Outside the Box

By Greg Smalley
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The way to stay excited about being together is to sprinkle in a judicious pinch of spice now and then.  It's all about "getting outside the box" every once in a while.

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”

— Khalil Gibran

There’s an art – an elusive, delicate, almost indescribable art – to forging the kind of marriage that not only enables the partners to spend enjoyable time with one another, but which actually nurtures and encourages real togetherness. As you may have already discovered, clinginess, control, and a demanding attitude that says, “I want you to spend time with me, and I want it now!” can put a damper on a relationship faster than almost anything else. So can a constant routine of “the same old same old” all the time. The way to stay excited about being together is to sprinkle in a judicious pinch of spice now and then. It’s all about “getting outside the box” every once in a while. In other words, it’s a question of achieving the right balance – like finding your rhythm in the dance and then improvising steps just for the fun of it.

Current research indicates that thriving husbands and wives draw strength, energy, and life from being in one another’s company. Ironically, this does not mean that they spend all of their time together. That’s because healthy, vibrant relationships require breathing space. They need the ebb and flow of independence and togetherness. You can infuse this kind of experience into your marriage by making room for novelty and variety and by working an element of the unexpected into your date night plans.

Actor Lucas Neff has been quoted as saying, “That honeymoon phase is so much fun in real life, when you meet and discover somebody new and fall in love and chase them – the pursuit, and that climactic final moment of ultimate togetherness.” Whether he knows it or not, in these few words Neff has summed up the essence of nearly all the world’s great romantic comedies. He’s given us Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in miniature – a quick snapshot of the push and pull, the advance and retreat, the playful tug and release that make love between the sexes such a hilariously stimulating and addictive game.

Couples who stay together tend to be couples who find ways to keep this kind of hilarity and fun alive at the heart of their relationship. The fabric of their marriages is strong because they know how to weave spaces into their times of togetherness and maintain threads of connection even when apart. They do this by developing meaningful traditions and rituals characterized by laughter and playfulness. They don’t just live under the same roof and sleep in the same bed. Instead, they’re intentional about building a blended life upon a firm foundation of common values, interests, and goals. What’s more, they keep their relationship vibrant by allowing it to breathe – and by celebrating the surprising and serendipitous side of life every chance they get.


Remember, always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage, we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our mate. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate—hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.

Step 1: Have A “Progressive Dinner” On The Town.

At this point, we usually recommend that you begin your date by having dinner at a new and different restaurant – someplace you’ve never tried before. This time we’re going to build on that idea and switch things up a bit. On this occasion we want you to focus exclusively on dinner. Make dinner your entire date. But in line with our theme of stepping “outside the box,” we also want you to throw an interesting twist into the plan.

As you probably know, restaurants have their strengths and weaknesses. Most of the best eating places are known for one particular specialty. There’s usually one exceptionally delicious item on the menu, whether it’s steak, lobster, Bouillabaisse, or Irish stew, on which the establishment’s reputation is founded. That being the case, it makes sense to assume that you can treat yourselves to an extraordinary meal – the meal of a lifetime, in fact – by visiting a different restaurant for every course of a four- or five-course dinner. In other words, you can have an unparalleled culinary adventure and work some real variety into your time together by doing your own “progressive dinner” on the town.

Start out the evening by stopping at a place that’s known for its appetizers. After that, move on to the finest salad bar in the area. Want soup? Find some out-of-the way café that specializes in creative recipes and give one of them a try. From there you can go straight to the main course by visiting an establishment famous for its gourmet entrees. For dessert, choose your favorite ice cream shop, a specialty bakery, or some other restaurant that serves up elegant sweets. If you can manage all this on foot, so much the better. If you have to take the car, make the most of your drive time by choosing the scenic route.

We’ll guarantee you one thing: this is a great way to have a fun and adventurous night out! And when it’s all over, you’ll be able to say that the highlight of your serendipitous evening was a meal composed of the finest foods in town.

Step 2: Process what you’ve just experienced together.

Over dessert, talk about your “progressive dinner” and what it meant to you to spend this kind of time together. Slow down and connect emotionally in the context of a good conversation. Use the following questions as a springboard to discussion. Be sure to keep your responses positive, encouraging, and uplifting.

  • Did both of you enjoy your shared experience? What did you like most about the evening?
  • What exactly did you enjoy most about having dinner at several different restaurants all on the same night? How did it make you feel? Did “doing dinner” in this way give you a greater appreciation for the value of changing things up and introducing an element of variety into your date nights?
  • What is one thing you learned about me tonight that you didn’t know before?
  • How can we cultivate further opportunities to spend time together in new, exciting, and unexpected ways?

Step 3: Home Sweet Home

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about other ways in which you can keep changing the pace and rhythm of your dating experiences and bringing an element of unexpected fun into your everyday lives. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

© 2015 Focus on the Family.

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