The idea of date nights has become a hot-button issue in some Christian circles. Some advocate that they are a nice “bonus” when they happen to work out, but aren’t a necessary component to having a good marriage. Others view weekly date nights as an ideal.
In our own sixteen-year marriage and ministry, we’ve come to view date nights as a life-giving time to keep marriage fresh. Our American culture pushes workaholism and child-centeredness in such a way that marriage is often left on the back burner. The vast majority of us don’t need a free pass to stop dating our spouses, but a push to be intentional about making marriage a priority amidst the other demands and responsibilities of life.
While it’s true that a good marriage is built in the mundane tasks of everyday life rather than on romantic getaways and mountaintop experiences, it doesn’t negate the fact that intentional time together as a couple is indispensable to having a healthy marriage.
What follows is an attempt to define a date night, along with a response to four common arguments against the idea of regularly dating your spouse.
What Is “Date Night”?
Some of the disagreement here may have to do with semantics. If you only imagine a date night to be dining at a five-star restaurant, hiring an expensive babysitter and heading to the theater for a Broadway-caliber show, very few of us would ever be able to go! But what if we defined “date night” by having intentional time with your spouse (without your children!)?
Of course, for every couple this intentional time will look different. For some it could be a long walk at the park or a picnic on the beach. For others it might be enjoying a cup of hot tea and a movie after the kids are in bed. In our experience as parents of four children (ages two to thirteen), if we do not plan to have time alone together, it is easily swallowed up by our children’s activity schedules, ministry, household chores, working on our computers, unanticipated interruptions, and pure selfishness. We often have to set a limit for our type-A selves in the evening of when we are closing the computers, shutting off the phones, and turning towards each other.
We’ve made it a practice to plan at least two date nights out of the house each month as well, not in a legalistic way, but as a healthy habit to protect and strengthen our marriage. There is something especially refreshing about leaving the piles of unfinished work at home and heading to a new environment with only each other. Even after the hassle of getting a babysitter and prepping her with directions, as soon as we’re in our smokin’ hot mini-van, backing out of the driveway, we breathe a sigh of relief together and often say, “This is so worth it!”
“It’s Too Expensive!”
I’m thankful for the wise counselors we had early on in our marriage. They encouraged us to make sure we kept dating each other, even when money was tight and it seemed nearly impossible to add one more thing to our budget.
From the very start of our marriage, having date nights was a non-negotiable. But we were far from the couple who could throw out fifty bucks or more at the drop of a hat to make it happen. My husband was a seminary student, and at the beginning, I was a student teacher. We had negative income! But it forced us to be creative. We often took bike rides and had picnics in beautiful parks. And we did budget some modest funds to eat out a couple times a month. It was well worth it.
After having our first child, I quit my teaching job to become a stay-at-home mom. My youth-pastor husband was still a seminary student, and money was in short supply. But an older pastor’s wife had a great vision: “I’m going to pray that the teens in your youth group will see babysitting for your kids as an opportunity to serve you!” And God answered that prayer. We often had free babysitters and later set up a babysitting swap with another family. We went out on a Friday night while they watched our kids, and then we did the reverse on Saturday night. That swap continued for about three years, and they became some of our dearest friends. It was a win-win situation for everybody involved.
My husband and I have often felt dismayed by how quickly other couples shoot down the idea of date nights simply because of the cost involved. We all invest time and money in what we value. Do we value our marriages enough to hire a babysitter a couple times a month? If you’re able to send your daughter to ballet lessons and your son to basketball camp, don’t you think your marriage is worth spending some money on too? Don’t let the price tag of a date night keep you from setting aside time to strengthen the most important earthly relationship you have.
“What About Spontaneity?”
I like the idea of being spontaneous. It sounds romantic and exciting. And for those of you without children, or who are empty-nesters, maybe this is a reality. Maybe you really can choose to have a date night at the drop of a hat. But for the vast majority of us with little ones, having a date night requires some intentional planning. Finding a babysitter, budgeting the money, and planning something meaningful and enjoyable together requires some forethought.
In our marriage, date nights are a calendar issue. Without scheduling specific nights for dates, the activities of our four children will reign supreme. Sometimes this means they have to miss a practice or event. We are not always the most popular couple when we say our children can’t come to something because we have a date night planned. But in the child-centered world of American society, this is exactly what needs to happen.
After our relationship with God, the marriage relationship should be a main priority. The needs and desires of our children can easily become totally consuming. Without adding a date night to our calendar, it just simply wouldn’t happen.
“We Spend Time Together Everyday — Why Do We Need a Date Night?”
Another common objection to having a date night is the idea that spending time at home together, or running errands, accomplishes the same thing. While I agree that my husband and I can sometimes have meaningful conversations while doing the dishes or running to Lowes, there are also a million distractions that often interrupt us.
Just when I’m beginning to share my heart about a relational struggle I’m having, our two-year-old walks in with a stinky diaper. We get to Lowes and the conversation is halted while we look for just the right paint color. And by the time we try to get back to the conversation, it’s time to get everyone ready for bed.
Setting aside intentional time together, without the distraction of children or chores, allows for an extended time of sharing, eye-to-eye conversations, playful physical touches, and undisturbed flirting, all of which help fodder the much needed fire of intimacy that keeps marriage fresh.
Although it is true that a solid marriage is built on the day-to-day interactions between the married couple, we can’t negate the truth that intentional one-on-one time is much needed medicine for a healthy marriage.
“My Wife Doesn’t Need to Be Pursued Romantically for Her to Know I Love Her.”
Yes, we know you love us when you tell us with words or help with the dishes or give us a break from the kids. But I think we’re fooling ourselves to assume what was once considered a given before we were married — men initiating dates, giving forethought to planning evenings out, working to please her and pursue her — doesn’t matter anymore.
It’s like the deer head mounted on the hunter’s wall or the athlete’s trophy. The chase is over. Victory has been won. And now your amazing feat is hanging on the living room wall for all to see and admire. But as wives, we don’t want to be a champion trophy. Deep down women want a husband who will make time in his busy schedule to plan special times together that show his love has not gone stale.
Marriage Is This Important
In the busyness of life and raising our families, our marriages are at risk to go under water as we seek to meet everyone’s expectations and our many responsibilities. Take some time to evaluate the health of your own marriage, and clear a couple nights on your calendar this month for some much needed alone time together.
Your dates don’t have to look like the Jones’s, but don’t go to the other extreme and forget about them altogether. Your marriage will be strengthened and helped as you spend intentional time together, honoring the spouse God has given you to share life with.