I read this TGC post on why we shouldn’t put out hope into a date night. The Conservative Evangelical internet went, as they say round here, madferrit. Then Tim Challies, linking to that article on his A La Carte feature yesterday, also linked to this one urging us to put some hope in date night. I’ve not noticed quite the same response but Tim noted his pleasure at the contrast between the two.
My interest was piqued by these articles for two reasons. First, we are currently leading a couple through some marriage prep right now. Only yesterday, we had our second of five sessions with them. So, the key to getting marriage right and how we try to prepare people to have a solid basis for their marriage is very much on my mind right now.
But second, and perhaps more significantly, my wife and I have never done ‘date night.’ Never. I don’t think I am speaking out of turn (though I await my wife’s comments) to say that neither of us have ever felt the need for it either. We were married five years without children and have had a further five years with them. Still, at no point, have we ever discussed having a ‘date night.’ Maybe it just feels a bit too American, teenagery and crass for our sophisticated British palate, I don’t know. But I’ve certainly never felt the need for it and nor has my wife.
I basically agree with the four points laid out in the TGC article. However, the second article made a valid point: ‘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.’ I hear that. An awful lot of marital problems – the overwhelming majority I have seen – stem from a lack of communication and not talking to one another meaningfully or frequently. I 100% concur.
But here’s the thing. I think it is a logical leap to jump straight from ‘you’ve got to talk frequently and meaningfully’ to ‘you better enshrine a date night into your weekly routine or your marriage is going to fall apart.’ I mean, honestly, those two things are not equivalent at all. In fact, I would argue that a proper focus on the first of those things is the very reason my wife and I have never particularly felt the need for a date night at all.
Don’t get me wrong. We love a bit of time on our own without the kids. We love to go out for meals and do stuff together when we can. All that is great. But it isn’t the defining saving-grace of our marriage. Nor is it the basis on which our marriage is or isn’t going to last.
To my knowledge, neither of our sets of parents had date nights enshrined into their weekly routine and both of them are still happily married and going on with the Lord. Our believing Christian grandparents before them equally never had date nights. My Nana & Grandad were happily married in their 20s right up until my grandfather died the day before his 90th birthday. Arguing that date night is the key to marital fidelity and felicity is just not true.
See, my wife has some failings and I, no doubt, have even more. But one thing that has been apparent throughout the time we were going out at university and ever since throughout our marriage has been that we talk… a lot! So much so that one of our friends commented, before we were married, ‘I’ve never met a couple that talk quite as much as you.’ I’ve no idea whether it was intended as a compliment or not, but it is an admittedly fair observation.
But because we talk, we don’t feel the need for a date night. We talk all the time. We talk when the kids are around about the stuff we don’t mind them hearing; we talk when the kids aren’t around about the stuff we don’t want them to hear. Even while we watch TV, we’re reading, I’m blogging, or whatever we tend to take breaks and chat about what we’re watching, reading, writing. It may not be for everyone, but it kind of works for us. It means we can enjoy times out together without loading it with pressure to be the time we have to discuss all our important stuff. We talk as a matter of course and because we talk we don’t particularly need to set aside one evening a week to make sure we talk because we never stop talking!
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think our setup will work for everyone because we’re all wired differently (and that’s OK). But that is what is so unsatisfying about posts of the kind linked above. I think the TGC article, for my money, is about right. I think the other article well overstates the case for date nights. But I appreciate there are some people who simply will not talk if they don’t set aside a specific time to do it. Nevertheless, we also need to recognise that date nights aren’t the only opportunity to talk and plenty of people find ways and means of communicating properly and effectively apart from them.
My bigger concern with this focus on date nights, which I took to be the implication of the TGC article (though I accept I may be inferring this rather than it being the intended implication), is the way we are effectively looking to it as the silver bullet. Apparently Christ isn’t the saviour on which our marriage relies, it’s date night. Seemingly the gospel isn’t the basis for a healthy marriage, it’s date night. If we are genuinely setting up date night as that sort of solution, your marriage is going to have far bigger problems than whether you get to go out with your wife once per week.
Again, don’t get me wrong. If date nights work for you, and you find them a really helpful and healthy part of your marriage, that’s great. Really. Just don’t assume everybody needs them and maybe don’t imply that marriages will fall apart if you don’t enshrine it.