had to say ‘no’ to some pretty good opportunities here, that maybe would have even furthered my mission to make sure that the main part of the mission—the family—is going well.”
Dennis: I think there is an overly-responsible DNA today—being birthed in young families—who are comparing what they have with what they have—the activities; the level of different sports their kids are in. I go back to a story I haven’t told in a long time here on FamilyLife Today. It’s an exhibit in the Smithsonian Institutes in Washington, D.C. It’s the Double Eagle II, and it’s the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean in a helium-filled balloon. What happened was this guy had it all plotted, until he got in a storm in the North Atlantic, and his balloon began to be covered with ice.
Here was a ten-story tall helium balloon that was being covered with ice, and it was forcing it down into the North Sea. So he started throwing things overboard. You know, he first of all threw over books, and then he threw over his video camera where he was going to video his landing at the Lindbergh Field when he finally arrived there. Then he radioed, “Mayday!” and, as he was breaking out of the clouds, he threw his radio out.
He went ahead and made it all the way across. His balloon soared; the sun came out and melted the ice; he made it to his destination. I think a lot of couples who are listening to us right now—their balloon is going down—and you keep adding! Sometimes, it has to take a time of admitting where you said, “Yes,” too many times, and you pull out the scalpel and you start cutting away and pitching things overboard.
By the way, Barbara and I love to stay busy! I think we need to find a way to be able to catch our breath, exhale, and enjoy the journey with the person that we’re sharing it with, and to enjoy our family. If you’re not enjoying your family and the person that you’ve made a commitment—a lifetime commitment—to in marriage, maybe it’s time to throw some things overboard.
Bob: Can I go back to something you said 20 minutes ago? You talked about 20 minutes per week of spiritual intimacy.
Dennis: I knew you’d come back to that!
Bob: I’m thinking about what that 20 minutes looks like, because a lot of guys will hear that and will say, “I wouldn’t know what to do to promote spiritual intimacy for 20 minutes.”
Bob: Do you prepare a Bible study? What do you do?
Jim: Well, I’ll tell you the story. When we had this conversation, coming out of the driveway, and what we are talking about was my wife said, “I want that!”
Jim: I said, “Well, great! I don’t want to do another Bible study. We both do Bible studies. We’ve got our groups.” I mean, what am I going to say? “Listen, I won’t give you 20 minutes of spiritual time,” you know?
Bob: A week!
For us, it was Sunday evening. She showed up at nine o’clock, and I’d kind of forgotten. That’s how spiritual I am. She came with a devotional, and we read this devotional, and then we prayed together. You know, that was it. I thought, “Well, you know, that wasn’t so bad.” [Laughter]
Kathy really liked that time, so the next week, same kind of thing. Now, notice, I even said, “Kathy brought. . .” So, over the years—we have a book called Closer, where we have 52 sessions on this. But what we realized was that if we have Scripture and then story—something inspirational—and then we pray for our family, it doesn’t look sexy—but it builds that time together.
Jim: So, “Does it have to be 20 minutes. Can it be 17?” Of course so, but in our book, Closer, which is that book on devotions, I quote Gary and Barb Rosburg—who I know you guys know so well. He oftentimes spoke at PromiseKeepers when I did, and they have a book called The Five Sex Needs of Men and Women. Do you know what the fourth sex need of a woman is?
Jim: So, as guys, sometimes—like when you said—“What are these guys going to do for 20 minutes?” We honestly don’t know. It’s not even on our list!
Jim: So Kathy had to help me understand—and this is where I think we get in tune to our spouse—she had to kind of help me understand—what her need was. Her need was not to go into the Greek and the Hebrew—she didn’t want that. I mean, she likes that from our pastor—but she doesn’t want that in our marriage time. For her, it was us finding that time to read God’s Word, or maybe read something inspiring—maybe talk about that, share, and then pray. It’s that simple.
We, as men, get worried about intimacy. Intimacy—I mean, when we think of the word “intimacy,” we think of physical intimacy.
Jim: But intimacy means connection. So what Kathy’s looking for is a spiritual connection—a spiritual compatibility. But I find, now, that that becomes a very special time for me. But not always! I’m not saying that every moment is a high. You know, we’re not walking around our house six inches off the ground. The real story is, though, we know we’re going to pray for our family, we know we’re going to connect on a spiritual basis—
Jim: —and we’re going to read God’s Word together.
Now we pray together daily, but we don’t read God’s Word always—every day—together. We read God’s Word separately, but that’s a beautiful thing that we do. And yet, to explain it—it kind of sounds not that special. It’s like talking about baseball. I mean, I love baseball! But I explain baseball to people who don’t know about baseball, and they say, “Well, that’s kind of boring.”
Bob: I think you hit on something really important, because I think guys will look at this and maybe even do something once or twice, and say, “You know, that seemed kind of normal.”
Bob: But the regular discipline of that over time builds something mysterious into the fabric of your marriage.
Bob: You may not even realize how imperceptible is—but it’s powerful.
Jim: No—it’s that foundation that you were talking about earlier. You called it—
Bob: Perma Jack!
Jim: Perma Jack. I thought it was a cheese you were talking about! [Laughter] I had no idea what you were talking about.
Bob: Perma Jack.
Dennis: I thought it was a friend of his! I didn’t know who Perma Jack was! [Laughter]
Jim: A long-lost relative!
But it’s building that foundation.
So you build 20 minutes of spiritual intimacy over year after year after year—
Jim: —and it builds up into something.
Dennis: And it really is just a long journey, where you’ve enjoyed God with each other, and you’ve shared with each other what God is doing in your life. If you can’t answer that question, then maybe you need to pull back and ask God the question, “What do You want to do in my life?” Then share it with your spouse.
Bob: If you didn’t start something like this in the first few years of your marriage, you can start it in the current year. Whatever your current year is, it’s a new practice. In fact, we’ve got copies of the book you talked about, Closer, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center, so if listeners want to get a copy of that, they can.
And, for those who are in the first few years of marriage, that’s the book that you and Doug Fields have just written that helps young couples with these kinds of practices and disciplines that can build a strong, healthy, “Perma Jacked” foundation under their marriage.
Dennis: Do we have those in the Resource Center?
Bob: The Perma Jack? [Laughter] We’ll put a link on our website to the Permajack people! [Laughter]
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You will also find information about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. I mentioned this earlier, but this week and next week, if you register for an upcoming getaway, you’ll save 50% off the regular registration fee—so you and your spouse can come out for a great, two-and-a-half day getaway. Just relax, be together, learn about marriage, and spend time talking to one another. It’s really a great investment in your marriage.
If you register this week or next week, you save 50% off the regular registration fee. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to register, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions or if you’d like to register over the phone.
If you’re just looking to find out when the getaway is going to be in a city near where you live or in a city you’d like to visit this spring, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com—
—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we’ll answer any questions you have or, again, get you registered over the phone. Hope to see you at an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway this spring.
And we hope you’ll join us back tomorrow when we’re going to talk about conflict resolution. We’re going to talk about the importance of having a Biblical understanding of marital intimacy as you begin your marriage together. Jim Burns will be back with us again tomorrow. I hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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