Dating after Marriage
Scheduling Time for Undivided Attention
Willard F. Harley, Jr.
Your time together is too important to the security of your marriage to neglect. It's more important than time spent doing anything else during the week, including time with your children and your job. Your children will not suffer if you take time for undivided attention. They will thrive because you will be in love with each other, making your marriage secure. And your job will not suffer either, unless it prevents you from meeting each other’s intimate emotional needs. If that’s the case, the job, not the marriage, should be reassessed.
This isn't time you don't have. It's time you will use for something less important, if you don't use it for each other.
There are 168 hours every week (24x7) to schedule. I highly recommend 8 hours of sleep a night, leaving you with 112 waking hours. Preparing for the day and going to bed at night may require, say, 12 hours, and work plus commute may take another 50 hours. That leaves 50 more hours to spend doing what you value most, and 15 of those hours should be dedicated to maintaining a passionate and fulfilling marriage.
Norah and Jason's first and second appointments with me were on successive Monday afternoons. They had to miss work to see me in my office for those appointments. But from then on, I spoke to them by telephone on Monday evenings during what was to become one of their dates.
Their assignment after the first appointment was to discuss ways that they could spend more time giving each other undivided attention, and why it was important. I gave them a schedule that another couple in their position had used. During the second appointment we worked together to create their dating schedule for their first week of dating. I also helped them think of ways that they could make Love Bank deposits during the rest of the week as well.
Instead of going to bed and waking up at different times, I encouraged them to go to bed together and get up together, cuddling for at least five minutes while in bed in the morning and evening. They were also to help each other with their childcare and household responsibilities as much as possible. Instead of exercising alone, I suggested that they exercise together as part of their time for undivided attention. They were also to care for Adam together.
For the first week, we scheduled 20 hours of dating. I told Norah and Jason that it would continue that way until their passion had fully returned. Then they could decide if they wanted to reduce it to 15 hours.
We worked on their new schedule together so that Norah and Jason could help me understand what would and what wouldn’t work for them. When the schedule was finished it was as follows:
Monday – Friday:
5:30 – Awake, shower and dress for both.
6:00 – Dress Adam, prepare and eat breakfast together as a family.
7:00 – Norah takes Adam to childcare, and then goes to work. Jason leaves for work.
8:00 – Both arrive for work.
8:00 to 4:00 – While at work, text or talk to each other by telephone at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon. More often if possible.
4:00 – Norah and Jason contact each other to determine that they will arrive home together. Norah leaves from work to pick up Adam because her work is closer to home, and Jason leaves from work at the same time. If an emergency arises before he leaves, he phones Norah to tell her how long it will take to resolve the problem. He explains to his supervisor that there needs to be another way to solve emergency problems without keeping him longer at work.
4:30 – Norah picks up Adam from childcare.
5:00 – Norah and Jason return home, care for Adam, prepare and have dinner together, and clean up together.
6:00 – On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they drop Adam off to their parents or a sitter or their parents or a sitter come to their home. In some cases, where parents are not available and a couple cannot afford a sitter that often, I recommend joining a babysitting cooperative, or make an arrangement with friends with children, to swap sitting responsibilities.
6:30 to 9:30 – Date that includes exercising together part of the time, picking up Adam, and making love after they return home and Adam is asleep. On Monday, they would have a conference call with me that I told them could be included in their time for undivided attention.
6:00 to 9:30 – On Tuesday and Thursday, spend the evening caring for Adam and completing household tasks together.
9:30 – In bed and asleep.
5:30 to Noon – Sleep in if desired, cuddle in bed together when awake, shower, dress Adam, prepare and have breakfast together with Adam, care for Adam and share domestic chores with each other so that by noon they are all completed.
Noon to 4:00 – Schedule any personal projects or activities that are done alone that are mutually agreeable. It’s okay to watch football or take a nap without being with each other.
4:00 – Drop Adam off to their parents or a sitter or their parents or a sitter come to their home.
4:30 to 9:30 – Date which includes exercising together and making love after they return home and Adam is asleep.
5:30 to 10:00 – Sleep in if desired, cuddle in bed together when awake, shower, dress Adam, prepare and have breakfast together with Adam, get ready to go to church together as a family.
10:00 to Noon – Attend church together.
Noon to 3:00 – Have lunch and visit with both sets of parents if possible, leave Adam with one of them.
3:00 to 9:00 – Date
9:00 to 9:30 – Pick up Adam, read to him together, and put him to sleep, make love.
After Norah and Jason had completed their first week of dating, I spoke with them by phone while on their second Monday evening date to plan their second week’s schedule, and make adjustments that they felt would be necessary.
The the new schedule turned out to work out a lot better than they thought it would. So they left it the way it was. Remember, they still liked each other quite a bit, and being together as much as they were was fun for them. In fact, they reported that the new schedule lowered their overall level of stress. It was their reward for all of the other responsibilities they had during the day. It was their way to escape – with each other.
Their childcare and household responsibilities were also more enjoyable. Working together in accomplishing these tasks made Norah particularly happy because she had been somewhat resentful about Jason’s lack of participation. She also appreciated knowing when Jason would be arriving at home.
They enjoyed their work more than they had before. There was a sparkle in their eyes that some at work noticed. Jason was particularly happy about making love five times in one week. And Norah surprised herself by looking forward to it as much as she had when they were first married.
But Norah did express concern about being away from Adam as much as she was during the week. I assured her that the time they spent together caring for him more than compensated for the time they were away from him dating. She had always wanted Jason’s active participation in raising him and now it was part of their schedule.
I had explained earlier that they could count watching TV together and going to movies as part of their dates if they were affectionate during that time together. But I had to remind them that they had to give each other undivided attention, which is hard to do when watching your favorite sporting event or a good murder mystery. So during that first week, they avoided watching TV and planned their dates away from their home.
Part of every date included exercise in some form because that’s what they had done together when they were first married. When they didn’t go directly to a fitness center, they would walk together during the evening. On Saturdays and Sundays they would go on hikes on their favorite hiking trails. They jogged together occasionally as well.
I’ve found that when a couple engages in physical activity together, endorphins that are released help create a bond that few other recreational activities can create. But it’s still important to remember to have undivided attention while exercising.
Privacy doesn’t mean that other people cannot be with you on a date as long as it’s not friends or relatives. If you go dancing, there can be others dancing, but you should not dance with any of them. If you go out to dinner in a restaurant, there can be many others there, but don’t have conversations with them. Other people can be present when you are together, but they should not prevent you from giving each other your undivided attention.
On the subject of privacy, you'll notice that part of their date included picking up Adam and putting him to bed. Is that privacy? It depends. If it breaks up the flow of a date to make lovemaking a problem, then I'd recommend returning home before picking up Adam and making love then. But in Norah and Jason's case, their lovemaking was just as passionate after putting Adam to bed. So, for them, it could be included as part of their date. However, on occasion they did come home to make love before picking up Adam.
Throughout our married lives, Joyce and I have left our home for our dates, because while at home together it was too difficult to give each other our undivided attention. We still go out to this day even though our children have not been living with us for years. But if after you have left your children with your parents, and you decide to go home for your date, that can work for you if you are both very happy about the way you are meeting each other’s emotional needs.
After a few weeks, Norah and Jason were definitely in love again. Their body language when they were together was unmistakable. My test for romantic love that I gave them each week, the Love Bank Inventory, confirmed what was so obviously apparent to anyone who would see them together.
So, I suggested that they could safely reduce their dating time by three hours a week. Instead of having dates on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I suggested that they move them to Tuesday and Thursday. Their Saturday and Sunday dates would remain the same as before.
Some couples I’ve counseled actually increase the time after a few weeks because they get so much enjoyment from it, while many others maintain the 20 hours indefinitely. But I’ve found that if it’s reduced to 15 hours, there’s no risk of falling out of love due to neglect.
But Norah and Jason decided to switch to Tuesday and Thursday so that they could have more time to be together with their son. After they made the adjustment, they were spending over 15 hours each week caring for Adam, which, after caring for each other, was their next most important objective.
I checked in with Norah and Jason regularly, and they reported to me that their new dating schedule had revolutionized their lives. The program had worked.
By the end of the year they were expecting another child, and they both told me that they were up to the challenge of continuing their dating schedule even with two small children.
Getting into the Habit of Dating
I encourage couples to try to follow the same dating schedule every week. That way, they get into habits that make their time together much easier to maintain. But should they do the same things every time they are together? If they do, wouldn’t that get monotonous?
Some couples who are in love do very well meeting each other’s intimate emotional needs in essentially the same way almost every time. It isn’t monotonous for them because their important emotional needs are being met and they have an easy time meeting those needs for each other. They are making each other happy and fulfilled just being with each other. That’s been the experience that Joyce and I have had throughout our lives together.
But there are some couples that like variety, and for those I recommend a little more imagination, especially when it comes to choosing recreational activities.
In the Questionnaire section of the MB website, you will find the Recreational Enjoyment Inventory. If you download it and complete it together, you will discover quite a variety of activities that you would both enjoy. You can add variety to your dates by rotating the top 10 activities into your dating schedule.
For those who feel the need to have even more variety in their dates, I recommend Fifty-two Uncommon Dates (Moody Publishers, 2014) by Randy Southern. While most couples, like Joyce and me, like to have consistency in their dating, this book is for those who hate doing the same thing twice.
You and your spouse fell in love with each other because you met each other's intimate emotional needs, and the only way to stay in love is to keep meeting those needs. Even when the feeling of love begins to fade, or when it's gone entirely, it's not necessarily gone for good. It can be recovered whenever you both go back to being experts at making Love Bank deposits.
In the next part of this series, I’ll introduce Wanda and Peter to you. They are more representative of the couples I see because they have not just lost their passion for each other; they don’t even like each other anymore. It’s where Norah and Jason would have been if they had waited a few more years before their dating was restored. How can the Policy of Undivided Attention be applied to this new couple who dislike each other?