As a counselor who has worked with over a thousand couples, I’m still shocked by the resistance that comes from a simple suggestion of dating your spouse. After all, it is not a new concept. There are hundreds of books, seminars, conferences, youtube videos, and articles detailing the benefits of regularly dating your spouse. Yet many still see this as a waste of time, energy and money.
In the beginning, the reason for dating is to get to know someone better to see if this is a good fit. After marriage, the reason for dating to know your spouse better to ensure a good fit. The best explanation I’ve heard is that dating prior to marriage is the equivalent of an elementary education of a person. The education should not stop there. Rather, it should be just beginning with a desire to have a Ph.D. level of understanding of your spouse.
With this in mind, here are some differences between dating before and after marriage. Hopefully this will spark a desire to be more intentional.
- …conversation is interesting and light. There is a genuine desire to listen and engage in conversation. Dating couples tend to value opposing opinions and are quick to “agree to disagree.” As a married couple however, there is a tendency to utilize every conversation for intense problem solving. While this is needed in moderation, it is exhausting if it happens every time. Many married couples make assumptions about each other’s opinions and refuse to recognize that a person might change as the years pass.
- …plans are more exciting. Regardless of which dating partner takes the initiative, the date is usually well planned out and might even have a surprise or two. This romantic interchange fuels desire and interest in the other partner. But married couples tend to revert to the safe “whatever you want to do” options instead of the risky romantic gestures. Frequently, couples say, “I shouldn’t have to work so hard,” as a defense of their married position. But that is precisely what is needed.
- …body language speaks volumes. It is easy to pick out a happily dating couple at a restaurant. Their eyes are fixed on each other, both are leaning towards the other, they are laughing and smiling, and generally speaking well groomed. There is intentionality about their purpose together as they are fully in-tuned with non-verbal communication. Married couples either dismiss or overreact to body language of their spouse without verifying their assumptions. This often drives a wedge in the relationship as one spouse repeatedly reverts to avoiding and the other to exaggerating.
- …offenses are addressed and then let go. Dating couples don’t hang on too long to perceived offenses. If things are really bad, they just break-up. Married couples by contrast have elephant-like memories of past transgressions which often manifest in volcanic-like eruptions. Some individuals even interpret that a marriage gives them the safety to act in abusive or insensitive ways because the spouse feels obligated to stay. This is wrong. Dating while married reminds the couple of the need to maintain a status of kindness, gentleness, and politeness.
- …everything is new and exciting. Each new adventure for a dating couple is enthusiastically entered into with an expectation of enjoying each other’s company. This is where it goes bad for many married couples as their expectations of engagement are blasé, apathetic, or worse annoying. Years of resentment, unspoken frustration and lack of forgiveness color the lens of each activity. While it might be hard to put this on a shelf for a night, this is precisely what is needed. The spark of renewed excitement is exactly what is needed to weather the unresolved issues.
The bottom line is dating your spouse is only as beneficial as a person makes it. Marriage requires work both individually and as a couple. While there is no quick fix, dating is an excellent place to start.