Is Dating Really Necessary for Healthy Marriages?
Jonathan Swinton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist - December 20, 2011
Lots of people stop "dating" their spouses when the kids come along. But in my experience as a family therapist, dating is absolutely crucial for a healthy marriage.
Do you and your spouse go out on dates? If so, how frequently? If not, why? One of the most common things couples stop doing over time is regular dating. In counseling, I generally ask couples if they go out together. I am often met with a laugh, or some comment about how that stopped when they had kids. So, this begs the question: Is dating really necessary for healthy marriages?
In my professional opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. I am not trying to say that couples who go on dates regularly are guaranteed to have a healthy relationship, nor am I suggesting that dating is the solution to all marital problems. However, dating provides an excellent forum that can foster healthy emotional connection--a necessary ingredient for healthy relationships. That is why they are so important.
Early in your relationship with your spouse, did you date much? I imagine so. You wanted to spend time together, and life was simpler then--making dating more manageable. You likely fell in love as you dated, resulting in a marriage commitment. You wanted to be with this person you were dating all the time. The trouble is, now you may not be dating that person anymore. Yet, you fell in love because of the dates and one-on-one time. If dates worked to help you fall in love in the first place, they can be instrumental in re-kindling or maintaining that love long-term.
Does it count as a date if you just get in the car, look at each other and say something like "well, where should we go eat?" or "well, let's just go to a movie"? My answer would be no. That is not a date. Most couples are not good at dating and courting each other as much as they should. Alone time is less frequent, and romance pales compared to what it was early in the relationship. Effective dates that work for your relationship can help remedy this. If you are great at dating in your relationship, I commend you. Keep it up! If not, here are some ideas that may help.
I have compiled a list of what I consider to be the keys to dates that will work for your relationship:
Go out every week. I know this can be difficult with crazy schedules, taking care of kids, etc. However, if you really make your marriage a priority (which is necessary to have a healthy relationship), you can find a way to go out. Try to get out for at least a couple hours. The date does not have to be at night if it is difficult to schedule it. You could meet up for lunch during the week or go out for breakfast on Saturday morning.
Take turns planning a date you know your spouse would enjoy. You don't need to go over the top, but do something you know would help them see you were thinking of them in the planning. This is mutually beneficial because each week you will either be working to help make your spouse happy or receiving the efforts from your spouse to make you happy. The person planning the date should also be in charge of finding a babysitter.
Get out of the house. Staying home has too many distractions to really give your undivided attention to each other. It can also provide a healthy break from the pressures at home.
Engage in emotionally connecting activities. Select activities that require you to engage in conversation or have some type of interaction. For example, going to dinner requires you to look at each other and engage in conversation. Going to movies does not provide emotional connection. I like movies, and I am not suggesting you can't go to movies and still have good dates. However, sitting in the dark for a few hours does not do much for emotional connection. If you do go to a movie, make sure there are a few hours of other emotionally connecting activities in addition to the movie.
No tech toys. I love my smartphone and tablet computer, but they need to stay off for dates. Put your gizmos away, and don't give in to the temptation to check your email, send a text, or call a friend. It can wait a few hours. Give your undivided attention to your spouse.
Be creative. I imagine you were better at planning creative dates early in your relationship. After all, you wanted to woo your spouse. Well, keep on doing it. You don't need to spend a lot of money to do this. In fact, one of my favorite things to do with my wife on a date is to go for a drive up the canyon (though this has become a bit more costly in recent years), or just go for a walk in a park.
I am sure there are some reading this article who don't agree with some of these ideas. If so, I would ask, are your dates doing everything they could to help the emotional connection in your marriage? I am a huge believer in dating. I have seen it help countless couples struggling with a host of issues, and it really helps my relationship with my wife. Give it a real honest effort. You and your spouse will be glad you did.
Do you need other ideas on how to help your relationship? Or, would you like a free speaker on relationship issues for your ward or relief society function? Visit my website at www.swintoncounseling.com or give me a call at 801-647-9951 to discuss how I can help.
Dr. Jonathan Swinton, PhD is an LDS Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Swinton Counseling in Salt Lake City.
© LDS Living, 2011.