It is the end of the week. Finally, it's date night. Work can wait until Monday. Kids have a babysitter. It's you and your sweetie. Time to relax, talk, laugh and unwind together. Then it happens. An argument ruins the night.
I remember Jake and Sue sharing their date night story during a Safe Haven Marriage Intensive.
Sue went over the schedule with the babysitter one more time while her husband, Jake, waited in the car for their date night. "This sitter charges too much," Jake muttered under his breath as Sue got back into the car. "Well, you could've helped come up with a better option!" snapped Sue as she slammed the car door. Once again, Jake and Sue found themselves in an argument at the beginning of date night.
Can you relate to this story? You and your spouse set out on a date to connect, build your marriage only to get stuck arguing, seemingly sabotaging your chance to 'connect and build your marriage.' A date night ruined keeps you both stressed and disconnected. Often confirming unsubstantiated fears such as, 'do you really care about me,' 'we don't get along,' 'we have such a difficult marriage,' 'why do we even bother to go on dates, they never work out.'
1. High expectations for the perfect night.
Couples often have different ideas of what the perfect date night should look like and feel like. Maybe the husband wants an activity and a fun night out, while maybe the wife wants romance, quiet and his full attention. Different personality styles de-stress and re-fuel in different ways. Some need the evening planned, others are looking for new places filled with people and fun, while another wants a unique quiet connection, and yet another wants to go to the same familiar restaurants. Disappointment in date night can rob a couple of enjoying each other and gaining the benefits of just being together, regardless of the activity.
2. Stress of the week still lingering.
Some couples are able to go from work to date night on Friday night, welcoming in the weekend. Others need to unwind, let the stress of the week melt, re-group and are better able to enjoy date night on Saturday.
3. Life fears.
Often we carry just under the surface our stress and fears about life, such as money, kids, sex, and whether or not things will work out. Often the hurts surrounding these topics accumulate like trash under the rug of one's relationship. And as we are in conversation, something happens or is said that triggers these fears and stressors.
That's what happened to Jake and Sue. Their argument 'topic' was about the rising cost of a babysitter. But the rubble they tripped over was their fears and unresolved issues around finances. Jake had recently changed jobs, and the transition had triggered stress and worry about making ends meet. He felt scared that even though he was making more money, the increased cost of living would cause finances to always be a struggle. This fear and stress bubbled up fueling a critical comment. Sue also carried her stress and fear surrounding her parenting effectiveness. She already felt bad about leaving the kids during the week when at work, and felt she was selfish for wanting a date night. She was hurt by Jake's comment, as she felt she was doing the best she could to get a babysitter so they could have a much needed date night.
How do you redeem a date night ready to be ruined?
1. Slow things down! When you or your spouse gets triggered try identifying what is going on. Don't keep escalating the argument. You both want to spend time together enjoying the evening. Neither of you want to spend the night stuck arguing. So slow down. Even say to each other, "Let's slow down and figure out what is going on so we don't ruin our evening."
2. Identify either: a. your disappointment for how you thought date night would go, b. the stressful situation that happened during the week that is still lingering, c. your fears that maybe are lurking underneath the triggering topic.
3. Share. Instead of blaming, becoming critical or avoiding the topic, risk to open up and share your disappointments, stressors, and fears.
Maybe Jake could share, "I am sorry I snapped like that, I guess I am stressed about money. I feel ashamed I am not making more money in this season. I have anxiety everyday about our financial state." Sharing your fears, your softer side, will be risky, but this new way of relating will help your spouse understand you and draw you closer. And isn't that what you both want?
4. Comfort don't solve. Date night is to connect, not to solve the big issues in your marriage. Listen to each other's disappointments, stressors and fears. Comfort each other. Decide when you can talk about these issues. Then get back to enjoying the evening. But realize, if you don't ever go back and talk about these difficult topics, your spouse will push to talk about them right there and then in fear the topics won't be brought up again. If you both know you will have a chance to talk later, you can both get back to enjoying date night.
Setting aside time to build a friendship with your spouse is important. Date nights are worth it. They help you get to know each other, enjoy each other, and strengthen the bond between the two of you. An emotionally connected marriage is key to a good and lasting marriage.