So God Made a Mother Collection ➔

“You should date your spouse.”

I heard this advice as a newly married woman and hung my hat on its truth. I assumed the person who spoke it was speaking with authority, and we needed to strive for weekly date nights or else surrender our marriage to its doom. But for many years, date nights were simply not a thing we could do with regularity. Not in the commercial and social sense of the word, anyway.

Did we have fun together when we went out? Of course.

Would frequent dates have been welcomed? Probably.

Was other people’s advice for our marriage helpful? Nope.

The truth is we married young, and for years we were the poster children for paycheck-to-paycheck living. For years, our life could be summarized by “they had babies and he was deployed with the Army a lot.” It was important for us that I stay home with our children, so we lived on one income and that necessitated a tight budget. For a few years, we juggled special needs children, weathered yet another military deployment, and then came the devastating diagnoses for our daughters. The years that followed were filled with the commitment that comes with loving and parenting two terminally ill children. Also, life. Also, marriage. Also, bills. Also, lots of stuff.

Date nights happened now and then thanks to friends and family who stepped in to care for and love our children well, but can I tell you a secret?

Four hours away for dinner and a movie was sometimes more stressful than it was helpful.

It meant spending a chunk of money that was honestly needed elsewhere. It meant making sure whoever was with our children was capable of providing the personal and medical care required. By the time those things were dealt with, my husband was left with an anxious wife who wanted desperately to enjoy a night out, but who was simply exhausted and couldn’t stop her brain from going over all the things.

An evening out of the house was great, but it often took me so long to decompress from daily life that I didn’t have much time to really enjoy it. Sometimes our dates were less than fantastic because we put so much pressure on ourselves to enjoy those hours together. When you set the expectations that high, there’s bound to be a bit of disappointment from time to time.

We were privileged to have a handful of overnight dates over the years and those were precious. The hours required for me to decompress and relax enough to enjoy myself were available. I could take a deep breath and be a wife. For even a few moments, I could be a wife without the beautifully heavy distraction of motherhood and caregiving. We had time to just be us, and it was treasured. Rare and fleeting, but of true value.

I’m grateful for those date nights and for every scrap of effort we’ve put into our marriage over the years, but date nights aren’t what held us together.

Sitting on the back porch together for a few minutes after the kids were in bed held us together.

Setting my alarm to wake up early and spend half an hour with him before he left for work held us together.

Trading back rubs for foot rubs in the living room while the kids watched cartoons held us together.

Our arrangement to take turns getting up with the kids on Saturday mornings so the other could sleep in held us together.

Laughing over reruns of our favorite shows on late-night television held us together.

Picking up each other’s slack, offering heaping portions of grace, and our commitment to keep trying held us together.

RELATED: Dear Husband, Fall Back in Love With Me

We’ve been married 19 years now. We’ve grown up together. Our lives look different now than they did then. Our parenting responsibilities are different now than they were then. Our budget is different now than it was then. We are different now than we were then. We still have responsibilities and considerations to make, but we also have more freedom to date each other in this phase of life and that’s sort of amazing.

So, here’s my non-advice for spouses:

If you can date your spouse, I hope you will.

I hope you’ll wash your hair and put on clothes that make you feel pretty. I hope you’ll ask the grandparents to keep the kids or trade childcare with a friend or figure out how to pay a sitter. If your budget allows for sharing a snow cone while sitting on the tailgate of the truck in the grocery store parking lot, I hope you’ll do it. If your budget allows for a week-long, kid-free vacation with no holds barred, I hope you’ll do it. If you have a standing weekly date with your spouse, I think that’s awesome. If your date nights come semi-annually, I think that’s awesome, too.

But, if in your current season of life, dating your spouse means sharing a no-bake cheesecake straight from the pan while watching true crime documentaries after the kids FINALLY go to sleep, I hope you’ll do that and know the date doesn’t matter nearly as much as the one you’re with.

Marriage takes work. Thankfully, there’s an app that can help! Lasting—the nation’s #1 relationship counseling app—provides accessible sessions designed to help you build a healthy marriage. Download and take Lasting’s free Relationship Health Assessment.

You may also like: 

The Secret to Marriage is Loads of Grace

The Truth About Marrying Your High School Sweetheart

Married Date Night is Just My Style

Mandy McCarty Harris

Mandy McCarty Harris lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband, young daughter, three dogs, and eleven backyard chickens. She writes about living happily in the messy middle of life. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and at HappyLikeThis.com

I’m So Thankful For This Little Family

In: Faith, Marriage, Motherhood
Toddler boy and infant girl, color photo

I remember my teenage self dreaming, hoping, and praying for a life like I have now. Praying for a man to love me, to be loyal to me, to want a family with me, to provide for me, to show me what stability felt like and what it felt like to not ever have to worry . . . and here he is right in front of me. I remember my teenage self dreaming, hoping, praying for a house I could make a home and raise my family in. Here it is right in front of me. But most of...

Keep Reading

Dear Husband, I Still Remember Who We Are

In: Marriage
Bride and groom kissing, color photo

Sometimes it might seem like I’ve forgotten about us—amid the cluster feeding and the baseball practices. In the heaps of diapers or the bubbly bath water. In this phase when my body is not my own, and it isn’t yours either. RELATED: Dear Husband, I Loved You First When my mind is too tired to string together another thought, and my voice is lost from whispering, not sweet nothings, but another lullaby. But I still remember who we are. Mirror souls, an unstoppable force, two hearts entangled—and we are conquering this part together because our relationship will go through seasons....

Keep Reading

I’m Just a Little Boy, but Daddy You’re Teaching Me How to Be a Man

In: Fatherhood, Marriage
Daddy on the floor playing with son, color photo

I’m only a little boy, still too young to tie my own shoes or make my own breakfast. My days are filled with playtime, snacks, lots of hugs from Mommy, and plenty of tickles from you, Daddy. Right now, my life revolves around me and you and Mommy. I don’t know much about the world outside our home yet. I haven’t learned about responsibility or self-discipline or sacrifice. I haven’t had to find my place in the world yet. But I guess I’m pretty lucky because even though you may not know it, you’ve already begun teaching me everything I...

Keep Reading

You’re the Father You Never Had and I’m So Proud of You

In: Fatherhood, Marriage
Dad and kids walking on beach

Can I tell you about my husband? He’s amazing. He’s kind and doting and loves Jesus, but perhaps his most endearing trait is the absolutely incredible father he is.  In our early days of dating, he was crippled by the fear of what type of father he would be. To him, fatherhood was burdensome, grumbling, abandonment, and fighting for the final dollar during tax season. His experience as a son crippled his anticipation as a father.  But I knew it all along—what an incredible dad he would be. Although I must admit, he has often far surpassed what I even...

Keep Reading

I Always Had an Excuse for My Excessive Drinking

In: Living, Marriage
Woman drinking wine

I remember the first time my husband sat me down and looked me in the eye and told me he was concerned about my drinking, about four years ago. It was after a particularly late, drunken Saturday night, and he approached me in our bedroom the next morning while our three kids were innocently watching TV downstairs. I don’t remember where we had been or who we had been with the night before, but it was probably much of the same drunken scene that we always found ourselves in, with the same people. What I do remember is the look...

Keep Reading

Spaghetti Sauce Faith

In: Faith, Marriage, Motherhood
Mother and little girl holding a bowl of spaghetti, color photo

It was Sunday afternoon, and I was loading my grocery cart higher than I ever had in my life. My husband and I, along with our two kids under two years old, had been living with his parents for three months. We moved from our Florida home to look for a house in Georgia, and they graciously took us in. This was the day I loaded up on groceries—filling an empty refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. My shopping list was all the things. I needed to buy the smallest of table ingredients like salt and garlic powder to the big things...

Keep Reading

Dear Husband, I’m Sorry for Expecting Perfection

In: Marriage
Couple embracing on beach

Dear Husband, There is a picture of a piece of burnt toast on my Facebook wall. It’s quite ugly. It’s the kind of toast that if it popped out of the toaster, I would try to scrape off all the black bits, probably making a mess over the countertop and in the kitchen sink in the process. And if the charred stuff never came off, I’d begrudgingly (because I don’t like to waste food) throw that toast in the garbage and make myself a new piece. That’s how burnt this piece of toast is. But it’s not my piece of...

Keep Reading

I Always Pack the Snack, and Other Ways Parenting is Never 50/50

In: Marriage, Motherhood
Mother lying on couch with children, black-and-white photo

I hate it. The idea of unequal roles irritates me to no end. Two years ago, I would never have believed it would come to this. The workload with my children will never be equally shared between my husband and me, and although I wish it weren’t true, I have finally come to terms with the notion that I will be the lead parent. “It will never be 50/50,” my husband said the other night, and as the words were coming out of his mouth, I believed him. It had been a bad day. Picking and arguing over who did...

Keep Reading

I Love the Way You Make Me Laugh

In: Marriage
Couple laughing

I love how you make me laugh. Like . . . love, love it.  You get that gleam in your eye—the one that could light up a city block, and I know what’s coming next.  I know I’m about to absolutely adore every word you deliver in that perfect execution of yours. I know the muscles on my face and in my stomach are about to hurt in an eager kind of way. I know I’m going to fall in love with you all over again. Right then. Right there. Really, it isn’t just the words. Don’t get me wrong, they...

Keep Reading

Divorce Made My Ex-Husband and Me Better Parents

In: Living, Marriage
Mom dropping child off with dad

When I married my husband, I could not imagine a life without him in it. We met at such a young age, and essentially, we grew up together. We molded one another and connected on such a deep level. With such a deep love, we decided the next step in life would be to get married and start a family. We wanted to create a life where we could watch our children grow, and we could grow old together.  Before having children, I don’t think anyone is prepared for the overwhelming love you experience for your child. You never realize...

Keep Reading

5 Secrets to the

BEST Summer Ever!

FREE EMAIL BONUS

Creating simple summer memories

with your kids that will  last a lifetime