Want to keep your marriage fresh and connected? We’ll cover three date night do’s and don’ts this week in Part 1 and four next week in Part 2.
Date night. Have two words ever caused more expectation and pressure for couples? (Well, maybe “sex life,” but we’ll get to that in next week’s part 2!)
Let’s take the pressure off. There is a way to turn date nights into what they are supposed to be: a great time to relax, step away from the routine, and reconnect as a couple. In this two-part series, we’ll show you research-based ways to connect in ways that make sense for you. It is all about knowing how to do that – and how not to.
Do: Focus on small actions rather than grand plans
The foundation for a date night is laid days in advance. And I’m not talking about getting the perfect dinner reservations at the perfect time ahead of the perfect showtime for the perfect movie. Instead, set yourself up for enjoying one another and your time together by purposefully doing simple, little things that speak love, affection, and appreciation to your spouse in the days leading up to the date. (Of course, we can always be doing these things, but sometimes a prompt helps!)
Our research for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages revealed that some of the impactful “little things” are different for men and women.
For the wives reading this, here are two of the research-based “fantastic five” actions I share in the book that deeply impact most men (72% for both, in our survey):
- Notice what he does and sincerely thank him for it. (“Thank you for figuring out how to get our Wi-Fi working faster.”)
- Mention what he did well, in front of others. (“Mom, did I tell you that he took the kids to their activities all week while I wasn’t feeling well….?”)
For the husbands reading this, here are two of the “fantastic five” things that are likely to deeply impact your wife:
- Take her hand when you’re out walking or heading from the car to church (82% of all women are deeply pleased by this).
- Tell her sincerely, “You look beautiful” (which deeply pleases 76% of all women).
Don’t: Feel pressured to plan “the perfect date”
A happy date doesn’t require huge gestures, hundreds of dollars, or everything working perfectly. The most important factor is to simply do something together (we’ll talk more about that in Part 2), and have a sense of grace and humor for however it turns out.
Jeff and I recently conducted a marriage weekend at a church in the Midwest, which included sharing some of the differences between men and women from For Women Only and For Men Only – including the importance of paying attention to the “little things” that matter to our spouse. No sooner had we left the stage than a man met us at our book table. “It is good to hear that some of the things that matter are actually little and not complicated,” he said, while a group of husbands formed a loose semi-circle and half-listened. “Guys feel so much pressure to plan the perfect candlelight dinner that it paralyzes us.”
The other men nodded.
“We want to get it just right,” one of them chimed in. “When we don’t – when we feel like our wife thought it wasn’t perfect – we feel like a failure.”
Guys, maybe just organize whatever you want to organize … and then take your wife’s hand as you walk into the pizza place. Put your arm around her at the movie. Doesn’t that take the pressure off?
And wives, if something doesn’t quite work, focus on what went right. That’ll give your husband the affirmation to try again, rather than feeling it is too risky.
Do: Set a time limit to talk about the kids
We discuss the toddler’s fever and what to do about preschool. Or the teenagers when they’re navigating a fickle friend group. Or the adult kids when they’re making the same crazy financial decisions we once made.
If we’re not careful, our outings become a tsunami of kid-centered conversation.
Sometimes, of course, we need and want to talk about the kids! But if you’ve noticed that conversation about the kids tends to swallow up your entire evening, here’s a really practical way to make sure it doesn’t.
Set a timer.
Put a limit on how long you talk about your kids, so you can turn your attention to each other, too. When the timer goes off, find non-kid-related things to talk about. What ended up happening with that conflict at work last week? I’d love your advice about a volunteer opportunity. Did your mom get back to you about coming with us on vacation? And by the way … where do we even want to go on vacation?
Don’t: Poke at the things you wish were different in your spouse
Consider date nights a time to get away from the tensions you’ve been juggling and instead pour into and affirm each other. Yes, there is a need to have purposeful conversations on certain date nights. And we’ll talk in Part 2 about setting time aside to troubleshoot areas where your finances, sex life, or parenting approaches might be out of sync – and how to do that in a healthy way. But unless this particular date night is a “troubleshooting” time, be purposeful about not poking at those things.
Instead, brainstorm that vacation, listen to live music in the park, or share a booth at the local pizza joint and watch the big game. If you nurture each other as friends, you’ll find it’s much, much easier to later tackle the hard topics without the defensiveness that can creep in with criticism.
Do: Let go of control of the kids
Sometimes, when our kids are young, we (especially moms) have a hard time letting go of our “mom worries” enough to enjoy being a wife for an evening. But if we don’t practice doing that, we can start down a dangerous path. I hear from men at speaking events around the country who say almost the same phrase: “Since we had kids, I feel like I’ve lost my wife.”
If our children become our entire world, what message does this convey to the man we married?
So trade babysitting with a trusted couple friend. Leave the kids with family. And as the kids get older, give them a little freedom with this practical idea: Go on some test-run dates when your kids are old enough to be home alone. You can grab a short window of time away, and the kids can show you they’re responsible. Win-win.
Don’t: Let your thoughts and fears become a runaway train
For some of us, no sooner do we leave the house than our thoughts about the kids sabotage our evening.
- Will my parents let the kids eat candy all night?
- Is the sitter showing them an R-rated movie?
- What if they don’t get their homework done? Or take their medicine? Or survive without me for three whole hours?
Of course it’s important to place our kids in the care of trustworthy caregivers. But if we slip into the belief that our kids will never be safe with anyone but us, we miss the bigger picture of the safety and closeness of our marriage. And for those of us who are people of faith, we miss the even more important factor of trusting God with our kids.
Join us back here next time for Part 2, where we’ll talk about connecting as couples, surprising our spouses, scheduling time for “marriage maintenance,” and not forgetting to dream.
And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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More from Shaunti’s Blog:
- Solutions for Sarcasm? Yeah, Right. (Nix the Negativity Series, Part 3)
- From Grumbling to Grateful! (Nix the Negativity Series, Part 2)
- Always Suspicious of Your Spouse (or Others)? Here’s What To Do! (Nix the Negativity, Part 1)
- 7 Date Night Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)
- 7 Date Night Do’s and Don’ts (Part 1)
- Broken Trust in a Relationship? Here’s What To Do