By Focus on the Family
"Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth."
Finding ways to sustain love involves spending enjoyable time together. Thriving couples build a strong friendship by continuing to date. They develop meaningful traditions, spend time with each other, laugh together, and look for adventure. They work together to find hobbies they can both enjoy. A healthy marriage has a good mixture of independence and togetherness, and happy couples are intentional about building their lives on a foundation of common values, interests, and goals.
How much time should you spend together? Answers to that question vary, but if you ask the best researchers, they generally respond "As much as you can." Some specify a weekly amount. Recommendations range from eight to fifteen hours per week.
Naturally, the quantity of time husbands and wives spend together is only one piece of the puzzle. Quality is also crucial to the health of your relationship. There are at least four critical ingredients to the kind of togetherness that enables a marriage to thrive: regularity, variety, adventure, and fun. Let's examine each of them in more detail.
In marriage, opportunities to enjoy each other's company should not be few and far between. On the contrary, they have to be part of the fabric of a couple's life. That means making together-time a priority. And that requires intentionality – after all, talking and doing things together doesn't just "happen."
This is why it's so important to plan regular outings and date nights and to do whatever it takes – for example, arrange for babysitters or carve time out of busy work schedules – to make sure these engagements are faithfully kept. Both spouses need to put out an effort to follow the example of the bride in Song of Solomon: "By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him but did not find him. 'I will rise now,' I said, 'and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love'" (Song of Solomon 3:1, 2). In other words, you need to learn how to pursue each other just as you did back in the days before you were married. If you want time to share your hearts, your hopes, and your dreams with each other, you've got to make up your minds to fight for it.
Current research indicates that thriving husbands and wives draw strength, energy, and life from being in each other's company. This doesn't mean, of course, that they spend all of their time together. 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.
The same effect can be achieved by changing up those plans from date to date. Don't get stuck in a rut. Remember the promise Christ gave us in the final book of the Bible – "Behold, I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5) – and apply it to your relationship. 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." 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. Even if it means something as simple as eating at a different restaurant or going to a different movie theater every week, it's important to keep things interesting by changing the pattern.
"Come, my beloved," says the Shulamite in Chapter 7 of Solomon's Song, "let us go forth to the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine has budded, whether the grape blossoms are open, and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love" (Song of Solomon 7:11, 12).
Variety in its turn introduces a touch of adventure and excitement into a couple's together–time. But an outing doesn't have to be big, dramatic, risky, or outlandish in order to be adventurous. It simply has to include an element of the new, the unusual, or the unexpected. As we've already suggested, this can be accomplished in small and subtle ways. The idea is to keep yourselves just a little bit off balance so that you can benefit from the enriching experience of reacting to new things together.
Finally, when date nights are adventurous and exciting, even in understated ways, they're also fun. This is essential. Research shows that new activities activate the brain's reward system, creating excitement, exhilaration, and joy.[i] Husbands and wives who have fun together strengthen the bonds that unite them without even realizing what they're doing. In a hundred different ways, they create powerful incentives to stick together and keep on coming back for more.
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 marriage 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. Instead of just living under the same roof and sleeping in the same bed, 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.
Putting it into practice
Here's an idea that may help you make your next date night a real "out of the box" adventure. Try having a "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.
Questions for Discussion
- How can we cultivate further opportunities to spend time together in new, exciting, and unexpected ways?
- How can we, together, become more intentional and aggressive about clearing our calendars in order to make more time for each other?
- If you had to come up with an idea for a really fun and adventurous outing, what would it be? What would you like to do that we've never done together before?
[i] Tara Parker Pope, "Reinventing Date Night for Long-Married Couples," New York Times, February 12, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/12/health/12well.html?_r=0.
Copyright © 2016 Focus on the Family.
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