Contrary to common marriage advice, there is something else you should be paying attention to.
It was a dreary evening, and we sneaked out the door towards the car, leaving our unhappy toddler with the babysitter. Not only had we scheduled time for the date, found someone who could babysit (and then found another person when the first babysitter had to cancel), but we even called ahead to a restaurant to make reservations. And the car had a full tank of gas.
All the little logistical things that could have started an argument were taken care of. This was going to be it. This date would revitalize our marriage! It would solve so many problems! Everyone gives marriage advice that says how important regular dates are, and dang it, we were going out! We had put so much work into the planning of the date that it would definitely bring us closer together.
Unfortunately, that is not how the evening panned out. We found some little things that irritated us on the car ride over and it went downhill from there. Instead of an evening enjoying quality time together, it turned out to be a fairly miserable experience that felt like it unraveled us more than knit us together.
In theory, spending quality time with your spouse and getting out of your normal routines should help your marriage, but it turns out that if you’ve having a rough time connecting in your marriage, the way to help your relationship is often not going on more dates.
What needs your attention? Every other interaction that you have with your spouse.
After reading this book, I realized that once you’re consistently having positive interactions a majority of the time with your spouse, then date night can be helpful and enriching. But, it takes focused, daily effort to improve your day-to-day relationship before date night really thrives.
So here are a few interactions I found that I had to work on to improve our marriage, and thus improve our dates:
I paid attention to how I talked to my spouse every day.
I realized that I was often annoyed, passive aggressive, or grumpy in our conversations. I asked myself how I greeted my spouse when I saw him after work. Most nights I greeted him not with joy or even common decency, but with frustration or grumpy silence. To change those habits I resolved to greet him joyfully every evening, and slowly change the tenor of our conversations.
Next, instead of nurturing a habit of discontent and focusing on how I feel hurt by my husband, I tried to switch that around.
Throughout the day, I made an effort to think back on and notice his goodness in concrete ways. Then, I text him thanking him for that goodness specifically—hey, thanks so much for waking up early with the toddler this morning or I really appreciate your hospitality, thanks for making our friend feel so loved the other day.
While these aren’t huge, mind-blowing changes, it is amazing how hard it can be to change the way you speak to someone or the way you think about them. Did it feel forced sometimes to text compliments or to make an effort to be cheerful when I wasn’t? Yes, it did. But with time, it didn’t feel strange anymore, and I was able to form a new habit. And not surprisingly, date nights are a thousand times better and more enjoyable now.
Your marriage is important — more important than most things in your life. If you know you need to pay more attention to this key relationship, then the answer isn’t just “go on more dates.” All the time you spend interacting daily with your spouse is just as important — if not more important — than intentional quality time.
Married saints St. Francis Choe Kyong-Hwan and Bl. Maria Yi Seong-Rye and St. Zelie and St. Louis, pray for us!