So, I have another sticky content and commentary for you. (Here‘s the other.) This one was written by me in the Summer of 2013, before I proposed to Hayley but as I was beginning to suspect I would want to. I asked myself, what techniques apart from good listening skills and practicing the five love languages should married people (specifically my future self) employ to develop a healthy relationship long term. In my infinite youthful wisdom here’s what I came up with:
Once a week we will do relationship building activities:
1 intimacy (4)
2 book time (7)
3 project time (5)
4 date night (6)
<5> future planning (3)
Weekly relationship building activities sound great on paper, but are hard to practice. The goal was to have “date night” where we didn’t do dates, but did intentional marriage care once a week. It seems like a slightly too high of tax on the individuals’ time, but a really well intentioned and sincere attempt to value a relationship and put in the effort to make it work.
So the numbers are the weeks in a month so the first four would happen every month and the last one would only happen four or five times a year. The parenthetical number is roughly the amount of hours that should be blocked off for this activity.
Still fresh to marriage, but with a little experience, I would recommend these as the schedule allows. So if you have kids and both work outside the home, maybe you can only get this time once a month; if you don’t have kids and/or one of you is a homemaker, maybe you can do this every week; I think every other week is probably the rate Hayley and I could commit to with no kids and both working outside the home. As for the time frame, I think those will vary by couple but are wise to consider since different types of intentional married couple practices take longer than others
Intimacy was kind of a catch all word describing a type of date night. This time was for intentional and fostered intimacy between the two of you not being expressed with persons outside the marriage. So getting coffee wouldn’t count, going to a movie wouldn’t count, but reading each other’s journals would, being sexual would. I still think this is a good practice within a marriage and articulating it for what it is helps too. Something that conveys, “I only share this with you; I trust you with my vulnerabilities; I love you and want to see/feel/hear/know you for you.”
Book time was meant to provide space for us to meet and read a book on an idea one or both of us was troubled by. Alternatively, we could each bring book reports on what we had been reading lately and think together. The idea was that we would get on the same page or at least hear each other out as we are learning and growing and changing as intellectual individuals. I still think this is a great idea, but I’m less convinced it needs a formal time. Maybe if we were reading something together, a set aside time would be helpful, but if we’re only offering reports to each other, I think that can and should happen as we are reading. In fact, I think it could be harmful to convey that we only want to hear what each other is thinking on/reading about once a month. So, I would scratch this from the list.
Project time was tackling something that will go better if we’re both working on it. I really had in mind non-urgent home improvement tasks that require approval from both parties like choosing new furniture, shopping for a new appliance/car, reorganizing the living room, putting down new carpet/wallpaper, etc. This still seems like a great inclusion because it keeps the couple doing things together and it lets home improvement projects be put off without piling up. This habit can be useful for preventing impulse shopping or delayed maintenance – both of which are easy to fall into.
Date night was non-exclusive outings. So, going dancing together, hiking together, to see a movie, share a fancy meal at a restaurant, biking downtowns sporting event or concert etc. These occasions might also include another couple, but should mostly be just the two of you. I think this is a must to schedule in if it’s not happening organically. In my experience with Hayley, this has happened more than once a month, but I think that scheduling it in would allow for nicer/more intentional outings that could really nature our relationship. From older couples, this is the number two bit of advice I get, only behind praying for each other and your marriage.
Future planning is a time and space set apart to think about the future. This is not the review of the week or next couple days that happens before going to bed or over morning coffee or at lunch. Instead, it’s much further out in its scope of time. It might be revealing the results of introspection and plotting how to align your various long and mid ranged goals. Or it might be exploring the larger life options available as you freeform/brainstorm and get thoughts out together and process externally. The format will vary largely based on the individuals using this tool in their marriage and maybe at times it might be worth sharing this time/space with a trusted mentor or other couple that can listen and point out things that may otherwise be over looked.
If either individual finds himself/herself in a transitory season of life, this should probably happen monthly. Otherwise, once a quarter is probably sufficient.
A final tool that I did not list, but a few years into marriage I would no consider is marriage therapy/counseling/training. A season together with a trustworthy Christian counselor can really help to scan for problem spots and develop plans to address them. Just like a medical doctor might offer a physical examination, or a personal trainer might test strength, endurance, and flexibility in various areas, or a educator might test understanding of a subject matter, Marriage & Family Therapists and Psychologists are trained to test relationships. A few back-to-back weekly sessions once a year or two can really help to check in, recalibrate and clarify the strengths and weaknesses of a given relationship as well as develop an approach to bettering it.
So, if I was rewriting this sticky (and I am right here), I would say:
In addition to marriage counseling with a MFT or Psychologist each year or two, we will also set aide time between one and four times a month to intentionally practice a relationship building activity from this list (The order can vary, but no one activity should be neglected in any three month period):
2 future planning
3 project time
4 date night