Missing the Chance for Romance
The Rewards of Dating and Romance in Your Relationship
All work and no play can make marriages a very dull place to be.
Dating in marriage is the ongoing courtship that re-wins your spouse over and over again.
Two people can have a physical relationship without ever being intimate; and conversely, two people can grow into intimacy without departing into sexuality.
The beautiful children who are God's blessing and the very product of our love, can snuff out the flames of passion that got it all going.
Last night I took Donna out on a date. We went to see the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in downtown Chicago. Just the two of us, without the tribe in tow. Of course, the Bulls won and that helped top off a great evening together.
We have short dates and long dates, sometimes just a cup of coffee, often dinner out for just the two of us. Every once in a while we will farm out the kids and have a whole weekend away from the children. We love them, but face it: Their mom and dad are much better parents if they keep their marriage alive. The best thing we can do for our children is to keep our marriage healthy and happy.
Not long ago our getaway was three days on a beach in Southern California. During those times I sometimes say to Donna, "Oh, yes, now I remember, you're that spunky girl I married twenty years ago!" She, more than me, has the chance in those moments to climb out of her "mother" role and back into the courtship and carefree role that sparked the romance to begin with. Dating is one of the best ways we have found to keep our marriage fresh. It gives us time to communicate,
and it lets Donna know I want to be with her. We do things together that we used to do before life became so serious and full of family responsibility.
Have you ever tried to calculate how much of your communication with your spouse is about family matters, bills, problems, and broken things that need fixing? Those are the surface things that consume life and often account for 99 percent of communication between husband and wife. When was the last time you had tender moments of personal talk about how each other is doing? Dating in marriage is the ongoing courtship to re-win your spouse over and over.
NOTHING KILLS DATING LIKE KIDS DO
Life has its strange ironies. Dating leads to love and love to marriage. Marriage usually brings kids, who can stifle the intimate love that started the whole process to begin with. The dating is over. Done. Finished. The beautiful children, who are God's blessing and the very product of our love, can snuff out the flames that got it all going.
Life changes drastically in a marriage when children arrive. Hans and I had talked about wanting four children when we were newly married. That changed quickly after the birth of our first child, Mark.
In our early years of marriage after graduate school, we were in a ministry in Long Beach, California. Hans was on a church staff and I worked full time for "Oilwell Division of U.S. Steel Corp." Without the responsibility of children, we shared daily and deeply about our work. Hans knew details about my work and relationships at Oilwell, I, in turn worked side by side with him in ministry.
As we began building a ministry to young married couples, we planned retreats and getaways with our growing group of couples. Our marriage grew, and the Lord gave us the joy of helping young couples grow in maturity in their relationships with Christ and with each other.
The freedom we all had, we took great advantage of, spending time as a group, going out together after church, and enjoying hours of deep fellowship. Only three couples in our group had children. They each had only one child. Their children tagged along, and we all enjoyed them immensely. After one of the couples had another child, we saw their involvement change! Often they wouldn't be able to go out with us. The kids were sick or had to go to bed. We didn't understand very well, but we tried to adjust, although we missed their fellowship.
We observed the change that children made in the lives of our friends, but certainly did not comprehend the true impact until several years later when our own son arrived. As we soon came to realize, the adjustment of having a child is much greater than the adjustment of getting married and living with another person as a mate.
After several years of wonderful ministry in Long Beach, we knew our deep heart's desire to serve overseas behind the Iron Curtain was growing. We applied and were appointed to serve with CBInternational in the summer of 1980 as their first missionaries to Eastern Europe. We said good-bye to our friends, ministry, and my job in the late summer of 1981, and landed in Vienna, Austria, in September, 1981. I was six months pregnant with our first child.
What a shock parenthood was! For six years we had enjoyed our independence and involvement in each other's worlds. Overnight, this
precious new life entrusted to our care by the Lord had turned our world upside-down!
HOW BAD CAN IT GET?
After thirty years of marriage, the wife was ready to finally throw in the towel. "I've had it living with you," she moaned in disgust. "You never tell me you love me. It has been years since I heard those three words come out of your mouth."
In a stoic, cool manner the husband replied, "Look, I told you I loved you when we got married if I change my mind, I'll let you know."
I, Donna, remember clearly that one of the most amazing realities that hit me was how this little person confronted me with the depth and power of my own self-centeredness. By his very nature as a helpless, 100 percent dependent little baby, Mark's needs forced themselves upon me. My own needs and desires, and those of Hans', had to come second. It was just the physical realities of caring for a newborn baby. A very physically exhausting experience. Whew!
The fact that I had never been home full time in our years of marriage magnified the shock of parenthood for me. Many women go through these two major adjustments at the same time: becoming a mother and leaving the work force. It's a double whammy on the self-confidence for sure! Added to those two adjustments was the stress of a new culture, new language, and the reality of being a "foreigner." Then, add to that (as if the potential for depression is not enough already), a typical day of Vienna winter was what we called "the gray gloom," and you had one reeling new mom. I remember telling other friends that now that Hans and I had met the reality of
parenthood, we were no longer considering the possibility of having four kids. We said "Maybe, just maybe, we'll have two!"
In Vienna, we were part of a team of missionaries from thirteen different missions, all working together in a ministry called "BEE," or Biblical Education by Extension. Our leader was Dr. Jody Dillow. His wife, Linda, was my mentor and friend, and as the mother of three school-age children, Linda's wisdom on motherhood was my salvation on many a rough day in those early days of adjustment to my new life. One area that Linda was committed to, beyond all else, was the need for marriage to have first place in our lives! In spite of the needs and demands of Mark on Hans and I, she emphasized that we must put our marriage first.
Linda put her words in action by volunteering to baby-sit Mark for us when he was only about a month old so we could have our first "date." I remember the strange feeling it was to leave Mark and go out with Hans alone. We enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours of just sharing together and focusing on each other. Of course, we talked about our precious son, but we were alone! This was a good breaking point for us, and from that time on we reestablished dating as a regular part of our married life.
That was fifteen years ago, but the lessons have stuck with us. We're so grateful that at that time in our lives Linda and Jody were there for us with their admonitions. They lived the example of laying aside other responsibilities, especially parenthood, to give focused attention to their mate and marriage. We began a pattern that has proven to be the key to the growth and ongoing closeness of our marriage. We made time to be together alone. In fact, we highly recommend Linda's book that has been a great resource for wives for a couple of decades now: Creative Counterpart (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1977).
DON'T BE AFRAID TO LEAVE THEM ALONE
We think that by now you get the picture that we both believe dating must be a priority all through a marriage! We believe this is one of the most common and damaging failures couples make after they have children. They fail to set aside time for each other. It seems impossible to schedule, and it's hard emotionally to "let go" of parenting, even for a few hours or a night away. But couples often allow the daily reality of parenting young children to take precedence over their marriage. If they do that as a lifelong pattern, there will be no relationship left when the kids are gone and the empty nest is also empty of any abiding relationship.
Men, do you know how much your wife needs to know you value her? Time alone with herfocused on her and your relationship with hercommunicates mountains of love and affection to her. Even if you can't see it, relationship is what she needs all your married lives. She won't know it if you don't take action to "take her away" alone.
This issue of relationship is what seems to puzzle many men. They don't seem to need it, but the wife can't get enough of it. Perhaps the wisdom of Dave Barry is appropriate here:
Tips for Women: How to Have a Relationship with a Guy
Contrary to what many women believe, it's fairly easy to develop a long-term stable, intimate and mutually fulfilling relationship with a guy. Of course, this guy has to be a Labrador retriever. With human guys, it's extremely difficult. This is because guys don't really grasp what women mean by the term relationship.
We're not talking about different wavelengths here. We're talking about different planets, in completely different solar systems. A woman cannot communicate meaningfully with a man about their relationship any more than she can meaningfully play chess with a duck. Because the sum total of man's thinking on this particular topic is as follows: Huh? (From Dave Barry's Complete Guide to Guys, Random House, 1995)
Guys are pretty thickheaded about this thing we call relationship. Our journey into this adventure began twenty years ago. Donna and I were married in 1975. We dated for several months and then had a year-long engagement before our actual wedding. During the year of engagement, I was attending Dallas Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and she was in Columbia, South Carolina. We made the best of the long-distance relationship and tried to snatch some quality time together during school breaks. After our wedding we settled into life together in Dallas while I was finishing my masters' degree. Though the studies were tough, I made the decision early on in our marriage that I would always go to bed with Donna when it was time for lights out. In fact, in those early years, I remember how comfy-cozy it was that we could actually go to sleep with our toes touching. A good-night kiss might seem like something simple, but it is a strong statement of the intimacy of a marriage as the years go on.
That little habit became a lifelong commitment: to always go to bed together each night. One wife wrote us about a practice that her husband has that greatly frustrates her in this arena. It started when they were in school together. He seemed to have developed a habit of going to bed late because of studying, which led her to feel that he was taking time away from their relationship. As the years have gone ondecadessince those years of study, the habit never changed and an invisible barrier, what we could probably best describe as lack of intimacy, developed.
Going to bed together at night might seem like a small thing, but if omitting this habit becomes a consistent pattern for many years, it can communicate a major lack of relationship. For this one couple, the husband next began to come home late for supper and told his wife to go ahead and have dinner with the family without him. One by one, the fires of romance and togetherness in their relationship went out. Today she cries out in desperation as a very lonely wife and mother.
TOP TEN DATE TIP
Try Taking Her Shopping at HER Favorite Store to Show Your Love
. . . We Guys Know What That Means!
I can't shop with women. I just get tired. I walk into the women's wear department of any store and my energy just goes south. I'm suddenly seven and in the backseat of the family station wagon, being lulled to sleep by the hum of the road.
There's something about fluorescent lights in malls that makes me very weak. It's like they're made of kryptonite. (However, fluorescent lights in electronics stores make me feel suddenly energetic.) Women know this. That's why, instead of letting you go off and do your own shopping, they make you sit in those little student punishment seats by the dressing rooms. Then they waltz out in some . . . frou-frou and say, "What do you think?"
You muster the stock answer. "Nice. Very nice." And then you follow with the appropriate shared "nod and smile" to the exhausted husband in the other chair.
From Tim Allen, Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, p. 180
Dr. Ed Wheat in Love Life has this to say about those little touches of affection like holding hands on a date, like putting your arm around your wife at the movies, and things like toes touching in bed late at night:
Many couples who build an intense love relationship by caressing while dating often quit affectionate touching after marriage. The reason? Now they are using touch only as a sexual signal to communicate readiness to make love. At other times they carefully stay apart lest an affectionate gesture be misinterpreted.
Couples must break the habit of using touch exclusively as a signal for sex. This will deprive you of the warmth and physical tenderness that every marriage should have (Love Life For Every Married Couple, Ed Wheat, p. 138).
We have yet to meet a woman who does not enjoy romance. In fact, it is safe to say that women crave it. Have you ever met a wife who begged her husband not to waste so much precious time on the unnecessary rituals of romance? You won't. That's what date nights and overnight getaways are all about, and why women love "date movies" that are hopelessly romantic. We have some friends here in Chicago who go out to a movie like clockwork every Friday night. One week he picks the movie, and the next week it is her turn. You can probably guess the variety: his night it is Die Hard, and for her it is While You Were Sleeping.
One young woman wrote this poem to her husband about her tangible need for affection:
Come take my hand
Give me your
Glances sayingI care!
Handholds that let me know that you were only teasing;
Hugs sayingThank you for being you!
Kisses thatgently want me;
That says, I'll be here tomorrow
and everyday hereafter (Love Life, Ed Wheat, p.136).
In an earlier chapter we highlighted Johnny Miller, president of Columbia International University as one of our hero husbands. As we wind down this chapter on keeping the romance alive in marriage, we want to close with some of his powerful words on the meaning of intimacy and it's importance to the human personality:
When I use the word, intimacy, I am not thinking primarily of a physical relationship. Unfortunately, that is the only way much of our society understands intimacy. The fact is that two people can have a physical relationship without ever being intimate, and conversely, two people can grow into intimacy without departing into sexuality.
In marriage, the ideal is to have physical oneness that grows out of spiritual and emotional oneness. That is what I mean by intimacy. It is to relate as God meant us to relate in marriage, two people becoming one. It is to be known, and still loved. Marriage provides the ideal conditions to grow in both our exposure and our commitment.
Intimacy is a delightful gift. A vacuum in our personality craves it. It fills the void of loneliness. As God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." If we don't find it with our mate, we'll look for it elsewhere because life is painful without it.
Such soul intimacy is the spring from which family life flows. It makes the family more than a loose collection of individuals spinning off from a common core. Intimacy is a bond of understanding that gives every family member a sense of identity: This is who I am, and I am still loved (From Intimacy and Bucket Seats. CIU Quarterly, Winter 1996).
Hero Husbands We Know
When I was a little boy I remember a movie entitled Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Let us tell you about a friend of ours who's great at
giving his wife small romantic acts of kindness. I call him "Daryl O'Bryan and the Little Romances." Experts tell us that of the various causes of depression among women, one of the most common is the combination of "loneliness, isolation, and boredom" and "an absence of romantic love." Women tend to be more romantic than men, and we men must work hard to constantly practice romance. That is what Daryl does.
What is romantic? Well, flowers are a good possibility, and negligées are romantic. Perfume is very romantic. Giving your wife a card that tells her how much you love her for no special occasion is very romantic. Or leaving her notes around the house to let her know you think about her is romantic. A phone call from work just to tell your wife you are thinking about her definitely scores high in romance.
Not long ago I was in a business meeting with Daryl O'Bryan and noticed his daytimer lying open on the place next to mine. I glanced at the notes he had in the front and saw a most amazing list. On the list were things such as "buy flowers, send a card, make a phone call, surprise her with a dinner out, candlelight, weekend getaways." It was a rather lengthy list, and when I asked him about it, I learned an excellent new technique for all of us men. "Hans," Daryl said to me, "I'm such a dummy when it comes to romance with Mary. You'd think after being married thirty years I would know how much I need to romance her to keep our marriage alive. I keep this list in front of my daytimer to constantly remind me to do the little acts of romance that will be an encouragement to her. If I don't keep looking at the list, I will just forget, and our marriage will run dry. It's my way of making it and keeping it a priority always before me."
I was so impressed with this approach that Daryl took that I have done the same thing and placed it in my own daytimer. You saw the results in chapter 2 on reminding ourselves that she is not one of the guys.
Through the years of ministry and marriage, we've observed that many couples fall into the pattern of concentrating solely on work and childcare. The years when our children were babies and preschoolers were exhausting! I remember wondering if other couples were like us, without the energy or desire to even make love once a month! It was a relief to learn that we were not alone. But we knew it sure wasn't healthy.
So what's the ticket? How do you keep the priority of one another as #1 in your lives? First, talk it over! Set aside a date to talk through what you're both feeling and the desires you have in your relationship that are not being met.
Second, set aside a sacred "date-night" together. Try to plan one night each month for starters. Then if you get really good at it, you might progress to one night a week! Our good friends who are empty nesters find this to be no problem, of course. Since Hans and I never lived near relatives, we have always had to pay a sitter to care for our children. Since it wasn't always easy, sometimes we'd go for an economical dinner or only coffee, but we'd go. And Hans has learned that Donna's main desire is to debrief and build the relationship. We were thankful when the time finally came for the children to be old enough to take care of themselves.
The applications in the final chapter should seem obvious enough. Men, take the initiative to put romance back into your marriage if you have let it slip away. And remember that you will always need to make your wife feel special by doing those special little things you did before you swept her off her feet and made her your mate. Among the top things to remember:
Date your mate: In the words of Nike, "Just Do It!"
Spend nights away at romantic getaways: Plan your first getaway to a nice hotel or bed and breakfast. Make it a regular part of your annual schedule. It is particularly helpful at the beginning and near the end of each year to look at goals and review your progress as a couple and family.
Write her notes: A wife never tires of getting written notes from her husband. It communicates that you took the time to actually find a card and write something. Get creative and mail it! Leave her notes when you go away on trips that she will discover while you are gone.
Spend time away from the children: You are not shirking your responsibility, and both you and they will be better off for it. Remember that the best gift you can give your children is a great marriage.
Find common interests: Try to do things together that are a common interest, like biking, tennis, walking, shopping for antiques, or concerts. There needs to be common interests to alleviate boredom in marriage.
Be sure to change your dating through the seasons of your marriage: Your patterns of dating will obviously change as you go through the cycles of marriage. When the kids are little, you'll need limited objectives unless Grandma and Grandpa are around. Your goal is to have a relationship that is fun together when the children are finally gone from your nest.
Use outside resources: David and Claudia Arp have a series of excellent seminars and resources, including the MARRIAGE ALIVE SEMINAR. Contact them through Alive Communications, Colorado Springs, CO (719) 260-7080. Also see their excellent marriage dating books; The Ultimate Marriage Builder, and 52 Dates for You and Your Mate (Thomas Nelson, 1994 and 1993).
All work and no play can make
marriages a very dull place to be.
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