Transcript below from Marriage Steps Podcast Episode 7 on the top four things to do during dates in marriage.
Today I'm going to talk about the importance of dates in your relationship and more importantly, the top four things to do in every date that you have. To begin with, let's discuss why dates are needed. Dates are important for relationships because life is busy and life is stressful and life is hectic. Whether you have kids or you don't have kids, you have work, you have a house, you have all of these things vying for your attention and so often our spouse gets the crumbs. Our marriage gets the crumbs. So if you are not having regular dates with your spouse, you're going to pretty soon feel like roommates. You're going to be two ships passing in the night because your relationship does not have an opportunity to create electricity. It's interesting that in the beginning when we were first getting to know our spouse, we dated them all the time. It was nonstop dates and that is the behavior that helped us fall in love. But once we got married, we stopped dating each other, we stopped doing the very behavior that made us fall in love with each other. And then we wonder why we're still not in love. So if you want to fall back in love with your spouse or if you want to stay in love, having regular dates is a vital ingredient. So the recommendation is to have two dates a week and to do four things per date. Now that may sound outrageous to have two dates a week but we'll get into some practical tips on how to do that later. But that's the recommendation. And that comes from psychologist Willard Harley who's done some great work and I agree with him that two dates a week doing the following four items is optimal for marriages.
The first thing to do is cultivate emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy by definition is really learning what's going on in one another's inner world. One of the best ways to do this is to cultivate a habit called the head/heart check. Head is your agenda. What's on your day timer? What did you do during the day? What were your behaviors like during the day? Maybe you worked on this project for a few hours, then you went to that meeting for a few hours, etc. That's your head. Your heart is what you felt and why so mad, sad, glad or fear and why. Your feelings may be connected to the head items or they may be an undercurrent you've been feeling that has nothing to do with your agenda. Couples need to be doing a head/heart check, by the way, every day of the week. It's the glue that's going to keep you emotionally connected in your relationship. When you're doing your two dates a week, spend an extended amount of time doing your head/heart check. Ask more questions, go deeper, share more, become more vulnerable. That's what will connect you for emotional intimacy.
Second, during the date you want to cultivate a lot of affection. By definition, affection is any type of touch that's non-sexual, but you need to learn how to touch your spouse because everyone likes different types of touch. Normally we touch in the way we were touched. For example, growing up my mom touched me more firmly. She would grab me, hold me tight, and pat my back with gusto and since that's how I was raised that's how I tend to touch my wife and kids. However, my wife was raised with a mom who provided really light tickles for her touch up and down her arms and legs, barely touching the skin. And that is not my natural tendency because I was touched differently. So for years my wife would say, "you're never giving me affection" and I would say "what do you mean I'm grabbing you hard, holding you tight, patting your back" and she's like "that is not the kind of touch I want, I want light tickles." She wanted the type of touch she was raised with. So you have to learn what kind of touch your spouse likes. Ask them what type of touch they prefer. Where do they like to be touched? Do they like their hair to be stroked, their arm to be tickled, do they like holding hands, getting hugs, etc. Ask them those questions and then provide that type of touch daily and especially during your dates.
The third piece to provide during your two dates is recreation. You want to do something in motion, such as going for a hike, a bike ride, swimming together, playing ping pong, darts, etc. Something recreational you both would enjoy. A lot of couples, unfortunately through the years, have developed separate hobbies. So it might be time for you to cultivate some similar ones. It doesn't mean you have to get rid of your individual hobbies, but you want the majority of your hobbies to be something you both like to do.You may need to do some research on the top 30 hobbies or activities to do with your spouse to get some ideas generated and to see what you both would enjoy doing. Then you can pick from that list for your dates. Recreational activity together is fun for couples and those positive feelings often spill over to your partner.
Fourth is sexual. If you go back to episode three I talk about the wedding cake model of sexual intimacy and the middle tier is sensual activity, which includes a bath or shower together, a sensual massage, cuddling, etc. The requirement for the date is some type of sensual activity where you're enjoying one another's body in that realm. Once you're finished with the sensual activity it's optional if you want to take it to the sexual realm depending on how you both feel.
Now the reason these four elements are important is because usually it's going to cover the top two needs for women and the top two needs for men. The top two needs for most females is emotional intimacy and affection. And the top two needs for most men is recreation and sexual contact. So if you're doing all four during the dates, both spouses will walk away saying that was a great time. If you're only doing two of the four or one of the four or three of the four, one of you will walk away saying that was awesome and the other will walk away saying it was just okay. So all four are critical in order for it to be a fulfilling experience for both of you.
Now to have two dates a week obviously can be tricky, especially when you have kids. There's a couple of options on how to make this happen. One idea is to leverage the school day. If your kids are in school, perhaps one of your dates could be during the day, such as Wednesdays from 12-2:30 if you're able to take a long lunch break and then you don't need a babysitter. Another option is to put your kids to bed early one night or let them watch a movie late one night and have a home date. You can do something simple at home so you don't need a babysitter. Another option is to get a babysitter you trust and use them regularly. So many couples say they don't have money for babysitters. If that's you I would encourage you to ask yourself how much is your marriage worth? So many couples spend so much money on so many things and then when it comes time for a babysitter they say it's out of the budget. Perhaps your priorities are off. Perhaps you need to rearrange your finances to put your marriage first by investing in a babysitter so you can have dates to protect your marriage and keep your relationship together. Divorce is much more expensive than a babysitter! Another option is taking turns watching the kids of friends and family. Be creative. Don't let your busy life be an excuse for no dates. You have to have these dates to cultivate closeness in your relationship.
So for my wife and I, we practice this and I can immediately feel it when we are not having our two dates a week because we drift into distance and we're not as connected. And when we start having our two dates a week again, it's amazing how much life it breathes back into our relationship. We've had to adjust our schedule based on the summer so right now our current schedule is Monday and Saturday nights. We let our three older kids stay up on their gadgets and watch movies those nights and we put our youngest to bed around 7:30 pm those nights, which gives us around 2-3 hours for a home date. For example, last Monday night we had a meal my wife prepared for us out on our deck while we had a lot of conversation and affection. Then we played a card game together we both enjoy and then we went into our bedroom for some sensual time. Even though it was only around 2 hours, it was very bonding and connecting. We also have a rotation with a local babysitter every other Saturday night where she comes over for three hours, from 6-9. So that's how we do it. And we have four kids! So don't let having kids be an excuse not to have your two dates a week.
So I challenge you this upcoming week to think about how you and your spouse could start having two dates a week and hit all four elements, emotional, affection, recreation, and sexual. One last tip, it's important for each spouse to be in charge of one of the dates per week. So for example, my wife is in charge of the dates Monday nights and I'm in charge of the dates Saturday nights. That's helpful because a lot of times one person tends to be the planner and then it all falls on them. So you want to divide that responsibility so it's not all on one person. Then each of you has a voice and influence over what you do for the date you're in charge of.
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How could it impact your marriage if you included all four elements in two dates a week?