Online Course

Your Marriage and Troubled Teenagers

Understanding Your Teen

Most marriages don’t end because of abuse, adultery, or addictions. More commonly, they just fade away. The couple quits paying attention to the basics of a healthy marriage, and drifts.

Well, we’ve made it to the last session. This one’s on marriage. Although if you’re a single parent, you know I feel strongly that single parents do a great job and it’s actually good for just thinking about relationships. So sometimes marriage is complicated. Always, raising teens seem to be a little bit complicated. When you put the marriage and the raising teens together, it doesn’t always make for an easy season of relationship. So what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to lean into our marriage. We’ve got to be proactive in our marriage. What are you doing today that’s refreshing your marriage? What are you doing today that’s replenishing your relationship? Can’t just put all the effort on the kids and then say, “Well, when they get out of the house we’re going to get back getting close.” No, no. What we’ve got to do is be intentional.

And I think in the book, the chapter on it is really incredibly practical. And when we do talk about intimacy, remember we talk about connection. Intimacy is not just about physical intimacy, but it’s also about emotional intimacy and all the connection pieces. To do that, really, one of the most important ways to do it is to be not only spontaneous with your love for each other, but also intentional and proactive with making sure that you’re stirring up the fire, keeping the spark going. So I’m looking forward to talking with you in a moment on the video as well as the interaction that will take place afterwards.

Before I take a few questions on this particular subject of finding intimacy in your marriage as you raise teens, I want to speak directly to single parents because what we find is that a lot of times single parents say, “Well, I don’t want to have a conversation about marriage, of course,” or you feel like you’re not as good of a parent. You know what my experience is? That it’s harder to be a single parent, definitely. I’ve never met a single parent who says it’s easy, but single parents can be great parents. And a lot of the parents that I’ve met are amazing. So some of my friends were single parents. I think they’re doing a great job, but they’re kind of just too busy to know that. So I want to encourage you to stick with this conversation. And a lot of my friends who are single parents say, “No, keep talking about marriage.”

But the truth is you’re not second rate. A single parent typically does a really good job and it helps their kids become responsible adults like anybody else. So again, we’re going to talk on marriage, but know that single parents, I realize, you’re in on this as well. Okay, so let’s take a question.

Since our kids had become teenagers, we’re struggling to connect with each other, and we don’t always see eye to eye. Is there any help?

Well, you’re right. I mean, it’s amazing because I was telling somebody yesterday that when it comes to when you have a baby, that marital satisfaction goes down. Now nobody’s going, “Oh, I wish we didn’t have this baby.” But it’s a joy. It’s wonderful. But for men, it’s a majority, for women, it’s 49%, their marital satisfaction goes down. You know where the other time it’s tough in marriage? There’s different stages of marriage. It’s teens.

Teens are going through experimental phase. You disagree on how you discipline them. One’s trying to get more freedom. One’s trying to still control. You’re busy and tired and when we’re dangerously tired, we’re in a mess. And so what happens is the kids still need a lot more. I think I thought when our kids were teens, the relationship changed, but oh my gosh, now they’re staying up later than we are and there’s all this stuff. And so Kathy and I had a harder time sort of connecting. So, anyway, we have to be able to find the time how to connect in our busy schedules. And again, what’s fascinating about parenting teens is not for all of you, but for some, it’s also at a time when your parents are needy.

So you’re kind of the sandwich generation. So now they’re taking some time as well. So really the answer, in my mind, is we have to find the time to work through this. Okay. I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about a husband and wife who went to the doctor and the husband went to the doctor, wife drove, and the husband was sick. And the doctor took him in and the doctor had him in there for an hour and a half. I mean, he poked, prodded, took urine, took blood, go see another patient, come back. He seemed to be really concerned, asked a lot of personal questions about his life. And the woman’s like, “What’s going on?” Finally, the door opens and the doctor’s there, and he kind of goes like this to the woman, he goes, “Me?” “Yeah.” And he has this grim look on his face.

Takes her into his office. As she goes into the office, she sees her husband kind of getting dressed or whatever and going out. And so he sits down and he said, “Your husband is severely ill. In fact, he is so severely ill that I’m afraid if you don’t do exactly what I tell you to do, he’s going to die in the next 10 to 12 months.” Well, this woman was not thinking she was going to hear that. And so she said, “Well, what do I do?” And he said, “Well, I understand you both work and I know you’re really busy and you have teenagers, but what I’m going to suggest to you is that you cook him a warm breakfast every day.” And she kind of like went, “Oh.” “Well, he says he just has cereal and he gets up before you. Could you get up earlier?”

And she’s thinking, gosh, I’ve worked so hard already. So she goes, “Yeah, I could do that.” He says, “If you do that, it’s only going to be 10 to 12 months. Then you kind of go back to it.” He said also, “With the kids, I know they’re at an interesting stage as adolescents, but you’re going to have to do all the discipline for a while. He says that when you come home, you kind of sometimes say, ‘Here’s what the kids did,’ and he needs to be with the kids. He says he loves the kids, he plays with the kids, let him play with the kids, but you do all the disciplines.” She’s like, “Oh, wow.” And then he looks at her and says, “And this is a tougher one, no nagging, no negativity to your husband because he’s under such pressure at work and he’s not feeling good. So no nagging or negativity.”

And she’s like, “Oh, my gosh.” And he goes, “For 10 to 12 months.” She’s like, “Whoa.” “And then one of the thing,” kind of had a gleam in his eye, “please his every whim, whatever that means. Please his every whim.” She’s like, “Whoa.” So now if you do that, after 10 to 12 months, then he’s going to be fine and I really think it’ll be okay. But if not, I’m worried about him. I, honestly, think he could die.” So they walk out the door, they get in the car. The husband is driving and he goes, “Wow, I think he’s thinks I’m really sick. I mean, he took blood, he asked lots of questions. He took urine. I have to come back. What did he say to you?” She’s just staring out the window and she goes, “You’re going to die.”

Now, silly joke. Corny, but there’s a point to it. That if your relationship with each other during the teen years is not intentional, the relationship can die because there’s more pressure, there’s more stuff going on. Now the issues are harder and stronger sometimes with a teen. So you have to be intentional about making that happen. Okay. So when we’re talking about intentionality, what is the word that you need? It’s the hardest word because it’s what you might be struggling with. Know what the word is? It’s called time. So time with each other. So you’ve got to fight for time. I mean, I’ve never met a couple who has regretted a weekly date night. Kathy and I made a decision years and years ago to have a non negotiable date. And life can be crazy. Our kids could be going crazy.

Our kids even have said, “You guys are going out again?” But it wasn’t that we always had the money to do big fancy dates, but a non negotiable date worked for us, because we knew at least we would get together, we weren’t going to try to talk about the kids or insurance or scholarship money or whatever, just literally focus on each other. We do that at work a lot of times or we do that in other situations with a girlfriend or with other guy friends, but we sometimes don’t do it with our spouse. So we found that the date that Kathy and I could take helped us like crazy, because what are you trying to do? It said the word intimacy. Now again, I’ve said this before as I’ve talked about intimacy, but it’s about connection. So a date helps you connect with your spouse in a good way, and I can’t overemphasize that.

Some good friends of ours, talking about time, when they get up in the morning, life can be crazy with their kids and they choose to get up pretty early, and they have coffee together. They have coffee together for 15 minutes, so that’s 1% of their day. And then the kids start coming and life’s crazy, and then after dinner, they make their kids, I love this because they’re kids are adolescents, they make the kids do the dishes. And I think it’s partly just putting it in the dishwasher for this family, I’m sure they have a dishwasher. But they just sit there and they, again, have tea or whatever they do and they just sit there and talk. So another 15 minutes and it’s actually almost timed for them. But what I’m saying is, I mean, they are my heroes in terms of marriage, and literally it’s only 15 minutes and it’s only 2% of their day, because it’s only really a half an hour.

But how incredible that they do that? What it is, it’s that they are intentional about the relationship not dying so they connect. Is every 15 minute moment with them perfect? No, they’ve even told me that they’ve had arguments at times during that time. But what they’re doing is they’re connecting so they don’t have that lack of connection. There were times when we didn’t have that habit. There were times when Kathy and I’d kind of look at each other and go, “Whoa, I mean, let’s see, your name is Kathy. My name is Jim. Lets go see each other,” or whatever. So, that’s the case. Kathy and I had made a commitment by that time to spend four nights away a year, and we tried to do it every quarter and Kathy would never do that unless I had the finances right and I had somebody watching our kids and I know our kids were adolescents, but we still didn’t let our kids just hang out by themselves.

And so, luckily for us, we had an intern who was living with us for a couple of years, and so she could kind of handle it. But we’d go out and we’d go away. And those were just our great connection time. Longer walks, some romance, longer romance, eating a fun dinner, whatever it might be. That costs us money, we had to be intentional about it, but we still have that habit of going away because that’s something that works for us. It may not work for you, but that works for us. Also, I believe that if you want to have an intimacy in your marriage during the teen years, is read a marriage book a year. Some of us would read loads of books about our work or whatever, but we don’t read about marriage. So read a marriage book a year, get on the same page, because with a teen years, they’re going to pull you apart. Because, again, the discipline stuff, the boundary stuff, the pushing is different.

We talked earlier in one of the sessions about they’re going through an experimental phase, so it’s going to wear on your marriage. So, read a marriage book. Go to a marriage seminar, read a parenting book a year. It doesn’t have to be mine, I’m just simply saying, read a book, put energy into that. Kathy and I have found that we have this discipline, we still have it today, just read a book on parenting your adult children. And it was great. But we just find that if we can read something together, it gets us on the page, united we stand, divided we fall. And if we’re not connecting with each other, we go divided pretty quick. Okay. So, again, all of this takes time and you say, “Well, you know, we don’t have a lot of time.” I understand. But the point being is that if you don’t be intentional about it then the relationship dies.

So it seems as we’re getting deeper into these teenage years, my husband and I are having a harder time being connected spiritually.
Yeah. I think that becomes normal. We have physical intimacy and intimacy, again, means connection. We have emotional intimacy, but I think the least developed area of intimacy is spiritual intimacy, and I actually think it really happens during those teen years. I mean, sometimes it happens just period. For Kathy and I, that’s been a struggle for a lot of our life. Here we are in ministry and Kathy has small groups and she leads a Bible study now, a big Bible study on Tuesday nights, and I’m in all of this, but sometimes it’s been harder to connect spiritually. And I want to tell you two stories. One is Homeward, the organization I work with, we focus on strong marriages, confident parents, empowered kids, and healthy leaders. And so we do a lot of marriage stuff, and a mentor of mine was speaking at a homework gathering. Kathy and I were sitting in the front row taking it in. It was the marriage conference for us.

And his name is Dr. David Stoop, and he quoted something out of Columbia University that rocked me. He said 50% of marriages end in divorce, and statistics change and go but pretty much that’s been a standard statement about marriage. And last year there were 2.1 million marriages and there were about a million divorces. So that’s kind of the case in the United States. But he said, out of Columbia University, that a study comes out that says, for couples who pray together, there was a 1 out of 1100% chance of divorce. Now that rocked me. And in fact he said he’s a therapist, a marriage and family therapist, and a clinical psychologist, brilliant guy, but he said, basically, you wouldn’t need me talking about him being a counselor because he said if you just pray together.
Now that’s an oversimplification. I’m not opposed at all to counseling. But what happens is it’s hard for us to do and there’s several reasons. We get tired, we get distracted, we’re mad at each other, and then we don’t want to do it. I actually believe that there’s some spiritual warfare that goes on. The last thing I think Satan would ever want is for you guys to be spiritually connected. Okay, so what Dave is saying is that it might be a half a minute, but if you pray together on a regular basis. Well, Kathy and I made a commitment that day that we would pray together on a regular basis. I mean, we prayed. We prayed at dinner. I remember one night we were praying in bed and I fell asleep in the middle of my prayer. So I’m praying and she’s looking over at me, “Boy, he must really be into this,” and then I’m like, [inaudible 00:13:54].

So we’ve had prayer times that haven’t been all that awesome, but we made a commitment to pray together on a regular basis, and, honestly, our prayer may be one minute. And basically it’s thanking God for all that he’s done for us and then praying for our kids and maybe that’s it. I mean, there are times when we go a lot deeper. And I want to challenge you to that. I mean, that’s an amazing scientific study and will that change you and all of a sudden you guys be spiritually intimate? Where I’ve found we’re more spiritually intimate is because there’s even times when we’ve had a hard day with each other and yet we tend to pray. Now, we don’t do as well at night, again, because man, I’m exhausted at night. I’m an early riser, so I’m waking up early and Kathy needs coffee before. She will not talk to God before coffee.

I mean, she probably would if she was in deep trouble, but that’s just kind of her. So we’ve had to find a time that’s compatible for us to pray together. And in that, we try to take each other’s hands. We actually are now trying to pray on our knees. Now, we’re not hyper spiritual people. I mean, we love God, but it’s been a really cool spiritual discipline to do. And so, again, I’m trying to give you practical answers on this. You can talk about it in a group on a greater detail, especially when there’s one person. A woman told me a while back, “My husband isn’t a Christian and he doesn’t really want to pray,” but she sounded like he really loved the kids and whatnot.

And I said, “Well why don’t you guys just take a moment of silence and he doesn’t have to pray and if he felt comfortable with you praying, then you pray. But honestly don’t push on him but still do that.” So there’s different levels of that. Kathy and I feel comfortable both praying so it works for us. But, prayer. The other one is an experience that was life changing for us, which actually answers your question probably even more in more detail. So we weren’t raised in a Christian home. Our parents are awesome but they weren’t necessarily people who are going to be spiritual mentors to us. And so we found we needed mentors and so all of our life, we still have them, we would go to different people. There was a couple who we got to know at our church. He was a Christian leader, strong Christian leader, and people would know his name, and his wife I love, they’re incredible.

And so we started meeting with them and they had three kids, they were older, they did a great job with their kids. So we would ask them parenting questions and we got to dinner with them or they started having us over at their house or whatever for a barbecue. And I remember one night I said to him, “What do you do for spiritual intimacy?” It was really the question that was asked me, and I expected that they probably spent two hours a day and they lit a candle and were doing all these kinds of things. And he said, “That’s a great thing. We have just developed such spiritual intimacy. We spend 20 minutes a week.”

Now I went, “A week or a day?” Because I honestly thought he said week but he meant day because they’re way too spiritual and so awesome to only spend 20 minutes a week together like that. And he said, “No. I mean, we pray together and we do other things, but we actually have our time together and we do it for 20 minutes.” Now, arrogant Jim, who’s not even doing that with Kathy in terms of a more extended time, I’m like, how wimpy is that? And the I’m thinking, well, I’m not really doing that. Well then we went on to questions about parenting. We’re pulling out of the driveway and Kathy says to me, “Hey, you know that thing that he said about 20 minutes a week? I really want to do that.” And I was like, well, I mean, I’m in Christian ministry so it’s not like I’m going to go, “No.” So I said, “Great.” I said, “Would you mind kind of being in charge?”

I said, “I don’t want to do a Bible study. It’s great, and they read a book together. So I don’t want to do heavy duty. I don’t want to come to have to prepare.” And she goes, “Great.” I said, “We need a time.” And so she said, “Well, how about Sundays at nine?” And that happened to work for us, nine in the evening. So we did that. So on that Sunday, I’m paying no attention to it, not even thinking about it, that was a conversation that had happened on Tuesday. And at nine, Kathy goes, “Hey, are you ready?” And I went, “What?” She said, “Our closer time, our closer spiritual time.” I go, “Oh yeah, yeah. I’m ready.” I’m thinking, oh my gosh, I was going to watch that television show or whatever.

So we sat down and Cathy read something to me that was really cool. She had thought about this and she’s much more geared to being sensitive toward that. So she read something and she really caught my attention. It was short enough that, if it was too long it wouldn’t have worked for me. And then she said, “Why don’t we just pray?” And so we prayed. It wasn’t life changing. I don’t remember what I ate last Monday, but nurses me for the day, so that was what we did. The next Sunday, I totally forgot again, you can tell where I’m at. And she goes, “Okay, closer time.” And I went, “Oh yeah, right.” Well, we have done that regularly for years. And it’s not sexy, there are times when it hasn’t been amazing, but what I’m saying is, is that discipline of having a little bit more time has kind of changed our life.

In fact, I would say, and I rarely talk about this, but I want to answer your question. I would say that, for the anointing of God, we all have an anointing of God, I would say the anointing of God for our marriage and even some of our parenting comes from the 20 minute thing. And I would say that even the anointing in the particular ministry that I’m involved in comes out of stuff that no one sees because it’s that time. But yet what’s amazing is it doesn’t have lights, camera, action, and holy rollering, whatever. It’s just, it’s a special time for us and it’s a time of us kind of connecting spiritually. There have been times of tears, there have been times of laughter. There have been times when I am so wanting to leave because I want to do something else.

There are times when I’ve been away on a trip and we did it on the phone. See? But we call it our closer time. Now, we started talking to people. Kathy speaks sometimes on marriage, but typically not to couples, she’ll speak to leaders. One of the ingredients I said, or values of Homeward, is healthy leaders, so she has a deep concern for pastors who sometimes don’t have good marriages. And so we started talking about this to pastors and they needed it so bad. One day, a guy came up to me and he said, “You should write a book on this.” And I started laughing, hilariously going, “Oh right, we need to write a book.” And remember, we’re the people that we spend 20 minutes and it’s not always perfect. And he said, “No, honestly.” And so he went and talked to Kathy and Kathy goes, “Well, that’s a good idea.”

We had never written a book together, and we wrote a book. It’s called Closer. What’s fascinating is it’s one of the bestselling devotional books ever now. And you don’t need the book because it’s just the 20 minute thing, but what it is, is it has a faith conversation, it has a story, and then it has a scripture, and that’s all you do. And we kind of lead people into these and we challenge people to do this. Now, I’ve written a number of books. I’ve never had as much response on a book then that book, because people say it brings them together. And here’s what’s fascinating about it and then I’ll close. In one of the sessions, so we have 52 sessions, but in one of the sessions, it’s on physical intimacy, and we quote our friends Gary and Barb Rosberg, who are amazing, and they wrote a book called the Five Sex Needs of Men and Women. Okay, now I’m moving to physical intimacy.

You know what the fourth sex need is of a woman? Spiritual intimacy. It’s not even on the list for men. See? So the question comes out of a woman, it’s heart, and yet Kathy was the one who said, “I really want that.” And so what I find is that spiritual intimacy, and if Kathy was standing here she would say this in much more articulate way than I would, that out of spiritual intimacy becomes a greater connection, not only with God and you, but in terms of physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, and all the other things, because it’s a felt need that she has. And I have found that, actually, that discipline of praying together daily, and sometimes it’s a really short prayer, okay, or doing closer, and there are times we’ve missed it, that I have found that those two ingredients are ingredients that can help you become more spiritually intimate. Because, again, intimacy means connection.

So is it an answer, is it the magic wand that you’ll never have a marriage problem with teens? No, it’s not. I wish I could tell you it is, but it’s not. But it’s a major factor of coming together and what we have to do is it’s that principle, your relationship will die if you aren’t intentional about it. Okay. There you go.


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In this online course, parenting expert Jim Burns helps you navigate the change and transition to adolescence.

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