My brother-in-law, a former Marine, once gave an amazing best man speech in which he prophesied about the keys to a strong marriage. In his examples of relationship success, he stressed the importance of open communication and making time for day-to-day conversations, as well as creating sacred space. While actually finding these pockets of time and putting date nights on the calendar isn’t always easy for today’s busy military couples, this article will hopefully inspire you to make the effort.
Just like self-esteem comes from the effort to love oneself, esteem in marriages occurs when nurturing one another can coincide with the roller coaster ride of military life. Taking time out for each other doesn’t have to mean an escape away from your life, it can be a simple expression of love. A sweet text, a planned dinner, or a parenting discussion during an after-dinner walk can all be examples of nurturing.
Spending quality time together is an important part of nurturing each other. But as a working mom of four, the last thing I need is one more chore to check off the list, so let’s take the pressure off and clarify that dates don’t need to resemble the elaborate outings portrayed in romantic comedies.
Wendy, a military spouse, says she thinks she has “date nights” but just isn’t giving herself credit. She’s ready to let go of the guilt and start labeling fun nights as dates. A coworker of mine–who’s also a military spouse–recently went shooting with her husband. She said she had a blast learning more about weapons and how to safely handle them. Another military spouse told me that she and her husband are painting their house together. These simple pleasures can count as dates and can be easily worked in to your existing military life.
How to create a sacred space with your spouse
First, define what a date means for you both. You may even want to create a vision board filled with “wish list” dates, or a vision board of your ideal marriage. Glancing up at a board filled with date ideas can make dating feel easy. Why not make it a work in progress? Solicit ideas from friends, repeat dates that work, or jot down things you enjoy individually that you might want to share together. For example, my husband went fishing with a friend and mentioned it was something we could schedule to do as a couple in the future.
And, don’t worry, even busy marriages can find times when they are both free.
Visualize two hula hoops, one for you and one for your spouse, each hoop consisting of your individual interests and ideas. Move the two hoops closer until there’s overlapping space. Now think of dates in terms of that shared, sacred space as you move ideas and activities from your individual circle into the overlapping area. Just by doing this, you’re nurturing your connection with your spouse.
There are countless activities that you can do in your shared, sacred space. Perhaps it’s something as simple as observing one of your kids’ activities. My friend Amy and her husband actually turn watching their son’s baseball game into a date. She packs a cooler with drinks and snacks, and even though they’re at a crowded baseball field, they connect contently with each other. Amy and her husband cherish this shared time, lawn chairs side by side.
If your children aren’t baseball players, consider going to a local game in your town. Our town hosts the minor league baseball team the Yard Goats, a Double-A affiliate team of the Colorado Rockies. We can enjoy a fun date watching some great baseball for a fraction of what we would spend to go to a Major League Baseball game. Not your thing? Explore your town, your military base, and the internet for military discounts on sporting or other events that you and your spouse can attend without breaking the bank.
Think of dating more as a staycation than a vacation. It’s not about getting away, it’s about creating shared, sacred space. There’s no need to make dates fancy or expensive, rather they should be based around simple activities you both enjoy. But whether choosing a restaurant, park, or historical landmark to visit together, the focus isn’t the place—the focus is the relationship.
My husband and I like going to see a play and going out for ice cream afterward, even if we have to travel for 30 minutes to get there. The joy comes from the planning, from holding hands in the car, and from connecting after the play because we each feel like a priority to each other. Don’t force it, though. I for one am just as happy staying in and playing Scrabble after the kids go to bed as I am going out.
Partners will have different interests, so don’t worry if there are activities that appeal to only one of you. In fact, consider making a list of activities and categorizing which ones might be done solo, with the kids, or together. The secret to a great date is embarking on an activity that made both of your wish lists; but even if you’re apart, you can still share experiences. Maybe there’s a place you explore while your spouse is deployed that you can share once you reconnect in person again. For example, there’s a crystal store near us that my husband wouldn’t be interested in. But if I took my son, my husband would love to hear about the adventure on our next date.
Every effort counts
By taking the pressure off what a date is, busy military couples can make dating more doable and deliberate. Making the most of everyday time—shared space in your lives—also counts as a date. Recently, our son had baseball practice about 30 minutes away, and my husband and I decided to make a day of it. I put my cell phone away during the drive and we chatted on the way, watched a bit of our son’s practice, did some errands together, and then returned to watch the end of the practice. Several other moms and dads made comments about our “drop-off date” and while I chuckled, it reminded me that simple excursions can become dates with the right mindset.
So whether you’re doing chores before a PCS, sending sweet texts to each other at work, or writing love letters during a deployment, start giving yourself credit for these romantic encounters. If you’re still working on it, use these tips to come up with a plan to set about nurturing your military marriage.