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Topic: Marriage

Confessions of a Former Date-Night Legalist

February 1, 2016

A couple of months ago, Tim Challies wrote a post called “You Don’t Need a Date Night.” I read it with interest as one half of a married couple who don’t have a regular date night. We weren’t always in a date night drought. In fact, the occurrence of a regular date night used to be something I thought made or broke a marriage. When our date nights started waning, I lived in fear that our marriage was doomed for failure. So when I read Tim’s post, I was encouraged. I could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we weren’t the only ones struggling to get a regular date.

Judging on the popularity of the post, date nights are hard for a lot of people.

We have three kids three and under (twins and a baby). My husband works a job where he travels quite frequently, he is an elder in our church, and we live far away from family. Planning a date night requires a lot of forethought (we need a babysitter), time, and energy (we need to ensure we won’t fall asleep on the date!). When we first got married, we had a starry-eyed idealism about dates (especially me). If we didn’t have one every week, I thought we were on the fast track towards divorce. Coupled with my love for quality and quantity time, I was rather legalistic about dates.

Add two years of infertility and treatments, a job where he travels, and premature twins to the mix, and the last five years have been about hanging on, not romantic getaways. In those early days with the twins, we were lucky to have a conversation, let alone a date.

But I love him more than I did in our frequent date season. Why? Because the time we spend together now matters. Not only do we maximize our time because it is limited, but we’ve walked through the trenches of life together, making me long for his company like no one else. He gets me. He’s my friend. He’s been with me in delivery rooms, operating rooms, in sleepless nights, in tear-filled days, in my sin, and in my joy. The fact that he sees me in my physical and spiritual worst and still loves me means more to me than one thousand roses and a lifetime of candlelit dinners. There is a place for those things. I love a good date. But our marriage isn’t built on the spectacular. It is built on the ordinary. The sleepless nights with sick kids and the desperate prayers together that God would meet our needs for next month’s groceries are the things that cement a marriage. He knows my fears and my dreams. I know his strengths and his interests. Of course, time together alone allows me to know him better, but so does watching him play with our kids and appreciating his partnership to clean our house so I can write.

I love dates with my husband. I really do. But I am also learning to love life with him. I’m learning that we aren’t doomed to failure just because we can’t get a date out every month, let alone every week. We aren’t going to fall out of love because we don’t have a night away every quarter. Sometimes we have dates at home, and most of the time we fall asleep on the couch watching Netflix. It’s real life. Just like the Christian life isn’t made in the mountaintop experiences, a marriage isn’t either. Daily faithfulness wins the prize.

A date night is good, if you can get it. But more important is faithful living in the ordinary. A shared life in the throes of difficulty and the mundane knits a couple together in ways we don’t always see in the immediate, but we sense as life ebbs and flows and sometimes brings us to our knees. We need faithfulness in the ordinary for faithfulness in the grandiose.

I’m thankful for the dates we’ve had, and the dates we get, but I’m even more thankful that he’s here to hold the baby, play with our kids, and help clean up the toys. I’m thankful that we live this life together, in all its ordinary glory. And sometimes, just sometimes, we might get a date thrown into the mix.

Perhaps we feel the pressure for regular dates because we spend a lot of time in our Christian subculture trying to preserve marriage (which is good). But in the quest to encourage couples to know each other, sometimes we set up arbitrary standards that are impossible to meet when real life sets in. We need to hold the tension between working hard for our marriages while also giving grace for all the work that life, marriage, and kids requires of us.

Dates are good. That is true. But again, so is crashing on the couch after a long day of work in the home and the marketplace. Be encouraged if you, like us, struggle to have a regular date night. You aren’t doomed to failure if you don’t get a weekly night out together. Growth in marriage often happens in these ordinary moments. As you learn to love the ordinary moments, in addition to the more spectacular ones, you will see that in these regular, mundane days that a marriage is being cultivated. And that tells a beautiful story to a watching world.

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