Do you have a strategy for growing your relationship with your spouse? Do you have goals & objectives? Do you have tactics and measurable deliverables? How do you track how you’re doing in your relationship? Do you have a compelling vision for where you want to be in 12 months? 5 years? 10 years?
These sound like out-of-place, overly-businessy questions, don’t they? You could see how someone would want to ask these of their organization or business, but asking them of your marriage seems…well… odd. It makes total sense, though. Think about it. You’d be asking all of those kind of questions if you were CEO of a company. Your employees and board would consider you incompetent if you didn’t. Think about how much more valuable your marriage and home are, so why don’t we put the same amount of effort and planning there? Why do we drag our feet and fail to organize time with a spouse in the same way we organize our time at work? This approach doesn’t sound romantic, but remember, feelings always follow behavior. If you plan and organize time to connect with your spouse, you will eventually feel more connected.
When Billy and I went through premarital counseling, we were given sound advice on how to make sure that we stayed connected: have regular date nights. Sure, that sounds simple, but it turns out that it’s not easy. We have to treat a date night the same as if we were scheduling a meeting. We have to put it on the calendar, handle the planning logistics, and agree on all of the details. In fact, we have to be very intentional and say “no” to lots of options just so we have the time to spend together. We don’t do this perfectly, but we have friends that inspire us to get better. They have taught us some of their best principles, and we’ve discovered a few of our own. When we boil down all of the advice, we have come to see at least eleven (one louder) reasons why date nights are critical.
- Date nights send a message to your spouse that they are important and have top priority on your calendar.
- Date nights remind all of us (kids and parents) that Mom & Dad are united and that the children are not the center of the family. As the parents go, so goes the whole family.
- Date nights provide a time to talk without distractions. This means phones go in pockets or purse, eyes front, and no watching the game over each others shoulder!! Date nights also keep you focused on your spouse and not other obligations (like bills, chores, email, or the DVR). If we hang out at home, we have a hard time sitting still…or staying focused.
- Date nights remind you why you liked to date when you first met. The nuances of who you are (and why you love the other) show best with a large quantity of time.
- Date nights break up the routine of the week…and also give something to look forward to at the end of tough weeks!
- Date nights prepare you for life without kids. If you continue to date when you have kids, then you won’t be such strangers when they leave! (You DO know they ARE going to leave one day, right?)
- Date nights give you an excuse to dress up! (Maybe I should count this as half a reason?!)
- Date nights model for your kids what “working” on a relationship looks like. Think about it this way: the relationship that you have with your spouse will be the blueprint for the relationship that your kids will have with their spouse. We want our kids to expect focused, regular time with whomever they date and marry…since that is a primary way they’ll grow closer to each other.
- Date nights create a regular outlet for debriefing the week, talking through challenges, dealing with tough issues, or talking “strategies.” If your week days are like ours, you may run out of energy before you run out of stories to tell your spouse. I find that each week fills up quickly with logistical conversations and provide us with little time as a couple to talk about anything meaningful. If we know that we have a date coming up, there’s a lot less pressure to have a meaningful conversation at 10 pm when we are fried.
- Date nights are great avenues to relax. What better way to have a much-needed downshift in life than to spend it eating great food, in a great atmosphere, and with the one person in life who has promised to love you for exactly who you are?
- Date nights give you an excuse for adventures. This is when we tackle The List, experiment with progressive dining, go to a sporting event, people watch, or even power through shopping. (I hate shopping, but it’s better with Billy.)
If after the Eleven, you’re in and ready to have regular dates, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Remember, date nights don’t come naturally! If it feels like you’re a salmon swimming upstream, that’s because you are. If you’re like us, there’s always something else we could be doing with a group of people or with the kids. The DVR always seems to be full and the couch IS very comfy, so staying “in” seems very appealing. Resist – resist – resist. Reread the Eleven and get out of the house!
Date nights can be just as wonderful married, as they were when you were single, but they clearly won’t be the same. I call it the Aha! versus the Ahhhhhh… Don’t expect surprises from each other (like on your first dates…aha!) as much as rediscoveries of each other (and why you love them…ahhhh). Create space in your conversation where you aren’t looking to be entertained so much as to be educated on the even finer nuances of your spouse. Be a student of your spouse and learn about what’s going on with them, right now.
Finally, if you want to make the night happen, don’t wait for your spouse to plan it; instigate it yourself! There’s a part of me that wants my husband to “court” me by seeing if he’ll jump into the planning mode. Where does that come from? I think it’s a residual of the high school version of me! If I’ve got the drive to make it happen, then that’s what I need to do. Sometimes he is the instigator and sometimes it’s me. Don’t keep score about whose turn it is to make the plan, just make the plan!
Keep it light. Keep it fun. Make the date nights happen!