Don’t give up on dating when you’re older, it might just save your marriage, writes Colm Fitzpatrick
“Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way,” the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once remarked. While this quip was written to shed light on the complexity of the human condition and the absurdity of life, on the surface it looks as if this 19th Century pessimist was lamenting how unfulfilling relationships can be. The single life may leave you feeling empty and alone, but an existence committed wholly to another person might not be the enduring solution to existential dread either.
In the eyes of the Church, marriage is considered a special Sacrament where a couple join together becoming one flesh in a deep and intimate union. Despite the graces this promise bestows, being married isn’t always easy – an admission even the Church is willing to concede when it writes: “It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life to another human being.” Numerous studies, like one carried out by the National Opinion Research Centre a few years ago, show an increasing number of couples are dissatisfied in their marriage. At one time caught up in the spontaneity and butterflies of dating, the only form of intimacy many married couples can expect is the loaded look of who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher.
This discontented state leads many to abrogate their marital vows and sneakily find resolve in another partner, much to the detriment of their current relationship. Others decide that enough is enough and pack it all in before they live long enough to regret not doing so. Indeed, in the US, about 50% of all marriages end in divorce or separation.
The above statistics paint quite a bleak picture about the reality of matrimony, but it’s not all doom and gloom as a marriage in crisis doesn’t always mean severance in the right answer. According to research carried out by the Marriage Foundation, parents who are unhappy at the time of the birth of their first child, seven in 10 stay together and of these 68% are happy 10 years later. Added to this, 27% of couples unhappy in their relationship who stay together eventually end up “extremely happy”. Commenting on the 2017 study, Harry Benson, research director of Marriage Foundation, said: “Contrary to popular belief, staying in an unhappy marriage could be the best thing you ever do. Most marriages have their unhappy moments, but apart from the fortunately extremely rare cases where the relationship involves abuse, most couples can work through the difficulties to be happy later on.
“A simple change a couple can make is to go on regular – but not routine – date nights. Previous research by Marriage Foundation showed that married couples who go on date nights every month have 14% lower odds of their relationship breaking down than those who did not.”
Marital success doesn’t just happen, but is forged by hard work and consistently growing together with your partner. Infidelity, which usually stems from a lack of physical and emotional intimacy, is the most common reason why marriages break down. The recommendation of a date night is an easy solution to this widespread problem, and can help rekindle a stale relationship. Having a date night once a month rather than weekly seems to be optimal, probably due to the lack of stress it involves compared to a regimented weekly routine. These dates will provide an opportunity for you and your spouse to take a step back from the hustle and bustle of every day life and speak to one another on a personal and intimate level. As one grows older, years can pass by in a flash especially when raising children, so slowing down for a day during the month to ask how you’re partner is coping or feeling can make a world of difference.
“A marriage is a contract, a public commitment to make a relationship work for the long term. We are geared to make more effort and to compromise more readily to make such an arrangement work,” Benson said.
“An occasional date night seems to be a useful tool in the box for married couples to show each other that their relationship remains a top priority. But it must not be used as an opportunity for one partner to vent their grievances; our research shows sensitivity and an awareness of the needs of the other is highly important to relationship success.”
Of course, the notion of a date night immediately evokes images of elaborate restaurant dinners accompanied by roses and wine followed by an evening at the theatre – but dating doesn’t need to be complex or expensive. Keeping it simple with the odd splash out now and again is the best recipe for success. A date might look like making a meal together and watching a movie you have both been eager to see; or perhaps just going for an evening stroll. If you want to be more creative, try organising a picnic or finally putting together that photo album you’ve been ignoring all these years.
Although married couples who don’t have children have the freedom to date each other regularly, those who do can find it difficult to make time for each other.”
Ideally a date should promote communication between spouses, so while a trip to the cinema is a worthy venture from time to time, it probably won’t make you feel any closer to your partner or help you to understand what hurdles they’re currently facing.
Intimacy is also a key component of any marital relationship, so if this aspect of your life has become stifled, try spicing things up in whatever way you see fit.
Although married couples who don’t have children have the freedom to date each other regularly, those who do can find it difficult to make time for each other. On a daily basis, the focus is no longer about how one’s partner is feeling but mundane discussions about grocery runs or the urgent need to pick up nappies. However, this is not an excuse to stop taking at least one hour out of every month to go for a coffee together. If there’s no possible way to leave the house, consider using a babysitter once a month, or if that’s not an option, sharing a bath together can be an intimate and rejuvenating time.
So go on, from time to time make sure you give yourselves a proper treat. Everyone in the family wins.”
What’s important is not to wane on this front – consistently keeping up a date night rather than resolving that one or two a year is enough can make the difference between a happy marriage and one on the brink of disaster. It can be a joyous time to rediscover your partner and will undoubtedly bring back memories as to why you initially fell in love with them. Not only will this create a more content marriage, but a much happier family.
For Sir Paul Coleridge, chairman of the Marriage Foundation: “…the good news is that enjoying your relationship is the best thing you can do for your kids. And ‘date nights’ are surely the really fun part of that big responsibility. Neglect your relationship and your children are the biggest casualties.
“So go on, from time to time make sure you give yourselves a proper treat. Everyone in the family wins.”