Tomorrow, in case you live in a cave, is Valentine’s Day. I was going to be here for you in the matter of unpacking everything goop thinks will make your day super special, but then I came across this piece, and I find myself compelled (probably by God but we can quibble about that later) to provide another, urgent, point of view.
Let me set it up by saying that I find myself on many a Sunday afternoon, after church, along with my good husband, engaged in pre-marriage instruction. I used to call it pre-marriage counseling, but along the way I explained to myself that we aren’t really ‘counseling’ anyone. We are telling the two young people what they should do, many times rather forcefully, in order to have a happy marriage. Sure, we listen—we listen plenty—because everyone is a little nuts and no one comes into the marriage estate without whole buckets full of family heartbreak, strange bad ideas, and anxiety. But then the couple listens to us while we talk, and we say a lot of things. And one of the things we say is that they should pick an evening (which can change, of course) and call it “Date Night.” Make that evening sacrosanct. Let absolutely nothing interfere with it. Cling onto it with their whole selves. Do not let any excuses or tiredness or anger shift them off from enacting it, especially with liturgy, Every Single Week.
Invariably, having laid down this law, the young soon to be marrieds look at us quizzically and think we are dummies. Every week? Surely not. How ‘bout once a month? And what do we have to do?
“Talk to each other,” we say, with tears in our eyes. First she will talk, at great length, about everything that has happened to her all week, and he will listen with real interest. Then he will talk, at length, and she will listen. And then they will go back and forth, laying out everything they can think of, laboriously sorting through the events, the emotions, the thoughts, the anxieties of every corner of life that week. And then they will keep talking and then they will collapse into bed, exhausted from the trauma of having to talk. That’s what we mean by ‘liturgy.’ You do it every week in exactly the same way, just like going to church, or dropping the children off at school in the snow.
The couple is then married and goes about their lives, and maybe sometimes they wander back to us, stressed out, and the first thing we ask is, “How Is Date Night?” Their eyes fall to the floor, they shift and murmur. They never picked a time, see. They thought they would just work it out every week. But then they discovered that life is busy. It turns out that it’s kind of hard to figure out. But can we just help with this one problem just now? I always feel like saying, but I never do, “Not unless you promise me you’ll institute date night.”
Every single marriage problem we’ve encountered finds its root in the two married people not talking to each other in a real meaningful exhaustive way at least once a week. Should I say it again? It’s not the finances, although that’s a big one. It’s not the sex, although that’s so hard. It’s not family stuff, although that always hovers and broods. Except that it is all of those things because, wait for it, the two people are not talking to each other about them all in a regular way at least once a week.
Try it this way. If you shuffle into Matt’s office and complain that God is far away and you are stressed out and you don’t know what to do with yourself and you’re so unhappy, he will ask you one question. One single little bitty question. “How is your prayer life?” And if you sit there and gaze at your feet and stare at the ceiling, he will be forced to say, “Well what do you expect?” If you don’t ever talk to God, really, about the deepest and most anxious and darkest parts of you, how on earth can you expect to be ok? That is a wrong expectation. You must pray. You must. It is the air that the Christian breaths. If you refuse to pray, you are saying to God that you would rather suffocate than talk to him.
So also in marriage, if you do not have a regular habit of talking to your spouse, you are basically saying that you would rather suffocate and not breathe and just be miserable and sad, that you would rather die than be ok. Which is absurd.
That’s why articles like this make all my bells and whistles go off. Don’t set up a false construct. Date Night, of course, does not need to be a time where you go out and spend a lot of money. But guess what it also doesn’t need to be—family night with the kids. Make that some other time. Nor a time where you decide not to do it because your dining room table is full of junk. Nor a time where you let all your anger from the week be such a barrier that you find some excuse why you can’t sit down with a glass of wine and stare at each other for three hours. That’s why sometimes you do have to Go Out—not because you need some sparkly romance, but because you have to really talk to each other without interruptions.
The reasons listed in the article not to do this—because it’s a modern construct, or a treat, or it’s not even possible—do not carry any water with me. Sure, where I grew up, you do not have to be friends with your spouse. You don’t have to spend any time with your spouse. Different culture. Different context. In this culture, I don’t know if you have noticed, the marriage covenant carries a vast array of emotional and practical expectations inside of it. Moreover, it is under all kinds of assault, from outside and within. Marriage is not easy in this time and place. Most of us go into it with the expectation that the other person will meet most of our emotional needs. Unless you are planning on becoming some other nationality, and learning a different language, and not being western at all, you need date night.
If that makes you shudder, call it something else. Call it date morning. Call it that conversation that you have once a week with your spouse where you say all the things you need to say. Call it the regular habit of talking so much so that you slowly build a true foundation that let’s you deal with the deep terrible things that come up in daily life without the pressure and terror of Not Knowing how to talk, of letting everything else crowd out your knowing of each other.
Yeah, God can bless your marriage in other ways. Of course. But guess what, he might also let the natural consequences of not regularly talking to each other catch up with you and cause you all kinds of heartbreak. I would say it this way, Date Night Can Preserve Your Marriage. Put your hope in Jesus who gives you the grace of Date Night, just like he gives you the grace of prayer.
Oh, and Happy Valentines Day. If you don’t have Date Night and then you try to skip Valentine’s Day, oh my word, may God have mercy on your soul.