Remembering the Past

By Greg Smalley
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Focus on the Family
Sometimes, the sweetest, most tender memories are those that happened during moments that were unplanned and that may seem unremarkable to the casual observer.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The first Date Night in your 3 Dates in 3 Weeks adventure is all about reminiscing. And you’ll both need to do a bit of advance preparation before heading out on your date.

When we think of reminiscing, we often remember those really big events from marriage: the wedding day, the birth of a child, a dream vacation, and so on. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But what about the little things—those everyday occasions in married and family life that aren’t accompanied by a great deal of fanfare? Sometimes, the sweetest, most tender memories are those that happened during moments that were unplanned and that may seem unremarkable to the casual observer.

Before heading out on your date, spend time apart thinking about some of those special occasions with your spouse, whether big or small. From “events” such as the night you got engaged, to mundane tasks such as doing yard work together, consider the unique qualities and character traits of your spouse that made those moments special. What is it about your spouse that made these times magical? Was it his sense of humor? Her love for adventure? His thoughtfulness? Her compassionate heart? As you recall the special memories, make a list. Write down five things you appreciate and admire about your spouse, and then take that list on your date with you.

Pastor Ted Cunningham has written at length about these types of lists. And he learned the practice from Dr. Gary Smalley. Here’s what Gary says about “honor lists” in Ted’s book Fun Loving You: “They are key to keeping honor high in marriage. Reading through these lists keeps me sane, in love, and having fun. Whenever Norma and I are in disagreement, I go to the honor list. It only takes reading a few lines for me to remind myself why I love that woman.”

Remember, work on your lists separately and individually, and then bring them on your date!


The first rule of Date Night is this: always act like you’re trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and “woo” our spouse. 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: Go someplace different for dinner.

Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.

Step 2: Do something that stirs up old memories.

Perhaps you had a favorite coffee shop when you were first dating in Louisville. Even though you live in Denver now, see if you can find a similar coffee shop that helps recall those early days. Or maybe your first date was at a bowling alley. Go bowling again and relive the experience! Or perhaps it’s something as simple as a park, hiking trail, or even a shopping mall that you haven’t visited in a while that holds special memories. Visit it again and talk about the good old days!

Step 3: Relax and unwind.

After your activity, go someplace quiet for dessert or coffee. Take out your lists and exchange them. Take turns talking about the five qualities or characteristics on your respective lists that you cherish about your spouse, and the memories associated with them. When you’re done, answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging. 

  • What was your favorite part of the evening? 
  • What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn’t know about me before?
  • What are some of our favorite things we used to do as a couple prior to marriage and early in our marriage?
  • Can we start doing some of those again, even with the realities of our busier lifestyle?

Step 4: Home Sweet Home.

As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Think about additional ways you can build special memories in the days ahead—and be prepared to add to the list of things you cherish about your spouse as they come to mind. Once you get home, however, it’s up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!

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© 2014 Focus on the Family.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the Vice President of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the …

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