This article is part of our August and September 2018 Guest Blog series. During a particular intense “sandwich generation” season (launching my daughter to college and my son to high school, helping my parents move to Atlanta, and tackling a major research deadline), I am taking this opportunity to introduce my readers to the insight of some key partners. Enjoy!
A few years ago, when I was researching what made the happiest marriages so happy, one piece of advice I heard over and over again was to have a weekly date night out – to reconnect with your spouse by getting a babysitter, putting the world on hold for a while, and going out for dinner. The thing was: I didn’t hear it all that often from the happiest couples themselves. I heard it from pastors and counselors and other leaders. And these leaders certainly do have a lot of experience with what makes great marriages.
But what I heard from the happiest couples themselves – and what we concluded in the study – is that it is spending time together that matters. And a formal date night out is just ONE way to do that. “Hanging out” in all sorts of forms is what makes all the difference. Using additional data from Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia, we found that married couples who spent some sort of time talking, sharing an activity, or hanging out once a week were five times more likely to be “very happy” in their marriages than those who didn’t.
This is reassuring not only to many couples who simply can’t arrange or afford to get out, but also to my worried kids: “Mom, how come you and dad don’t have Date Nights? We learned in Psychology that you need to do that to avoid divorce!”
Thankfully, I was able to explain to my worried teenager that Date Nights out are certainly great when Jeff and I can snatch those rare times to do so. But since we travel and speak a lot away from our kids, we want to be with them when we’re home, not out on a date!
“But –” my daughter started to protest.
“Honey, look at these numbers.” I pulled up page 147 of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and showed her a graph. “Your dad and I can’t get out on Date Nights very often because we want to be home with you when we can. But we do a lot of things together and that is what matters most. See? You know how we even sit and have coffee together a lot of mornings before the day starts?”
“Well, that can be just as important as a Date Night—at least in some ways. As long as you use it to reconnect.”
And that caveat is super important. You do have to make ways to connect with your spouse. So I was grateful to see a great take on this from my friend Debra Fileta, the author of Choosing Marriage. I’m passing it on in the hope that it will help you be more purposeful about your “hanging out” – in whatever form that takes!
“You need to go on a weekly date night outside of the house every single week to keep your marriage strong….”
I remember the first time I ever heard that phrase. My husband and I were married with an infant and a toddler at the time, born only 20 short months apart, trying to survive the madness of parenting young children.
I was staying at home with the kids 6 out of the 7 days a week and also working desperately to complete my very first book, and John was halfway through his extremely busy medical residency. Needless to say, we were short on cash, short on energy, and short on time.
As much as I wanted to have “one date night out a week”, to be completely honest with you, it was nearly impossible. Trying to find a babysitter we trusted, find time in his crazy schedule, and then fork out the minimum $100 dollars to cover dinner and a sitter just seemed way out of our “weekly” budget. Heck, I was trying to simply stay under $100/week for groceries, much less a date night.
So when I heard those words coming from a trusted leader at the time, my heart kinda sank. We’re doomed, I thought to myself.
Over the next few years, I’ve actually heard that phrase many-a-time in sermons, books (not mine!), and even in one-on-one conversations. On one hand, I absolutely agree that couples need focused time carved out in their week for one another. But on the other hand, the traditional thought of a “date night out” can really amount to a lot of pressure. Especially when you’re in the stage of having young children.
If you want my personal opinion, the idea that you HAVE to go out every single week in order to keep your marriage strong is actually a harmful idea. The expectation for fancy date nights out, fine dining and dancing, or whatever it is you put on your list, is not only impossible (and unwise) for some people’s budgets, but doesn’t always work out in the daily grind of life (finding a sitter, collaborating schedules, etc).
And trying to meet unrealistic expectations can leave one or both partners feeling disappointed, bitter, and discouraged in their marriage.
Date Night In – Not Out
Now back to the idea of carving out time for one another – that, I highly recommend. I just don’t believe it always has to be a “ weekly date night out”. In Choosing Marriage, I talk about the importance of weekly couch time – 20 minutes of time deliberately set aside each and every week to connect and communicate. For a healthy marriage, you absolutely have to learn to prioritize one another no matter what stage of life you find yourself in…but that might not always look the way others expect it to.
For my husband and I, that time of prioritizing has looked different in different stages of our marriage. Sometimes, it definitely does mean a fancy date night out. I’m with every other romantic on earth in saying I enjoy that special time when we can get out of the house and have a night, or even a weekend, all to ourselves (and we have one just around the corner that I am so pumped about!!).
But the real truth is, most weeks, our “weekly date night” means being deliberate about using our time to invest in each other once the kids have gone to bed.
It means sitting on the couch folding laundry together and talking about our day.
It means playing a game of cards or a round of trivia.
It means holding hands by the fire (or the “pretend fire” flickering on the TV screen thanks to the Netflix mood setters- see photo below if you think I’m kidding).
It means making time to be sexually intimate.
It means having couch time, laying face to face and just chatting.
It means spending time reading God’s word together or just taking the time to pray with one another.
It means holding hands across the dining room table and having a late night snack.
It means no cell phones, no laptops, and no distractions. Just some time to focus on one another.
I don’t know about you but if you’re anything like us I just want to encourage you…
A good marriage isn’t about chasing special moments, it’s about making ordinary moments special (Tweet it!).
It’s about taking the time you have, and using it to make your marriage stronger. It’s about being deliberate to connect and communicate. Sometimes that might require a date night out…but most nights, all it requires is an open heart and a little effort. So to all the couples out there in a busy season, in a difficult season, or in a broke season….Here’s to many more #DateNightsIn.
Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, and Choosing Marriage: Why It Has To Start With We > Me where she writes candidly about love, sex, dating, relationships, and marriage. You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!