Posted on November 14, 2023 by Hannah Fowler, tLMFT
Marriage & Relationships
Welcome to our “Ask A Counselor” series, where therapists from Lutheran Family Service answer your questions about mental health and marriage and family life!
Silly? Maybe! Let me explain…
As a marriage and family therapist, I hear couples express their concern about feeling more like roommates than lovers as the demands of life slowly take over. The time they spent together early in their relationship is now replaced by other demands of their time like children, careers, and household chores. We all have constant demands on our time. However, we ultimately get to choose how we spend our time. And how we choose to spend the time we have communicates what matters most to us.
All relationships – including marriages – take work. Healthy marriages are a beautiful, essential part of life, but take effort and intentionality to thrive. This effort and intentionality take time, but the payoff can be a strong marriage that will withstand future trials and provide a safe, loving space for each other for a lifetime.
So, back to your “silly or not-silly” date night question. Knowing that a strong marriage takes intentional work and recognizing that we spend our time on what matters to us, I agree: you need to spend time together as a couple investing in your marriage. This investment can, and ought to, be done in both small and large ways. Ranging from something small like smiling at your spouse to something big like planning and going on a couple’s getaway, the time and effort you invest in your marriage is never wasted.
To get you started, here are some ways to intentionally invest in your marriage:
In those early dating days, most couples are eager to get to know each other and are constantly asking questions. I’ve seen couples forget how to do this as they enter marriage and life gets busy. Gottman’s bestselling book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, calls these questions “updating your love maps” – or keeping up to date with each other’s life goals, worries, and hopes. Be willing to ask your spouse good questions and actively listen to their responses. In case you are struggling to come up with questions, try a simple internet search to get started. The Gottman Card Deck (which comes in both an actual deck of cards and also a phone app) can help.
In the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life, scheduling a daily check-in is an intentional way to slow down and connect. These check-ins happen by carving out time, even 15-20 minutes, where you give your spouse your undivided attention and ask questions about each other’s day, or how each other is feeling. Susan Johnson, founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, understands the importance of emotional bonds that are created through accessibility and responsiveness in the relationship, by emotional engagement. Daily check-ins are one way to daily strengthen the marital bond.
How does your spouse best receive love? It could be physical touch, such as holding hands, a massage, or a kiss. Maybe they value quality time, such as a romantic dinner with focused conversation, going on a walk together, or playing a game. It could be receiving gifts, such as bringing them their favorite treat, buying them tickets to a favorite event, or other meaningful item. Perhaps acts of service, such as doing the dishes, completing yard work, or taking charge of the bedtime routine with the kiddos fill them up. It could be words of affirmation, such as using meaningful words to compliment, praise, or uplift your spouse.
We can feel loved by most of these at different points in our marriage journeys, but usually one or two of these are at the top of the list for your spouse. Dr. Gary Chapman discusses these in his popular book The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.
Small, positive acts and responses in your marriage add up. Offer your spouse a smile, a nod of encouragement, a response to their statement or question, a hug, hold their hand, laugh together. All these seemingly small acts or responses are an investment in your marriage that keep you connected throughout each day. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the Gottmans call this “turning towards” your spouse. Turning towards your spouse communicates care and is like an investment in your relationship’s emotional bank account that will cushion the relationship in times of stress or conflict.
So, are date nights silly? I guess they could be if they always consist of sitting on your phones and doing anything but engaging with your spouse. Otherwise, date nights can be an important investment in your spouse that can help keep your marriage strong amid all of life’s demands. Here are some date night ideas:
Whether keeping up on chores, meeting a work deadline, or parenting little ones, life can get BUSY. Getting away with your spouse on regular date nights communicates that your marriage is a priority. It can limit distractions that seem to constantly arise in the day-to-day. This is also an opportunity to try new things together – a new restaurant or activity – that can increase your couple bond.
Many couples have expressed to me how easy it is to fall into a rut in the evenings – such as sitting on the couch on your phones after a long day of parenting and/or work. While sometimes this may be warranted, allowing this to become the normal pattern will eventually affect the quality of your relationship. Instead, try intentional date nights at home! Switch it up by putting the phones down and doing something together. Start a creative project, work out, talk about the high and low of your day, or read a book you both love. Try building a fort and watch a movie in it. Dates at home can be a great way to connect when money is limited and/or you have young children and it’s challenging to find a sitter.
Maybe you feel like you and your spouse have been drifting. Maybe a season of life has been challenging for one or both of you. I encourage you to consider and try some of these ideas to get you back on track. Perhaps now is the time to seek out some additional support for your marriage through couples counseling or a marriage strengthening group. I invite you to contact me or one of our other counselors at Lutheran Family Service to help you find a path to a stronger marriage. It is possible and we are here to help.
Ruth sees clients at Lutheran Family Service’s Bettendorf, Iowa office, and throughout the state of Iowa via telehealth.
If you or someone you know is in need of Christ-centered mental health or marriage counseling, refer to or contact us today.
Not located near Bettendorf, Iowa? Visit our website to see if one of our other locations is near you, or, if telehealth/distance counseling is an option at: lutheranfamilyservice.org/mental-health-counseling.
Lutheran Family Service walks with those experiencing difficult times through mental health counseling, marriage counseling, crisis pregnancy counseling, and adoption services.
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