You’ve heard it before. You never should stop dating your spouse.
Then why does it become so hard to do this?
If you think back on your pre-marriage relationship/dating/courtship, you will recall how exciting it was to look forward to and get ready for a special time together. Whether it was simple or fancy, the prospect of spending time with the person you were falling in love with was exhilarating. Chances are, as a woman, you thought through the outfit you’d wear, how you’d do your hair, makeup, the right shoes… you wanted to see his eyes light up with appreciation when he saw you. As a guy, you may have spent a bit less time than your gal on personal prep, but perhaps you did a few more things than you might for a night with the guys. You might have made reservations or come up with a cool idea. You both wanted to present your best, most attractive selves. You both earnestly invested yourselves in making times together memorable and perhaps romantic.
We all realize that once the knot is tied, the romance can quickly wane. Suddenly you are two adults who happen to live together, have jobs, work hard, have a family and all that comes with taking care of that family. Life gets exhausting and there is precious little time left over. If there’s time left over, all you think about is sleep. And maybe eating. Perhaps you come together in your bed at the end of a long and tiring day and drum up the energy to have pleasure with each other; but sometimes sleep is more seductive.
It can be easy to allow the urgency of the moment and the demands (vs. needs) of your children to rise to the top of your list. It can be easy to rationalize that your mate is an adult who can take care of himself/herself, and that in about 20 years it’ll be just the two of you again and much more time on your hands. After all, we need to go off to work insane hours to make a lot of money so that we can enjoy our retirement and pay for braces, clothes, activities and college for our kiddos. Everything else seems so much more urgent than nurturing the husband-wife relationship.
When SJ and I had our children, we were guided to a Christian parenting program that we liked. We liked it so much we began to lead groups of parents in the 17-week study which required high-commitment (not missing more than a couple sessions; both parents required to attend). The entire first half of the lessons covered the importance of the husband-wife relationship, and strongly building that foundation in any family. All parenting efforts were doomed to be challenged, if not fail, if couples did not build the foundation of the marriage and nurture it. At that time, one of the “assignments” was for couples to have daily “couch time,” where a husband and wife would sit down together for at least 10-15 minutes to have time together to just talk (as soon after one or each arrived home at the end of the day). This was to be without kid interruption, yet known to the kids, i.e., not retreating to another room out of sight (there were also further suggestions to train your kids from a young age that a closed bedroom door mean “do not disturb,” it’s Mom and Dad time… and so what if at some point they figure out what might be happening between their parents, ewwww factor and all. All part and parcel in teaching and demonstrating to your children the importance of your husband-wife relationship, which in turn creates peace for them). Couch time (and closed door) proved to be one of THE most challenging assignments of all, but also one of the most necessary. If a couple was unable to carve out just this little bit of time in their day to devote to each other, little else was going to come easily. And, as enthusiastic as we were about preaching this truth, we failed miserably in carrying it out for ourselves. We tried it, we’d do it in fits and starts, but we finally stopped the discipline. SJ enjoyed having little ones run to him happily yelling “Daddy’s home!” and I just got too busy or blasé to really even acknowledge he’d walked in the door after spending 10 hours fighting traffic and working to support our family. Dinner prep, homework, bath times, bedtime reading and prayers… our evenings, and weekends, got lost in the miasma of child-centered parenting, our kids became the center of the universe, and we lost OUR focus, big time.
Sure, we tried to go on dates. I was blessed to have in-laws who were happy to babysit (and usually SJ insisted we have them in bed or prepped for bed so as to cause little work for his parents); however when it was all three little monsters together, and there were some health issues for the in-laws, we were less able to avail ourselves of their services. Babysitters were expensive and sometimes hard to get. Swapping kids for overnights with friends was short-lived and we didn’t promote it like we should have. Truthfully, we just never made it a priority to budget and plan ahead for date nights, and defaulted to last-minute, last-ditch, harried efforts. I think by the time we did get alone on a date, we were frazzled and tired, and not all that friendly much less romantic. It felt like just another chore, we had to take time for “us,” check that one off the list. So much of our date-night conversations digressed into discussing kid issues and pointing out parenting fails. We often returned home to just turn our backs to one another in bed.
I talked my husband into a few us-only vacations away together, leaving the kids home in the hands of capable, mature sitters. SJ was never comfortable with this set-up and it trickled over into putting a damper on our time away together. Instead of renewing ourselves and reigniting passion, we sniped and argued and worried about kids.
We had failed miserably at putting “us” first. I take lots of blame for problems along the way in our marriage, but I think SJ takes just as much blame for permitting exhaustion AND the exigencies of the moment take precedent over the nurturing our husband-wife relationship, and not continuing to court me. I felt abandoned, undesirable, and most definitely placed on the back burner in his list of priorities. I loved my children more than my own life, but I admit there were times I was mightily envious of the undivided and tender attention they could faithfully and unquestioningly receive from SJ; time SJ wouldn’t set aside for me.
Lack of couple time and prioritizing our husband-wife relationship was a major contributor to the sickness in our marriage, and the sure demise of our love and caring for each other. We had stopped making each other number one. When the kids stopped “needing us,” and indeed even wanting us in their lives, we started to replace that time with anything but time with each other. We had stopped “preferring each other” for so many years, and it just became habit, and a bit of a shield. If I built my walls, he couldn’t hurt me, so I thought. If he built his walls, he’d have peace and quiet, so he thought.
After the renewal of our marriage (20 years in), just as our last kids were heading out the door for college, we began to work harder on dating each other again. It was initially awkward. We needed to sort through 2 decades of hurt and bad habits that caused us to isolate ourselves. We had to make extra efforts and not be lazy. SJ offered to cook one night a week; we went out to eat at least once a week; I got 2 nights off of chef duty (SJ always took on KP after, in that I was blessed). As we both retired, we planned more day trips and outings together– sometimes planned, sometimes serendipity. We took more walks together. When we finally discussed our very different sex drives (high-need and low-need), and the issues that come with how our bodies sexually change with age, we needed to be more proactive on planning intimate time. One of us could go weeks without sex before it became a thought. The other needed several times a week to feel connected. One of us was a night owl, the other an early bird. One liked soft, the other intense. There were lots of compromises on what would work and satisfy us both. Communication was crucial, and we tried to institute a once a week no-fail communication time (we’ve gotten lax here, but we do have so much time together now that communication truly does not always have to be scheduled).
But beyond sex alone, a woman wants to feel romanced. She likes to feel dated, courted, wooed. It’s been the “duty” of men to woo a woman from the beginning of time, and I do mean “duty” because once many men have locked down the sex/marriage, they feel little urge to continue actively and creatively wooing.
Along with our concomitant shifts in attitudes towards a more Biblical and traditional male-dominant/ female-submissive marriage, returned the courtly gestures of a gentleman wooing a lady. SJ was opening doors again; holding my hand or arm; protectively taking the curbside; putting his arm around me when sitting next to me; holding my chair; driving most of the time; taking care of gassing my auto; making the reservations; etc. We were exchanging more spontaneous kisses, hugs, holds and touches. I was “letting” him woo me, seduce me, and protect me, rather than staying a control freak (and I was appreciating and vocally thankful for his gestures). I started to feel special, safe, and cared for by him. Yes ladies, I had to put my scary control freak down to allow him to romance me.
There are services out there that will send you a “date box” (for about $35); I borrowed a cute idea from a friend and created a date-night jar (I’ll describe in a follow up post, but most of you can use your imagination! Some are PG and others are sexy; all are fun). SJ and I need to use this resource more often, and I’d like him to add his own personal touches with sports- and activity-related dates! The jar is great because sometimes when our imaginations and creativity are flailing, this provides ideas.
Dating each other still seems like new habits we have remind ourselves of. It’s so easy to lapse into our own corners and forget about actively romancing each other. It’s never too late to start…
But you can’t start early enough. If I had it to do again, I’d have prayed more for and with my husband on this issue of continuing to date each other. It would have avoided so much heartbreak and lack of communication.
What are some of your favorite date nights? How have you made date night work in your marriage? What are your obstacles? Please share!