He sits in the counseling office, eyes down, a sheepish grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. He’d only been married three years but already had one little guy crawling and a baby girl in diapers. He and his young wife were burning the midnight oil – cook, eat, clean, diaper, work, park, toys, repeat – and by ten o’clock each night, there was barely enough time to say a prayer and catch some sleep, hoping nobody was teething.
Finally, with a furrowed brow, he got up the nerve to tell pastor, “Things aren’t as romantic as they used to be…” followed by the gut-wrenching confession, “I mean, we love each other, but I’m not sure we still like each other.”
In case you hadn’t guessed, that young man was me. After having our first child, life was a fairytale. But, when baby number two arrived, everything changed. With two little ones in diapers and ministry in hyper-drive, Bre and I drifted apart. Her life was “mama” and mine “church guy.” We became roommates instead of teammates. Thankfully the Lord put the right people in our life to steer us from rapids to calm water.
Our story isn’t unique. Over the years, we’ve met with countless couples who shared their own version of growing apart. For some, it was the early years of raising a family. For others, it was later as they navigated mid-life health issues and teens. Still, for others, discord came during empty nest when each spouse had to relearn the other. Feeling “out of step” with a spouse is something most will go through at some point in life.
After one cold discussion, Bre and I met with an older couple who explained how they’d turned date nights into “Family Business.” Turning date night into a business meeting sounded funny to us at the time – very unromantic – but we were desperate. So, on our next date night, we sat down for Starbucks with our phones out. We prayed and began reviewing the upcoming week. Honestly, it felt a bit clunky at first, but low and behold, it worked. After twenty minutes, we were talking and brainstorming. For the first time in a year, we felt aligned. That night, we held hands and knew we were a team again.
Before explaining how our new date night worked, it’s helpful to point out how date night has been distorted.
The world views intimacy as purely sexual. Many Christians have bought into the world’s definition. For most couples, including Christians, the term “date night” conjures up babysitting, dinner, a Rom-Com, and the lights fade to black… Based on this view, one would think that in the Garden of Eden, Adam met Eve and lured her to the bedroom. Yet, we get a very different picture as Genesis describes Adam meeting Eve then pausing to write earth’s first love poem (Gen. 2:23). In this poem, he speaks of the profound union between him and his wife. Likewise, in Ephesians 5, Paul emphasizes a conscious, selfless, intentional love husbands maintain for their wives. Thus, real intimacy is not merely physical, but two people who share openly, keep no secrets, walking with integrity towards shared goals.
It took some practice, but eventually, we had date night talks in three categories:
I know, I know – Real romantic – Nothing better than sitting down to a nice dinner, ordering the filet, whispering a soft “I love you,” and then pulling out Excel spreadsheets. Talking budget is the last thing most couples want to do, but it’s foundational to real intimacy.
Money is an intimate subject. If you doubt that, ponder why it gets so uncomfortable when the pastor preaches on it. Most people would rather their church talk about sexuality than money.
Many couples don’t discuss money because they’ve never learned how to manage money. In premarital counseling sessions, I’m amazed how few couples have any budgeting plan. One partner may be a “saver” and the other a “spender.” Still, they typically haven’t been taught how to forecast finances, give to the church, prep for annual bills, and set aside savings for a rainy day. So, they sweep reality under the rug until it jumps out in the form of a call from collections.
More concerning are couples who hide things from one another. Early in our marriage Bre and I had a decisive moment of real intimacy when we confessed expenditures we’d been hiding (some intentional, others not). This included a variety of things we’d never agreed to. Some were small, others more significant. But, sin was the same.
Scripture reveals how important money is to the heart. Jesus even linked the two (Matt. 6:20-21). Naturally, when two people are spending money without alignment, their hearts are out of alignment. Money is an external reflector of an internal reality. It’s like the blinking dashboard light when there’s engine trouble.
If you’ve not been discussing the budget on date night, give it a try. Multiple things will begin to happen in your relationship. First, joy will return as you begin striding as a team. Second, other areas of your life will come under similar self-control. Healthy habits create other healthy habits – laundry gets done, toys put away (most of the time), and dinner times become regulated. Finally, and most importantly, God will be glorified. Yes, the Lord watches each dollar you spend, and your stewardship of what He has entrusted you is vitally important (Cf. Mt. 25:26-27).
Typically, when our waitress brings salad, Bre and I move from discussing finances to discussing our calendar. Can I hear the crowd groaning – your calendar? On date night? – Yes, let me explain.
Unmet expectations breed frustrations. Every married couple knows this. What husband hasn’t been late for dinner only to get the cold shoulder? What dynamic duo hasn’t been in a tiff until 1am because of unmet sexual expectations? What marriage hasn’t felt the frostbite of teens needing a carpool pick up just as the TV football game goes into overtime? Add relatives, in-laws, diapers, work travel, or illness, and expectations breed frustrations.
When our calendar wasn’t aligned, we began to feel like two race cars. We were both moving full speed, knew there was a checkered flag somewhere, but it was just a matter of time until one of us lost a tire and caused a major pileup. We knew the Lord didn’t want us scrambling and bumping like that (Cf. Eph. 5:16), so we began sharing our weekly calendar.
In the early days, we used hard-copy calendars and magnetic fridge boards. Soon modern technology made it simple for us to merge online calendars. On a typical date, Bre reads off what our shared calendars say. We navigate any teenage transport issues or surprises, emphasize when our next date night will be, and then shut it down. Risking TMI, we do even calendar evenings for romance, adding a small emoji on certain days.
Give it a try, and you’ll be blessed. Once you get into a rhythm, your calendar review time will only take 5-minutes (unless there’s a conflict) and you’ll feel bonded heading into the week. As you speed around the track, you’ll have a clear understanding of the lap you’re on, where the checkered flag is, and how much air is in the tires.
The main course always centers on our convictions. This is easily the most crucial part of date night. Why did we get married? Why did we start a family? How will we raise that family? What grace gifts did God give our family? What kind of legacy do we plan to leave? What rewards await us in Heaven? Have we hurt each other’s feelings?
An astounding number of couples can’t explain the reason for their choices. They have a hard time explaining their marriage goal, parenting direction, financial stewardship, friendships, or even career. Sadly, in our post-Christian society, most people do not even know the very basis for their existence. Couples must lock in on the purpose of their life together.
Righting the ship meant we had to select biblical goals and then use date nights to spot-check if we were hitting them.Goal-setting sounds like a difficult thing to do, but it’s simple once you see it in action. Kyle and Heidi did it this way:
Kyle was at work when he realized he was hitting his marks at work but didn’t have any plans for his home. He called Heidi, who was home with their elementary school children, and said, “After the kids go down, we need to talk at the kitchen table.” That night they rushed the kids off to bed, and Kyle pulled out his computer. Across the top of an Excel doc, Kyle had written “Family Objectives.” He turned to Heidi and said, “Let’s list three…”
At first, Heidi frowned, it seemed too late for this, and her mind was mush. But, Kyle slowly began to share his ideas based on some Scripture he’d read that day, “Objective #1 is a home that honors Christ…” “Objective #2 is a home that is slow to speak and quick to listen…” Then, Heidi jumped in, “Objective #3 is our children graduate college”. Immediately, it got fun, as they listed out the goals most important to their young family.
Kyle then leaned over and pointed at Objective #1, “Heidi, what three things should we try this year to begin meeting this goal?” Heidi gushed with a couple of answers, including family worship times after dinner and attending AWANA. Kyle wrote them down and then jumped in with a few ideas regarding a father-daughter date night. Before they knew it, it was 11pm, both Kyle and Heidi were tired, but their hearts were full. The job wasn’t done, but a plan was taking shape. On their next date night, they could do a check-up. As they walked upstairs, their hearts were one…
Kyle and Heidi are fictional, and life isn’t that simple. But, hopefully, their story provides a snapshot of how goal-setting works.
If you start by setting just one or two objectives per year, it will change your home. Begin by setting a clear, measurable goal, then brainstorm the critical steps required to reach that goal. Now, paste that document on the fridge, or turn it into a burnished Chip and Joanna wood-carving and throw it above the fireplace! The point is, everyone in the family needs to know, see, and align on these goals. Then, each date night, spend a bit of time assessing if/how you’re living out your purpose. Instead of torching each other verbally throughout the week, patiently write down concerns, and present them in a spirit of gentle humility on date night. Suddenly you aren’t opponents but teammates because you have a goal and a plan!
Some of this may sound a bit daunting at first but take the word of an old guy who’s been in your shoes: A Christian couple who seeks the Lord in their cash, calendar, and lifetime convictions, will experience the warm fires of real intimacy.
 Disclaimer: This helpful hint only works if Christ is Lord of the marriage, and both partners are attending a faithful church. No marital advice carries any weight outside the marvelous grace of our Lord, sanctifying two people into the image of Christ.
 An Ephesians 5 word study of love agapao and the verbs “nourish” and “cherish” can be extremely helpful in understanding the depth of intimacy God expects of married couples.
 The foundational reason you’re alive is to bring glory to God and enjoy Him forever. Prayerfully, you know that. If not, scroll back through the previous posts on FTG regarding the gospel, and read carefully.
 For example, see Rob Green, Tying the Knot, 2016.