We celebrated our fourteenth anniversary a few weeks ago. Peter took me out to a lovely dinner. We each drank a glass of champagne and toasted the gift of this relationship. We talked about the surprises of the past decade or so, and we spent some time thinking about what we've learned and how we've grown.
I always feel a bit bashful offering advice about marriage or parenting. Peter and I have plenty of disagreements. We hurt each other and ignore each other's needs. We bemoan the demands our kids place upon us. We have plenty of growing to do. But we've also been together for nearly two decades now (we dated for 5 ½ years before we wed), and we love each other and depend upon each other more now than ever before. I don't often offer "tips" about anything, but when a friend asked a few nights back what we do to keep our marriage healthy, I realized that I did have some pretty simple advice to offer. So I will offer it to you as well:
1. Set aside a date night. It doesn't have to be at night, of course, but it needs to be an uninterruptable two hour chunk of time. We go out to dinner every Thursday night. Just the two of us. My mother babysits. But it doesn't have to be going out to dinner. It can be taking a walk or going to a prayer service (we have friends who do this once a month and dinner the other three times) or sitting in a coffee shop. If money for a babysitter is an issue, ask for help—trade the time with other couples you know, ask friends and family (most of them vowed to support your marriage on the day you were married, right?). But give yourselves this sign of your continued commitment to each other. The key is to make sure you aren't using date night as a business meeting. No calendars. No logistics. Just a chance to tell stories and share how you're doing and think and talk about the bigger picture of your lives or jobs or the world.
2. Have a weekly family meeting. The only way for date night to remain enjoyable is if you also find a time to do the work of the nitty-gritty household stuff. I keep a running list in Google tasks with things we need to talk about in our family meeting—who will take Penny to ballet lessons and do we have enough cash to buy a new bed and do we have a babysitter for Wednesday night yet and are you going to take the bird's nest down from the eaves? We don't enjoy our family meetings. They usually feel a bit like a root canal. But they enable the rest of the week to be more free. (One of my goals of the spring was to have a family meeting that involved our children. A 15-minute once a week check in about things we need to discuss as a group. It hasn't happened once...)
3. Make Sunday into a day of rest. For us, Sunday is a family day. After church we eat a special family lunch. Marilee takes a nap (Peter usually joins her) while I get some time with William and Penny. Then we do something as a family—a playground, a picnic at the beach, a game of Uno. It's a simple day, but one in which we avoid email and phone calls. As adults, we don't take time for ourselves other than to sleep. We worship God together as a family, but then we withdraw from the rest of the world.