Your marriage comes first. Before any other obligation. Before any other commitment
Written with Zivia Reischer
Thank you for laying down the law in regard to date night. I absolutely understand and agree with everything you wrote about how important it is. But I’m worried. Even if I make time for date night — what will we talk about?
I feel like I’m still fairly newly wed — married for four years, two kids — but I can’t remember the last time we went out. I can’t remember the last time we spoke about something other than kids, bills, or work. I was sure that being a good wife — keeping the house clean, the kids well tended, and having dinner ready just the way he likes it — would be enough to make our marriage flourish. But you’re right, it isn’t enough.
It’s not like we’re doing anything wrong, but we also aren’t doing anything right to create a marriage that is a relationship of friendship, love, and respect. And I know that’s the most surefire way to make sure the most precious things we have — our children — will grow up secure, happy, and healthy.
We do spend some time together on Shabbos, when the kids go to sleep early, but I’m assuming that spending time together on Shabbos does not count as date night.
Unfortunately, the scenario you’re describing is quite common. The couple becomes so involved in the technicalities of running a household that they go from being husband and wife to being co-managers of the family business. If this has been going on for a while, the distance between you can seem daunting. But it’s important to remember that you were once a couple with a deeply affectionate bond and you just have to revitalize that connection.
The first step is to imitate the way you dated back when you first met. When you were first dating, the goal was to get to know each other — in a real sense, you need to go through that process again. For the first few times, I suggest planning out the date, even going so far as thinking of topics to discuss, or particular questions to ask. It might be best to actually do a fun activity, like miniature golf or arcades or making pottery at a studio. If you google date ideas, there are also many online resources that could be helpful, both ideas for activities and conversation-starting questions. An active date, where you need to engage with each other outside direct conversation, will allow for a more natural connection. Hopefully, doing something together in a non-pressured environment will allow the conversation to flow, and you can get to know each other again.
But the weekly date isn’t enough. You have to do all the things that a couple in love does, including the love notes, kind gestures, little gifts. Think back to that initial state of infatuation; it’s an excellent model for how you should be acting your entire married life. When you begin the process it may feel artificial, but within a short amount of time you’ll get back in the swing, and your marriage, your family, and your happiness will shine.
Spending time together on Shabbos is great, and is something that you definitely should be doing in addition to going out once a week. When you do this for a while, you’ll see a shift in your relationship, and before long you’ll once again be a connected young couple.
Marriage Takes Maintenance
The three pillars of a successful marriage are commitment, love, and learning to live together. Many couples are committed to each other, and have managed to navigate living together, but the love in the marriage is something they stop working on, and inevitably they drift apart. Once that happens, everything else falls apart.
I can’t emphasize this enough: Love is the glue of marriage. The connection between husband and wife is the essence of a successful marriage. A couple can be totally aligned in outlook and perspective, but if they don’t maintain a vibrant connection, in a very short time things are going to become quite difficult.
Going out as a couple regularly is a big part of maintaining a successful marriage. I have two basic guidelines for dating.
- It’s the husband’s job to plan the date. The husband’s role is to romance his wife. He must show his wife in word, deed, and action that she is cherished in his eyes. When a husband says, “Dear, I’m ready to go out anytime you want, just name the place and time and I’ll be there,” he isn’t doing his job. The message he’s giving his wife is that she isn’t cherished, she’s not valued to him, and he doesn’t really care about the relationship. So it’s the husband’s job to plan the date. (It’s the woman’s job to take care of the babysitting.)
Depending on your schedule, a day date might work better, but it should be at a set time each week. The dates need not be expensive or intricate. The goal is to do things that allow you to spend time together in a relaxed atmosphere. And it should be out of the house. When a couple goes out, they get dressed, leave behind the chores and activities that consume them, and have the opportunity to spend quality time together.
The second guideline pertains to the date itself: No discussion about “family business.” This is not a time to work out the budget, figure out the schedule, or plan how you're going to work out the myriad logistic issues of life. The purpose of the date is to give you a chance to bond as a couple. Any talk about children, chores, or budget is off limits. During the date there is no agenda, no issues, no working on problems (and no working on my spouse!). The purpose of the date is to enjoy each other’s company. To connect in an emotional romantic way. It’s not the time to explain to your spouse the problems in your marriage, or what you are missing. It’s the time to build your marriage in a positive way.
And there’s one more thing.
I was working with a couple who were having serious problems in their relationship. After much cajoling, I got them to agree to go out, and because I knew their lifestyle, I added one proviso — no smartphones. If the babysitter must be able to reach you, I said, take an old flip phone. They both agreed to this condition. Later I asked the husband how it went.
“It was okay,” he answered noncommittally.
“Okay?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“Well, she was texting her friends all night.”
“Wait, I thought you agreed no smartphones.”
“We did. She took an old BlackBerry that she still had lying around.” (I didn’t even know you could still get service on those — apparently, you can.)
So let me say it clearly: Going out as a couple means spending an evening with your spouse without answering the phone, texting, looking at your email, checking WhatsApp, TikTok, or LinkedIn. It does not mean spending an evening with your spouse while “chatting” with other people; it means spending an evening with your spouse and just connecting.
Your marriage comes first. Before any other obligation. Before any other commitment. You made a commitment to each other to build a family together. The primary relationship in your life is your marriage.
In our hectic world, unless you block away time to devote to your marriage, every other priority will consume your time and you won’t spend the quality time together that is vital to a marriage. When you devote time, attention, and focus on developing your relationship, with Hashem’s help, you create the happy home your family deserves.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 890)
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