Date Nights: Do They Help Troubled Marriages?

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Date nights–biblical counselors sometimes recommend date nights to folks who come in for marriage counseling. But do they really help? And if not, what does? Guest writer Joshua Waulk, director of Baylight Counseling, shares his inights in this article that appeared first here at his center’s website and is used with permission. (Edited slightly for length–Ed.)

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There may be no activity more frequently recommended in Christian marriage counseling (outside of church attendance) than establishing a regular pattern of date nights for the promotion of emotional and spiritual intimacy.

By the time many couples call a counselor, the husband and wife have drifted apart. Sometimes can’t even remember the last time they truly enjoyed each other’s company. Although not always expressed in this way, couples often feel the pressure in their practice of date night to “get back to where we once were—like when we were dating.”

These are just a few observations I’ve made as I provide biblical soul care to married folks who are in various stages of relational turmoil. Whatever the issue is that brings them to the table, there is more often than not a real need to increase the levels of emotional and spiritual connectivity between them.

But how?

One way is, of course, re-engaging with each other in a pattern of deliberate, one-on-one date nights. These date nights need as little threat of interruption as possible. That means no facebooking, texting with friends, or, of course, little ones to chase after.

The goal is to create a “safe space” for the married couple to be with each other, enjoying each other’s company, engaging in fun or meaningful dialogue, and otherwise being together without the “tyranny of the urgent.”

Unreasonable Expectations

Usually, date nights are a powerful tool in the counselor’s arsenal. Convincing couples to set time aside for the investing of emotional capital in their marriage for the good of the family is typically an easy sell, especially if the couple experiences some early success.

But, on ocassion, couples report that the date nights “aren’t working.” When this happens, one issue that needs to be addressed is one that’s common to marital counseling proper, that is, setting reasonable and articulated expectations.

It may seem like a settled matter to some, but from the first session of counseling I hold with any couple, I seek to convince them of the primacy of hope in Christ and his gospel alone for their marriage, rather than any particular tool, intervention, or methodology that we may discuss or employ. This would include, for example, date nights.

The point isn’t to diminish anyone’s enthusiasm for the counseling process, but to locate it where it belongs: in Christ alone (solus Christus).

If we’re honest, Christian folks are as susceptible to marketing strategies and the latest blog checklists (i.e., 101 Steps to a New Marriage) as any other group of people. This may be truer when key components of life, like marriage and family, are in turmoil. While understandable, we need to be aware of these tendencies. This way, we can have reasonable expectations of the counseling process.

Restored by Grace Alone

Not too infrequently, a couple will share in their first counseling session that they came to us to learn what they must do to “save their marriage.” I understand the sentiment. But, here’s the trouble: Too often, it’s spoken as if something other than trusting the gospel–such as date nights or a marriage retreat–will redeem their marriage.

Intentional or not, explicit trust in the gospel is not typically the starting point for couples who come to counseling. Instead, the gospel is merely assumed, that is, they may assume that they’ve got the gospel right, so that their trouble and remedy is to be found somewhere else.

If we listen carefully, we might conclude that couples sometimes sound a little more like the Rich Young Ruler who asked Jesus what he must do in order to be saved (Matt. 19:16-22). The challenge for couples then is to embrace the idea that not only are individuals saved by grace alone, but so are marriages.


Success of Date Nights

Here are a few items to consider as you make use of the date night in marital counseling:

  1. Date night cannot save your marriage. Only the One to whom your marriage points can ultimately do that.
  2. Expect a well-thought out date night to do what it’s actually designed to do. That is, to give you and your spouse an opportunity for free space in which to dialogue, laugh, enjoy a nice meal, etc.
  3. Don’t expect that a successful date night today automatically means a trouble free day tomorrow. Real life picks up where date night ends.
  4. Do expect that date night will provide opportunity for you to practice other skills. Examples are showing empathy and active listening.
  5. Don’t expect date nights to permanently recreate some bygone time. Rather, figure they’ll help in forging a better future in Christ as a “one-flesh” couple.
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