For as long as I’ve been reading marriage books written by Christians, I’ve had the necessity of date nights, weekend getaways, anniversary celebrations and more stressed to me. If you can make sure you and your wife get a night out every week, that you can take a getaway without the kids quarterly, and that every anniversary exceeds the last in terms of pomp and circumstance, you’re right as rain and have nothing to worry about, ever.
But as a couple of friends pointed out recently (Tim Challies, and Jeff Medders after him), the whole date night thing isn’t a sacred institution. They’re fun, and worth doing when you can, but they’re not the make-it-or-break-it issue upon which your whole marriage hinges. I don’t want to reiterate anything they’ve said because, they’ve said it all quite well. I’ve also read and really appreciated the practicality of one of the pro-dating your spouse books that came out a while back. Instead, I want to share a little of what dating has looked like in my marriage—and where we’ve found more satisfaction than going on a night out on the town:
The worst times in my marriage have all surrounded money… specifically our lack of it. Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: if you work for a ministry, you’re rarely livin’ large. These days all our needs are met by my salary, certainly; but there were a number of years where there was a lot more month than money. We were so broke our friends couldn’t wrap their minds around how little money we had. We’d often have to choose when to buy what essentials, and try to make everything stretch as long as possible until the next pay day. So we didn’t have a budget line for things like dates and babysitters, since our budget line for groceries barely covered what we had.
(You probably have a better idea of why I have a habit of working on too many things now, huh?)
During those early years of our marriage—the years where we had to trust God because we had no choice but to trust God that the mortgage was going to be paid, the hydro was going to be covered, and the fridge would have what we needed—dates were so rare that they really did feel special. Emily knew it was special when I’d scrounged up enough for us to go to the Keg. Heck, if we were going to Jack Astor’s or Kelsey’s[1. a couple of mid-range chains—think Olive Garden prices, American readers] it was a big deal.
Because we were so broke, we got into the habit of having what we call our couch dates. Here’s what we do: We make a make, or sometimes order in, a fun meal after the kids are in bed, hang out on the couch, watch a movie and chat.
That’s pretty much it.
I know, it’s spectacularly unimpressive, right? But this is something we’ve done for years and continue to do to this day because it’s a great time. And it’s a great time, in part, because it’s a response to our circumstances. If Emily’s stressed out or can’t figure out what to feed us, sometimes she needs that responsibility lifted from her (sometimes I do this by taking care of dinner planning for the whole fam-jam, too). If I just want to show her that I appreciate her and all she does, that’s a fantastic reason, too. Our couch dates are an opportunity for us to work on our communication (which always has room for improvement), but also to simply spend some time together. There aren’t any expectations. There’s no pressure. They’re just fun.
There’s a lot of pressure around dating: We all want to have good marriages. We all want to have good communication. We all want to invest in our spouses. We’ve heard the sermons. We’ve read the books. We’ve all felt bad about how we’re not doing it well enough. So, if anything, especially if you’re someone who’s in the same position I was a few years ago, I really hope this article serves to take the pressure off. When you’re too broke for date nights, you shouldn’t have to feel like you’re inferior or that your marriage is doomed to fail. You’re not, and it’s not.
There are lots of ways to invest in one another, both in traditional date settings, as well as in creative outlets like those we’ve gone with. And those kind of creative expressions of finding time to develop your relationship—whether it’s something like a couch date, reading to one another at night, or even going out for a walk after dinner—mean just as much as a night out on the town.
Perhaps even more in the long run.