It’s not that I was entirely wrong. I still don’t believe that couples need to leave their kids with babysitters once a week, lest their marriages be doomed. Nor do I think we should be trying to recapture the early, pre-marriage days of our relationship, when we were not only younger but far more immature and selfish, didn’t know each other as well, and hopefully — if we followed Biblical morality — weren’t having sex. Why go backwards?
However, there are some things I was seriously wrong about, and those are things that the best of the “date night” advocates are trying to get at. I’m addressing this to the wives, because…well, because I am one.
1. Intimacy is important, and it doesn’t just happen. You need to make room for it. By this, I mean real intimacy; I’m not just using the word as a code or euphemism for sex. It takes time, and a willingness to be open and vulnerable with each other, to build and maintain the level of intimacy that should be found in a truly healthy marriage. Otherwise it’s too easy to become harried co-parents passing each other like two ships in the night, whose conversations are mostly about babies and business.
2. Husbands aren’t just being immature and selfish, or child-haters, if they miss the “fun” person we used to be, or that they hoped we’d be, when we married. Unless you married a really irresponsible jerk, he doesn’t want to quit his job, sell the kids to the gypsies, and run off with you on some crazy adventure. But he might want you to play with him — however that might like look for the both of you — and to be his recreational companion once in a while. He might want to know that he can still make you laugh, that your life is not all drudgery and duty, and that there is still a fun sparkle in your eyes especially for him to enjoy. He might just want to see you happy, and to know it’s because of him.
3. Some husbands get lonely, and rely on our friendship more than we realize. This can be confusing if your husband’s friendship style is waaaaay different than yours. I was shocked to read a study showing that the majority of happily married men considered their wives their best friends, while the wives usually considered someone else their best friends. As a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom whose husband was usually busily involved in his business and in church ministry plus meeting weekly with a prayer partner for most of our marriage, it was easy for me to think my husband’s life was filled with people and rich relationships while I was isolated and starved for adult conversation. Yes, my husband was surrounded by people all day, but that did not meet his deeper needs for relationship. We would have both done things differently if we had realized that.
4. Marriage should be our priority human relationship. After all, we took vows with this dude. That doesn’t mean we sacrifice our children on the altar of marriage. We don’t have to do silly, rude things like couch time to let everyone know they are second, third, or fourth fiddle to us. It doesn’t mean we should spend more time with our husbands than our children, or that we can’t have a girls’ night out, or that we must not ever do anything without our husbands. Marriage should never be an idol. Neither should any husband. But it’s an extremely important relationship, not just because of the vows, but because it’s supposed to be a living analogy of Christ and the Church. So we better treat our marriage with respect (and the same goes for the children produced by it).
5. Marriage books are full of nonsense. But I already knew that. Of course, they are not all 100% rubbish, but we would do well to remember a few important things: a) most, if not all, of them were written by people who have never met you or your husband; b) most, if not all, of them are written by people you would never, ever want to be married to; c) authors of marriage books have their own issues and baggage just like everyone else; d) the more authoritative and dogmatic the author, the quicker you should toss his/her book on the scrap heap; e) too many marriage books are written by middle or upper class Americans who assume we all have enough discretionary income to spend on babysitters, romantic dinners, fancy lingerie, hotel weekends, and vacations without the kids; f) just as God created us all different and doesn’t want us all to look and act exactly alike, He doesn’t want all marriages to look and act exactly alike; g) marriage is first and foremost about becoming one — not erasing anyone, but becoming a whole that is greater than the individual parts — so don’t take anyone seriously who starts telling you marriage is like the military, or like a business, or like a sports team, or like any other wacky thing God never intended it to be.
6. You are neither a sinner nor a failure if you need time to relax and rejuvenate. Even Jesus withdrew for times with His Father. We need intimacy with our Heavenly Father. We need intimacy with our husbands, however that may look in each of our marriages. And we need a certain amount of intimacy with good friends. Those things are important and valuable…and we don’t need to pretend we are supermoms who are above human needs and desires. We need each other…and our husbands need us.
7. Marriages have seasons, and what works in one may not work in another. We need to cut ourselves some slack. Alone time with our husbands will not be our major priority when we have a newborn, nor should it. Going broke hiring babysitters, or stressing out over what mayhem the kids are engaging in without us, is not a marriage-building exercise, no matter what anyone tries to tell you.
8. We need to do what works for us. Even though I rejected the notion that my marriage would shrivel up and die if I didn’t jump through all the stressful, exhausting hoops a weekly date night would have required when the kids were little, I still thought we needed a weekly something. So I tried date nights at home and a bunch of other ideas I found in books or online, and they all went over like a lead balloon. In my misguided zeal, I forgot to do the most important thing. It never dawned on me to say to my husband, “Honey, I want us to have the best marriage possible, and to become closer to each other. What kind of things do you think would nurture and strengthen our marriage? And what kind of things would you enjoy doing together?”