Saturday, March 05, 2011

3 Tips For Date Conversations

Barie and I have always made our date-night a priority for as long as we have been married.  We have learned from wise mentors the importance of having a regular time for the two of us to enjoy each other and continue to improve our relationship.  Over the years, we have used all types of babysitting to have at least two dates a month.  We've partnered with another couple to switch off kids every week, we've utilized the YMCA's once-a-month four-hour childcare, and we've hired babysitters.  At this point in our marriage, we're blessed to have Barie's mom living close to us and she enjoys watching the kids every Friday night so that we can go out.  All that to say this: we've always made dating each other a priority and always encouraged other couples to do the same.  We're constantly surprised by how many married couples go months without a date-night.  I always tell them the same thing: the best way to love your kids well is to love your spouse well - kids thrive when they sense the stability and health of their parents' relationship.

As we've been going out over the years and encouraging other couples to do the same, Barie and I have witnessed the struggles that other couples have in dating each other.  Sometimes, it has to do with scheduling.  Sometimes, it has to do with childcare.  Sometimes, it has to do with fatigue.  But honestly, sometimes I wonder if it doesn't MOST have to do with a lack of excitement about the date itself.  There are multiple reasons for this, and I hope to post a series of articles talking about how to address the root issues.  But today, I want to address a common struggle that I've noticed: what do we talk about?

I can't tell you how many times Barie and I have been out for dinner and looked across at the table next to us only to find another couple sitting there staring at each other.  The couple is going through the motions, sitting down to dinner together, but they have nothing to talk about.  They just sit and stare and hope that the other one has something to bring up.  In some of the worst-case scenarios, the couple retreats into their smartphones for some distractions.  How do we fight this temptation?  How do we keep the conversation engaging and fun and exciting every time we are together?  Some of us have an easier time at this than others, but we all can be more intentional in improving our date conversations.  Here's three of my best tips...

1) Ask good questions.  In all other relationships in life, we know that the beginning of a good conversation is forming good questions.  But in our marriage, after years of doing life together and talking about life, we can begin to think that we already know everything about this person.  This is exceedingly dangerous!  People are not static - they are dynamic - they change and develop and learn.  In order to continue to be a good student of your spouse, ask good questions.  Not the mundane questions like, "how was your day?" but the penetrating, learning questions like, "what was your biggest success in the last week?" or "what are you struggling with the most right now?"  or "what is really energizing you right now?"  Some of the most amazing conversations that Barie and I have had on dates over the years have started with good questions.  Get creative.  Ask the unexpected.  Show your spouse that you are really interested in getting to know them better.  They will respond - trust me.  And if you really want to spur some deep conversation, ask them "what has God been teaching you lately that is challenging you?"  Again, don't assume that because you live together and do life together that you already know the answers to your questions.  Ask and then listen well.  When their answer surprises you, ask a good follow-up question.  Dig deeper.  Ask why questions - "why do you feel that way?" or "why do you think you responded that way?"  If you only talk in your marriage and don't ask, your conversations will eventually die - because no one wants to keep talking to someone who only talks about themselves.  Ask good questions.

2) Tell funny stories.  When Barie and I go out together, we laugh.  A lot.  We fight the temptation to complain and gripe and moan about the challenges and difficulties of life.  Now, we do talk about hard issues that each of us is working through, but we never stop laughing.  One of the reasons we enjoy spending so much time together is because we make each other smile and laugh.  Do you and your spouse have that effect on each other?  If your conversations are only dour and depressing, how long do you think you can keep the date momentum going?  Not very long.  One of the easiest ways that we have found to laugh together is to tell funny stories from the past week.  We tell funny stories on ourselves, our kids, and our friends.  We tell funny stories about stuff at church and at work.  We tell funny stories about things that have happened to us or to others we know.  I think every time you go out on a date, you should have a funny story from the past week to share with your spouse.  Make them laugh with you.  And make them share what has made them laugh as well.  Laughter brings healing to the soul and breathes life into date conversations.

3) Dream together.  I know that one of the challenges of dating when you have children is that your conversations tend to revolve around the children.  Some of that is inevitable and good.  However, I would warn you to not fall in the trap of only talking about your children - if you do, you will begin to view your marriage only as a business partnership built on accomplishing the goal of raising the next generation rather than a loving, passionate relationship between two best-friends.  One of the best conversations that Barie and I regularly share is our dreams for the future.  Where do we see ourselves in 1 year?  in 5 years?  in 10 years?  If we had unlimited money and time and resources, what would we do?  Those conversations get us out of the week to week operations of life (upcoming dates and events) and lift our eyes to the future.  They also allow you to get to know the desires and dreams of your spouse better.  As you hear them, you can begin to think and pray about how you might be able to make those dreams come true.

If your date conversations have become dry and dull, try one or all of the three tips and see what happens.  If you and your spouse really excel in this area, share some of your tips in the comment section below.  I look forward to learning from all of you.


Caitie said...

So Jordan has this game that they play at the counseling clinic, and we found a version just for couples. It's called "The Ungame," and it's a non-competitive game that just provides questions to ask and answer your spouse.
After a while it gets repetitive, but we found it fun and interesting as newlyweds.

Thanks for the info Keith, I'm definitely going to start incorporating better questions on our date nights! :)

Barie Sue said...

this makes me ready for our next date already ;-)