[Editor’s note: the following excerpt is from Cheri Lowe’s newly released book, Your Money Your Marriage: The Secrets to Smart Finance, Spicy Romance, and Their Intimate Connection.]
In the early years of our marriage, a recurring piece of advice seemed to float around at many of our outings. In seminars, in small groups, during sermons, we repeatedly heard that in order to remain happily married, we needed one thing—regular date nights.
So we tried it. We put a date night on the calendar. At first we tried one per week. After realizing just how difficult it was to find childcare on a regular basis without bankrupting ourselves, we nixed that and settled on one date per month. But then life happened (oh, the busy!), we forgot to put it on the calendar one month, and we felt like we were awful human beings. With guilt in our guts and shame on our shoulders, we felt like our marriage just didn’t measure up to those rock star once-a-week date nighters. They were destined for gold and platinum anniversaries while we were obviously doomed to divorce court.
And then we realized those notions were stupid. No date night, no matter how regular or how awesome, will make your marriage perfect. There’s no magic formula that instantly adds intimacy to your relationship. If there was one, it’s definitely not going to be found by eating expensive cheesecake, no matter how delicious.
We kissed date night goodbye.
Before you misunderstand me, I don’t think date night is stupid. I don’t think you’re stupid if you have a date night. But I think that as a culture we’ve laid too many expectations at date night’s door. We’ve unknowingly placed our hopes and dreams on one night a week dining out, while someone else watches our kids. We’ve depended on sitting silently in the theater, watching the latest blockbuster unfold, to fix our communication problems. Miniature golf, concerts, and shopping trips might provide a few moments of release from life’s anxieties, but in the long run they don’t help us discover deeper meaning or foster financial foreplay. Left unchecked, date night becomes more about where we’re going or what we’re doing instead of who we are with. We dangerously transfer what should be a time to connect into a temporary distraction.
Between work and the duties of home, the last thing you need is one more required activity. Does this mean you quit scheduling special time together? Of course not. Does it mean you are off the hook for regularly rekindling your romance? Not a chance.
However, thinking that date night waves the magic wand for all the problems in your marriage is a misnomer. In fact, oftentimes, regular date nights cause unforeseen problems, including financial problems. We may come to a planned evening out with unrealistic expectations. Too many rom coms set a blurry Hollywood standard on what date night is supposed to look like.
He’ll be the perfect gentleman, suited up and arriving with a fresh cut flower. She’ll be wearing a sexy red dress, with commercial coiffed hair and flawless makeup. They’ll share a glass of wine at an upscale restaurant and chuckle over the day’s events. After a five-star dinner, they’ll hold hands while strolling along a canal and then finish the evening hot and sweaty, tangled in the sheets.
I don’t know who these people are and how they got inside my head, but the date nights we’ve attempted pale in comparison. Usually Brian is still in his suit from work so that part’s accurate. Everything else skews out of view because the nearest canal is thirty-five minutes away, we couldn’t afford an upscale restaurant, and my naturally curly hair is always out of control (and usually in a ponytail).
Have you idealized date night, making it something it’s not? It’s time to shift your lens.
Spending time together looks different for every couple. When we were paying off $127,000 in debt, we didn’t have the budget to afford a babysitter, let alone a fancy schmancy restaurant. We would have been happy to split a burger, but were making getting out of debt our first priority. Overspending on date night is not going to create harmony; instead, it causes money issues and marital discord.
When it comes to date night, seek the ordained in the ordinary. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do, and reckless spending never equals a harmonious relationship. Instead of idealizing date night culture, try to carve out time in your regular schedule to connect. Every. Single. Night. This eliminates unrealistic expectations but raises the chances of actual connection.
Probably the easiest way to achieve this goal—especially if you have kids—is to commit to regular bedtimes for both you and your children. Intentionally set a specific time all of you will hit the hay and stick to it. Schedule the children’s bedtime about an hour or more before yours (as your children age, this gets a bit more difficult, but it’s not impossible). Use this time to connect. Share a snack. Play a game. Use the Your Money, Your Marriage online guide to have a money chat. Budget together. Hold hands in the quiet. Avoid the temptation to turn on the TV and zone out or scroll through countless feeds on your social media accounts.
This practice of “un-dating” both reduces your expenses (sitter + dinner + entertainment = big bucks) and also channels your quality time into a focused and purposeful experience. Plus, the pressure of one more date on the calendar disappears. You can relax and breathe together instead of feeling like you need to check another box or add another item on the to-do list. After all, spending time together shouldn’t feel like a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference.
Taken from Your Money, Your Marriage by Cherie and Brian Lowe. Copyright © 2018 by Cherie and Brian Lowe. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com. All rights reserved.
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Cherie Lowe is an expert voice on personal finance, writing from her Queen of Free blog. Your Money Your Marriage is Cherie’s latest book, co-written with her husband, Brian. She’s also a columnist for the Daily Journal (Franklin, IN) and appears weekly on WTHR (Indianapolis NBC affiliate). She holds a degree in history from Asbury University.