Friday, September 30, 2011

Marriage 911----date night!

I've been thinking so much lately about the importance of date night.  It is absolutely a necessity in order to put the relationship with your spouse ahead of our roles as mothers and everything else on the list.  Taking that time to focus on each other is an essential way to turn off the rest of the world and completely reconnect with one another. 

It's a treasure that I cherish beyond words.  Finally being blessed with being able to take that time together is altering our marriage in such a tremendous way.  For the last 13 years or so, that time together was missing and to say that our marriage suffered for it is an understatement.  For about the last 3 months we've been blessed tremendously to have taken a bit of time away one night every week.  For the 6 months before that we started going once a month.  Though our marriage had already been going through some positive changes and was absolutely getting stronger every day, date night has been one of the greatest catalysts in making it go from great to extraordinary.  We are to the point now that if we miss that time together, we both feel it's loss.

I often think back to the many years we didn't have this time together.  For those of you that are in the same boat that think you can't afford it, let me offer my support.  I understand that!  For us, we've lived so far away from relatives for the majority of our marriage.  We've lived through money being so tight that it was impossible to pay a babysitter or even spend money to do anything together.  Having multiple children creates difficulty in finding babysitters.  Having young children that have stranger anxiety or are incredible connected to mom make it difficult to leave.  Been there done that!  I understand the difficulties, the strain, and the longing. 

Let me encourage you to MAKE it happen.  Dates don't have to be expensive.  Yes, we long for the romantic candle light dinners in a nice restaurant, concerts, movies, etc... I can assure you that anytime together where you are focusing on each other becomes romantic.  We've saved up for the more "expensive" nights out at trendy restaurants and have enjoyed our time, but the ones that have meant the most are the ones that have been nothing more than sitting at a picnic table or on a bench at the park and just talking.  You CAN go out and watch a movie and not buy popcorn and soda.  Dollar menus at fast food restaurants may not be the "ideal" date, but yet they work wonderfully.  As a matter of fact, if you and your spouse have been together for many years at met at a fairly young age, I imagine many of your dates back "in the day" were just at your local hang-outs after a football game.  For us Sonic and Hardees were the only places close by!  You really didn't care where you went together as long as you were together.  Dating now as a married couple can be the same thing! 

What I know now is that I would have given anything to put that kind of focus on our marriage YEARS ago!  I know now that a date didn't have to be about spending money we didn't have to spare.  It was about the time and focus.  It could have been as simple as putting the kids to bed early and having a candle light dinner at home.  Sure, going out would be the ideal situation, but we could have made it work. 

Though babysitters REALLY were out of the question for many of those years, either by availability or it being cost prohibited, I admit now that we could have made this switch MUCH earlier than now.  There were several times that a few new friends in our neighborhood and most especially in our church began to offer to keep our kids for us to go out.  I never followed through.  I didn't want to be a bother!  I didn't want to be an imposition!  What if the kids didn't use their best manners?  What would those people thing about us if our house wasn't spotless?  I mean really....I came up with countless excuses.  How wrong I was!

Take the time.  Don't look back with regrets.  Parents with very young children, START now!  Commit to at least once a month.  Increase from there if at all possible.  Pray for God to open doors to allow it to happen.  It is NOT selfish to spend that time away from your children.  I wrongly thought so for so long.  

From another perspective, I want to issue a challenge.  Is there something you can do to make a date night possible for a couple you know?  Can you offer to keep their kids for a couple of hours?  What about trading out babysitting services with another couple once a month?  You keep their kids so they can go out and they return the favor for you the next week.  What about dropping a card in the mail with some cash or a gift card----either with a sweet note from you or anonymously.   Speaking of gift cards:  they are TRULY a gift to a struggling family or young couple!  It was because of an unexpected gift card in the mail to a restaurant that pushed us along to take our first date night.  The financial barrier was removed.  It pushed me along to take someone up on their offer to watch the kids.  It started the ball rolling for us and we've not looked back.  The sweet friend that did that for us was thanking us for some extra effort we had been spending volunteering.  We didn't help for the "thank you", we just helped because it was in our hearts.  She had no idea that her kind gesture was opening the door to one of our greatest treasures---date night!  Even today, I don't think she has any idea that her act of gratitude opened the door to turning our marriage into something tremendous.  Never underestimate the power of a simple gesture when God prompts you! 

For those of you thinking that you would like to help a young couple but probably couldn't financially offer enough to make a "good" date night, let me assure you that it doesn't have to be BIG in your own eyes.  There have been many times that we've received gift cards that wouldn't cover two full dinners, dessert, etc..  but we've made it work.  It is JUST as enjoyable to go out and order dessert!  Many times we have split an appetizer and a dessert or even just gone in for dessert only.  Trust me---we didn't miss out on anything!  It doesn't have to be a large amount! 

Kevin and I already have our next 3 date nights planned.   We've learned the art of being frugal and still having a fantastic time together.  Tonight we are attending opening night of Courageous (can't begin to tell you how excited we are to see how this movie changes our lives since we've been praying about it's impact for months!) and I used Fandango gift certificates to buy the tickets from a Groupon offer MONTHS ago.  Next week we are eating out at Outback because of a free dinner coupon I received from a facebook offer.  The week after that we are eating out at another restaurant because of a gift card that came from a very unexpected sweet gesture earlier this week.  It may be a night we only eat dessert or it may end up being a night that we "splurge" a bit!  Who knows.  The point is that God is making a way.  He sees the desires of our heart to put our marriage in the right order of priorities.  He is giving us that opportunity like never before.  However, we had to START it.  We had to make the effort.  We have to continue to keep date night a priority.  We continue to pray for God to open doors for us financially and time-wise.  EXTREMELY easy to let that time slip way in our busy lives.  We have chosen to honor that commitment between each other NO matter what.  If it means saying "no" to something else, we say "no". 

So, today plan a date with your spouse in the next few weeks.  Take time to put focus on each other and shut out the outside world.  It says to your spouse that "you are my number one".  When marriages are falling apart every direction you turn (that's never been more true than right now in my own extended family and I know I'm not the only one!), take the effort to guard your own marriage.  It's necessary.  Satan is relentless.  Take the time to guard your hearts and build a stronger foundation to withstand those obstacles that are thrown at you EVERY day.  Even if that "first" date feels awkward because you've forgotten how to talk to each other, stick with it!  I promise:  it will come back and you will begin to crave that attention from each other!

Kick the challenge up a step.  Encourage another married couple with children.  Provide them with a financial blessing in some form---no matter how big or small.  Provide them with a few hours of childcare.  If they can't/won't leave their children, give them something to encourage a date night at home: a movie bucket, take-out dinner.  Get creative!  Best of all, just encourage and lift them up and pray for them.  Sometimes it just takes a gentle reminder that you are thinking of them and want the best for them.   Pray and ask God to open your eyes and heart to a marriage that you can bless in some form! 

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