Written by Cynthia Thomas
Edited by Amy Young
“Too many couples try to coast through the childbearing and career years without making time to deepen and nurture their marriages. It’s a recipe for disaster. Those couples who don’t date may achieve financial stability, and they might even successfully raise their kids and navigate them through school. But they reach the empty nest years and realize they are strangers living under the same roof. By then it’s incredibly difficult to reverse the damage wrought by decades of essentially ignoring each other and clinging to the false assumption that they can pick up at fifty five exactly where they left off at twenty five.” (Dr. Greg Smalley, Little Book of Great Dates)
When Sam and I got married in 2004, I was clueless on how to make a marriage work. I was not a Christian and my parents were divorced, so my side of the marriage was headed for disaster. Thankfully, Sam was a Christian and his parents were still married, so he had an idea of what was needed to make a marriage successful. I became a Christian about a year into our marriage, and we eventually found a church and started growing spiritually.
Fast forward almost 5 years later and our first child was born. If you are a parent, you know how stressful parenthood is and how children will put stress on every relationship in your life—especially the relationship with your spouse. Fortunately, our church offered parenting classes using the Babywise curriculum, and it gave us a blueprint on how to make a marriage with kids not only survive but thrive.
1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)
8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
One of the key suggestions was regular date nights. In the beginning, we had a date night about once a month simply because we didn’t have access to many babysitters. Eventually we moved closer to family and were able to start having date nights every week or two. It really depends on your schedules, needs, and personalities. I know of a couple with six kids who have 2 dates a week. I know of families with nine kids who have had to get really creative with their dates; sometimes it‘s just running errands together or, after everyone goes to bed, they watch a movie together in their bedroom.
I realize that prior generations did not necessarily have “date nights” and still managed to stay married for 40, 50, 60 years, etc. I also personally know of couples married for that length of time who could not stand each other. They stayed married purely because of God’s stance on divorce. However, love had left their marriage decades ago. I have no desire for a marriage like that and neither does God! Marriage is a gift and needs to be worked on constantly.
Ephesians 4:2-3 (NIV)
2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Mark 10:9 (NIV)
9 “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Malachi 2:14-15 (NIV)
14 “You ask, ‘Why?’ It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.”
15 “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.”
As a stay-at-home mom balancing home-school and fostering, getting out of the house for a couple hours once a week is essential. Time without kids makes a big impact on my mental health and gives me the ability to go back and serve my family well. Spending just a few kid-free hours with my spouse not only gives us time to recharge and unwind, but also time to grow our relationship. It gives us time to talk and get on the same page regarding parenting issues and everything else. Invest in your family and make those date nights happen! It may take some effort, but it is worth it!
One of the important concepts we learned from our Babywise parenting classes was that the best years of our marriage would be our best years as parents…and vice versa. We have found this concept to be so true. Date nights increase intimacy in marriage as well as build resilience. (The ministry First Things First shared a helpful article on why date nights matter.)
Date nights don’t have to be expensive. Dave Ramsey has a great article on 40 cheap dates. It is more important that they happen regularly and that there is variety, fun, and adventure. The mundane is a quiet killer of relationships. Think Steve Carell and the movie Date Night. The couple regularly has date nights, but they do the same thing every single time. Same restaurant. Same routine. They even order the same food each time. The night they venture into the city to do something different, fun, and adventurous, ends up putting the spark back into their marriage. Now I don’t recommend the same methods as was used in that movie, but the principles are the same. Variety adds spice!
Song of Songs 4:9 (NIV)
9 “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.”
Christian writing team, Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, have many books, articles, and podcasts dedicated to marriage and the importance of date nights. Their book, Little Book of Great Dates, is filled with 52 ideas for a year’s worth of affordable, weekly date nights. This book is also available at local libraries and the ebook can be borrowed for free via the Hoopla app. I’ll admit that I have used this book before when I found my husband and I in a rut with our date nights. We don’t eat at the same restaurant every time but we found ourselves in the same boring routine: eating dinner at some local restaurant, maybe grabbing a coffee afterwards and heading home. We are often exhausted by the time it comes for us to head out for our date, but I knew that we needed to put more effort into the dates. So we tried hiking one evening. Another time we cashed in a free night at a local hotel and had a mini stay-cation. Other times we have attended music concerts. One of the best dates was spending an afternoon at a free local art museum. Once you start thinking about it, there are so many ideas for a date night:
- Hike/walk at a nearby park
- Movies (matinee? got coupons?)
- Evening with another couple
- Check out a local theatrical production
- Art gallery/exhibit
- Science museum
- Baseball game
- State fair
- Amusement/water park
- Day trip somewhere
- Serving somewhere together…Habitat for Humanity, local food bank, etc.
- Art class
- Escape room
- Afternoon tea
- Hockey game
- Football game
- Exercise together
- Basketball game
- Helicopter ride
- Explore local gardens/arboretum
- Game night…chess, Monopoly, etc.
- Ax throwing
- Craft workshop
- Cooking class
- Comic book convention
- Book signing
- Film festival
- Attend a conference with speakers that pique your mutual interests
- Attend a comedy show
- Watch the sunset or sunrise
- Get ice cream
- Check out the local farmer’s market
- Go out for breakfast
- Visit the planetarium
- Stargaze one evening with your local astronomical and observation society
- History museum
- Visit a local battlefield
- Attend an open mic night
- Jazz festival
- Couples massages
Dr. Smalley recommends some date night rules to help keep them fun and enjoyable:
- Keep certain topics off limits: finances, household responsibilities, child discipline issues, or other administrative issues.
- Stay current with your spouse—ask questions. Be curious! Show them you’re still interested!
- Try new and exciting activities; this can increase marital satisfaction. New activities also stimulate parts of the brain that were ignited when you were first dating. This helps recreate the chemical surges of early courtship.
- Reminisce—talking about special moments or memorable events allows you to celebrate how far you’ve come as a couple and renews hope as you anticipate future good times together.
- Select dating activities that communicate intimacy for both of you. For men, intimacy is often built on a shared activity; for most women, a shared activity is a backdrop to deep conversation.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5 (NIV)
4 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
Making fun date nights happen regularly is not easy; however, your marriage is worth it! Outside of your relationship with God, your relationship with your spouse is the next most important one! Invest in it! Do what it takes to stay the course with the “wife of your youth.” Remember the love and passion of your courtship and early marriage. Successfully married couples of several decades have reported their marriages to be fulfilling, intimate, and much richer when they have purposefully put the variety, fun, and adventure into making it work. Take that first intentional step today—what are your plans this week? Make it a priority and see what an impact it WILL have on your marriage!
Proverbs 3:3-4 (NIV)
3 “Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.”