I have been meaning to blog about this for ages, and so today is the day, even though it doesn’t feel pertinent, mid-week, especially a stressful one, when probably nobody is particularly worried about it. On the other hand, this may be just the thing. Here I will set forth the Law of Date Night for those to whom I kept promising that I would.
Just one caveat, before we “dive” in. I am not being entirely serious about the word Law. Of course, it is not a law. BUT, it is a useful practice that we have cobbled together from reading the Bible, and from doing lots of marriage counseling. If you don’t like it, don’t blame me, especially if you never do it, and then try to explain that it doesn’t work. I can guarantee (pretty much) that if you make this a ritual, a liturgical act, and really do AND say all the things you should say, and listen to all the things to which you should listen, you will eventually have a decent time with the person to whom you are married. Of course, if you lie, or don’t do it, well, that’s not my fault.
One: An Actual “Date” “Night”
You don’t have to call it a date and you don’t have to do it at night–personally, I prefer to be taken out to lunch–but this ritual should happen NO LESS than once a week. You should talk to each other once a day, of course, but those conversations are generally short because everyone is so busy. But At Least Once a Week (hear me shouting), you should spend several hours together talking about all your feelings. I know, I know, it will be ghastly if you’re not used to it, but that’s no excuse not to try.
Two: The Airing of the Grievances (Festivus)
If you have anything against each other (Matthew 18), you say it out loud. If you feel like your husband has been testy and difficult to get along with all week, you tell him, and ask him what’s going on. If you have been irritable and out of sorts, you give some kind of explanation. Not that you have to justify yourself–be quick to apologize and quick to forgive–but the point is that you try to understand each other and the various competing motivations, anxieties, and general “stuff” that gets piled up over a week. The Festivus portion of date night is not about accusing each other, or making another person rise up to your expectations or level or anything, but rather to clear the air, to actually say what’s on your mind, including the stuff that has enraged and exasperated you about the other person. One way to begin is to say, “I forgive you for being so awful this week,” and then the other person can say, “Well, I FORGIVE YOU FOR EVEN THINKING YOU HAD TO FORGIVE ME,” and then go on from there.
Three: Establishing a Society of Mutual Admiration
This is the time where you “build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) “in love” (I Corinthians 13) without worrying that you might sound ridiculous, so lavish is your praise. You each name things about the other person that you have noticed (and you do have to spend time actually looking) that you thought were exceptionally nice or clever or interesting or courageous or impressive. These are particular, measurable things. Not just, “I think you’re so lovely,” but rather, “The way you handled that work situation was brilliant and astonishing in its subtly and wisdom,” or “The way you taught that child to spell this week was unparalleled in its greatness,” followed by “You are such a good mother, I saw you doing x and I was so delighted and impressed.” This is super important after the Law of Festivus because you each have to trust each other, and also you have to be able to go on in life without being completely fragile and insecure about everything. If you know that someone else sees all your good works, all your efforts, and loves and appreciates them, you will be able to cope when all the rest of the world does not (which they won’t, don’t kid yourself). You will not need to be out in the world trying to get other people’s attention and approval. A man will be able to go day after day to his difficult job and labor away in obscurity. A woman to hers–especially if it includes the galling work of being around little children with no sensible person to talk to for even thirty seconds. This is one of the means, the graces that God works out for the world to see–this is how he cares for us, he loves and accepts us in the secret corners of the mind and heart. This Society of Mutual Admiration (which need not be limited to marriage, of course, but must not be absent from it) is the way that he builds up and strengthens the believer in the wilderness of life. But most of all, it has to be done because of what comes next.
Four: And Then I Said
The final law of the night of the date is that you actually do bear your soul–With Words–to the person to whom you are married, as a light shining in a dark place brings out everything to be examined (2 Peter 1:19) and then delivered into the hands of Jesus. You actually tell that person all the tangled troubles swirling around in your mind. You say Out Loud With Words what you are anxious about, what worries you, what angered and frustrated you, how you failed, how you succeeded, what made you happy, what was good, what was bad–Everything. You do not try to “hold it together.” You do not reserve some part of yourself because you just can’t deal. You admit your true and humiliating failures. You confess your sins. You rejoice over your triumphs. If you are worried about money, you say it out loud. If you are worried about your job, you say it out loud. If you are caught in bitter anger, you say it out loud. Each of you–one and then the other–both listening attentively and with deep interest to hear the other person. Honestly, this is not part of the law, but if you are a person who can handle a glass of wine, that really helps because this is difficult to do, first and foremost because you have likely spent the whole week not facing any of the dark bits of yourself and your life. This is why Jesus made the water into wine at a wedding, because the man and the woman will have to talk to each other at some point. Verily Verily, you have very likely been soldiering along, trying to keep yourself and your life together. To stop at the end of the week and really admit who you are and what you have going on to another person is difficult. You may not even know the depth of your feelings and troubles until you try to say them out loud.
Five: One More Thing
Of course, you can see that this is only possible if you are both searching for each other and Jesus. If one of the people is cruel and selfish, the Law of Date Night will not be possible to keep. You must be, to employ a horrible phrase, a “safe place” for each other. You must not humiliate each other, or be unkind on purpose. You will have to say hard things to each other, on account of how it is completely impossible not to sin against the person to whom you are married. If you do not work on charity, patience, humility, and kindness, date night will not be a nice time. But neither will it work if you don’t actually bear your soul and admit who you are, which is literally the point of marriage. A dear friend said to me recently, “Wait, do you want me to say this stuff out loud?” to which I replied, screaming, “WHAT OTHER WAY WILL THEY KNOW?” Most of us go into marriage thinking that the other person should be able to intuit all this stuff. If he really loves me, he’ll know that I’m anxious without me having to say it. If she really loves me, she’ll know that I work hard to bring in the money and will therefore not spend it on stuff that I know is clearly frivolous. If he really loved me, he would know how important it is to me to be able to….and so you both go on, judging the person, and shielding yourself from all possible harm. Men, I think, are especially irritating in this regard. They don’t think they should have to say out loud what they are anxious about, or how they have failed. They shouldn’t have to sit, they imagine, slumped in a chair, admitting that someone belittled them or criticized them, maybe even justly. They imagine that “leading the family” means always being strong and never for a moment leaning emotionally on the women they have married, or asking for advice, or admitting that they don’t know what to do. But women do it too. No person is inclined to be emotionally or spiritually naked before God or anyone. But if you don’t, well, then you are missing out on a great joy–the comfort and delight of being known and seen by another person.
So anyway, there you are, the Law of Date Night. If you keep this law, you will live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. But if you neglect it, or think it doesn’t apply to you because you are special and know better, I will put actual money down not only on your general misery in marriage, your misery in life, and your anger growing against God and all Humanity, but you may even make a shipwreck of the great gift that is the other person.