One of the scariest things about intimacy is that it’s not inevitable. Two people can live together for decades, learn virtually everything about one another, and still not be intimate. That’s because intimacy is about connection more than knowledge. There is an unassuming verse, tucked in the Old Testament, that proves intimacy requires investment: “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Deuteronomy 24:5). Ladies, how would you like to see that on a Hobby Lobby sign? Just think—when a woman gives birth, we give her twelve weeks of maternity leave to get acquainted with her baby. Once upon a time, men were given one year to get acquainted with their wives. One year to focus solely on marriage, learning how to bring happiness to their spouse.
Obviously we live in a different cultural context. But the baseline principal—that intimacy requires investment—is still true. So how do we cultivate intimacy in our day and age? How do we connect with our spouse through the varying seasons of a marriage? It stands to reason that if marriage is constantly changing, our approach to dating should too. Allow me to introduce a few dating practices we’ve adopted through the years…
The Work Date
Some would say you shouldn’t talk about work on a date. But there was a season when we didn’t just talk about work, we had work dates. I was in seminary, balancing a full course load with a part-time job as a student pastor. Jeanne was a brand new teacher, up to her eyeballs in lesson plans. So every Saturday morning we had a standing date at Barnes and Noble. We chatted, sipped coffee, and worked.
If you’re in a busy season of life with high demands at work, how could you welcome your spouse into your work life? Sometimes it’s as simple as praying together about that big project. Or sharing your honest insecurities. My wife has taken an interest in every job I’ve ever had. She’s attended youth retreats and carwash seminars. She’s prayed me through speaking to hundreds of people and fixing broken hydraulic lines. On the flip side, I’ve read her books and listened to stories about her sixth graders, and preached in chapel at her school. Connecting with your spouse means entering their unique world.
Shortly after having our first child, Jeanne came to me one day with a crazed look in her eyes. “I need to get out of town,” she said. “I know I’m nursing so we can’t get away for a while, but when she’s weaned, I want to go out of town.”
“Deal,” I said.
Thus, the wean-iversary was born. Every time we have a new baby, we book a vacation a year in advance, so we can look forward to it all year long while we’re not sleeping.
During the little years, the greatest deficits in a marriage are time and rest. We’re still in this stage, so we highly prioritize time away from the kids to rest and reconnect. We don’t buy each other birthday or anniversary gifts—we get out of town together. If you’re in the thick of child-rearing, how can you prioritize time alone with your spouse? No matter how much toddlers cry when you say good-bye, they won’t remember the dates you take with your spouse. But you will.
The Wow Date
Wow dates are easy when you’re dating. We go to ridiculous lengths to surprise and romance someone when we’re trying to win them over. But wow dates become more meaningful through the years, because they’re unexpected. It’s easy to sweep a teenage girl off her feet in high school. But to sweep your wife of twenty years off her feet? To surprise her? That’s a challenge. In his book, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, CJ Mahaney talks about how to intentionally romance your wife by becoming a student of her. Years ago, while reading his book, I kept a notepad about Jeanne. I noted all kinds of small things. She needs new sunglasses. She loves getting her nails done, especially with a friend. She would hate that concert…
It surprised me how rarely I thought about my wife until I actively wrote things down. If you’ve been married for a while, consider the impact of the wow date. Maybe grab a notepad. It may be harder to romance someone you’ve known for a long time, but it’s also more rewarding.
The Worship Factor
Despite our changing seasons of life, one thing is constant: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Fourteen years ago, Jeanne and I attended a conference where Louie Giglio spoke on investing your life in the eternal. We weren’t even married yet—just engaged—but we experienced a life-changing moment together. While thousands of people were worshiping, we got on our knees and begged God to use our whole lives—every ounce of our influence, passion, and energy. In that moment we were of one heart and mind, desperate not to waste our future together. Over the years we’ve returned to that moment again and again as we make decisions, work through conflict, forgive, love, and serve.
The reality is, nothing brings greater intimacy to a marriage than unity in Christ. All the date nights in the world can’t make up for a lack of supernatural power. His power has sustained our marriage when we were too weary to care. His kindness has led us to repentance when we were too arrogant to apologize. And if you surrender your marriage to Him, He will draw you back to your spouse, again and again, through the changing seasons of life.