7 Date Night Do’s and Don’ts (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a two-part series on date night ideas that can help keep your marriage connected, fun, and functioning! See Part 1 for the first three do’s and don’ts.

You want to breathe new life into your marriage, and you know a date night is a great way to do that. But what do you do to make that happen? And perhaps just as important, what do you not do to undermine your efforts? In Part 1, we covered three practical date night do’s and don’ts. In this Part 2, we’ll finish with four more – including several steps that our research has shown are essential for any marriage.

Do: Expand your definition of a “date”

As we mentioned in Part 1, we need to take the pressure off of “date night” planning. Our research for The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Couples found that the key isn’t necessarily an official “date night,” as much as being purposeful about spending time together. For you, that may need to be regular date nights out because you need that accountability. But some of you will find another pattern works better.

As one example, Jeff and I realized years ago that when we were not traveling and speaking, we would much rather spend our precious evenings home with our kids! So our time for connecting became over morning coffee after we got the kids out the door for school. I wrote about this a few years ago, so I won’t revisit it here, other than to say that this routine really works for us. The key is to find what works for you.

Our research discovered that couples who hang out together at least once a week are five times more likely to be “very happy” than couples that don’t. This can be as simple as spending thirty minutes on the couch encouraging each other through life’s current demands.

Don’t: Feel pressured to do a date weekly

I can still remember my then-16-year-old daughter nervously asking me, “Why don’t you and Dad have a date night? My teacher in our Psychology class said it’s really important to do that every week.”

Being purposeful is indeed important. But as my friend Debra Fileta, author of Love in Every Season, guest-blogged here, the concept that you have to have a date night once a week in order to keep your marriage strong can actually be a harmful idea. The pressure can lead to expectations and disappointment. And, in some seasons, schedules are crazy and discretionary dollars are few.

So, if your favorite podcaster or the host of the morning show suggests that a weekly date night is the only gateway to a happy marriage, remember: they’re not in your actual marriage. I’ll put it on repeat: Find the pattern that works for you.

Do: Surprise your spouse once in a while!

This is a key way to keep things fresh: put a note in your phone calendar to surprise your spouse with something enjoyable and unexpected.

In a recent staff meeting, one of my team members said her husband would be stunned if she asked him to shoot hoops. “Pickleball, yes. Basketball? He would fall over.” Everyone on the team kind of raised their eyebrows, as if daring her to do it.

“At least challenge him to a game of H-O-R-S-E,” one of them said.

I hope she does it. A dash of the unpredictable can up the excitement ante in any marriage.

So, wives, if your man likes to watch football, make his team’s next game a big occasion – with team napkins, hotdogs, his favorite chips and dip, TV trays, etc. And guys, if you know she needs a quiet moment away from the chaos, take her to the seating area by the river with stale bread for the ducks and a Bluetooth speaker ready to play some of her favorite music.

In doing these things, you’ll signal to your spouse, “What you like and need matters to me.

Don’t: Roll your eyes if your husband suggests something “unromantic”

Wives, if your husband says, “Wanna go to Home Depot with me?” he’s probably saying, “I want to be with you!” As one man explained during my research for For Women Only, most men don’t want to abandon their wives to go do “guy things.” They want to do these things with their wives. For men, simply being together registers high on their romance radar.

This is another opportunity to expand our definition of what a “date” is!  Because if we roll our eyes at the notion of going to the RV showcase downtown or going on a hike, we could miss the sweet realization that our man just wants to be close. For him, that’s romance.

Do: Schedule goal-planning dates

In Part 1 I promised that we would talk about this. One couple I know is very intentional about quarterly “marriage management” dates. Another couple has a pattern where they agree in advance to turn an upcoming date night into a brainstorming session. Whatever you call it, consider finding a time to raise parenting, financial, or intimacy issues that need attention without the other spouse feeling blindsided.

Often these conversations can tease out the feelings underneath these pressure points. For example, during the years that Jeff and I were engrossed in research for Thriving in Love & Money we discovered that our “money issues” aren’t about money, but rather how money makes us feel. In our surveys for Secrets of Sex & Marriage, we likewise discovered that most couples want great intimacy but have misunderstandings about each other.

A date night to troubleshoot any needed issue will only bring you closer, as long as you make a rule that you will both be appreciative and respectful, even where you disagree.

Don’t: Avoid the hard topics

Here’s one way to enter into conversations around sex, money, or whatever is the issue for you: Pick up a copy of a book that has been recommended by someone you trust, and read through the chapters together.

For sex and money, for example, our research findings in each chapter of the books I just mentioned are great jumping off points for conversation. Reading through a book together helps you to be curious, with questions like:

  • Is this how you feel?
  • Is there something that you really wish I knew?
  • How can I reassure you in this area?

Do: Dream about the future together

Dreaming is really a way of saying, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” It tells your spouse that he’s/she’s still the one – and will always be the one. Ask your spouse dreaming questions, such as:

  • If there wasn’t a limit on anything (kids, finances, time), what would you want to do?
  • What do we want our lives to look like in five years?
  • What’s one trip we want to take?
  • What’s one ministry we’d like devote time to?

Don’t: Critique your spouse’s dreams!

In response to one of the survey questions for Thriving in Love & Money, we found a fascinating dynamic when a husband starts to dream out loud. Consider this scenario, which may, um, have been similar to something that happened in my house a few years ago:

Husband: “When we retire, I would love to move to Maine and open a bed and breakfast.”

Wife: “But the kids are here. And we’ve made so many memories in this house. And we don’t know anyone in Maine! How could you even think that?”

Wives! Try the decaf! He’s not selling the house and moving to Maine tomorrow. As I had to force myself to realize: He’s just blue-sky dreaming and he wants you to join him. Sometimes simply relaxing with a response like, “I never knew that. Tell me why that sounds amazing to you,” reveals something about our spouse that we didn’t know.

And isn’t that true for all of today’s tips? Whether we’re connecting, surprising, talking, or dreaming, a thriving marriage is a constant process of discovery.

So, by all means, plan regular date nights if that’s a routine you enjoy. But, bigger picture, make time to connect, discover, and grow. After all, you never know what you’ll learn about each other during a spirited game of H-O-R-S-E.

And if you are interested in having Shaunti speak on kindness for your workplace, church, school or community group, please contact Nicole Owens at nowens@shaunti.com.

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