David and Claudia Arp, authors of Ten Great Dates to Revitalize Your Marriage, talk to us about revitalizing your dating relationship.
Dave & Claudia, we’re so happy to have you with us here. Let’s start by asking this, why do couples stop dating after they get married?
Dave: We’ve asked thousands of couples that question and usually what comes back is, “You know, once the kids come along and the careers take off, and life sort of happens, we want to spend time together, but these things just zap our time, our energy. We want to date, we want to spend time together, we just can’t quite seem to get there.”
Claudia: Just because you’re living together and you have time together, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still plan some special dates away from home. We find that when we do that, then we’re being more intentional about our marriage.
Many married couples feel that they can’t put a date night ahead of being with their children, for example. They almost feel guilty if they do something for themselves and put their children in child care with other people. How important is making marriage a high priority as far as dating is concerned?
Dave: It’s very important. We wrote a book entitled “Second Half of Marriage”. We did a survey with couples all over the country. We found that if you don’t spend time building your relationship over the active parenting years, you get to that empty nest and all of a sudden look at each other and you go “I know you as ?mom’ and you know me as ?dad’, but we don’t know each other. Somehow we’ve lost that emotional connectedness.” So, it’s very important for couples, even though they’re in the hectic parenting years, to find that time together.
Claudia:We applaud the young parents today; they just are doing a great job of co-parenting. They take their parenting role very, very seriously. But often they run out of time and energy before they get to their marriage. It’s not because they don’t love each other; it’s just that they are sometimes running out of resources to build that relationship. That’s one reason we’ve put together “Ten Great Dates”, for those young parents who really need a structure, some encouragement, and they need to be told how they can pull this off.
In Chapter Four, “Finding Unity in Diversity”, you talk about letting your spouse operate out of their areas of strength. Can you explain that for us?
Dave: This really comes out of our own personal experience. Claudia and I are very different, personality wise. We have very different strengths and weaknesses. In the early years of our marriage, she kept on trying to speed me up and I kept trying to slow her down. It didn’t work very well. We took a variety of psychological tests and found that between us we have pretty much all the strengths and all the weaknesses. The psychologist said, “Dave, as much as possible allow Claudia to operate in her areas of strength, and Claudia, as much as possible allow Dave to operate in his areas of strength and you will make a wonderful team.” So we just walked out the door, and we just did it, just like that.
Claudia: Sure, we’re still working on it. In fact, we’ve become a much stronger team because we each concentrated on what we do well.
Apologizing to our mates could be an uncomfortable experience for some of us as all of us know. Do you have some examples on how to say “I’m sorry”?
Claudia: I have about ten thousand ways, since I have to say it so often. (laughter) We have found in our marriage the importance of keeping short accounts with each other, being willing to forgive one another, and ask for forgiveness. It’s not just saying “I’m sorry”, but it’s really being willing to forgive that other person and not to keep lists. We need to be willing, on a daily basis, to forgive each other.
Dave: I think if you get in the habit of keeping short accounts, then it’s not as hard. If you start letting things build up between you then it becomes more difficult to say ?I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. So for us, we just try to deal with it as quickly as we become aware that one of us has crossed the line or done something that has offended the other person.
So, it’s not just an admission of being wrong. It’s an accountability to keep things up on top of the table.
Claudia: Right. And when you say you’re sorry, you ask for forgiveness, it’s so important to make sure you’re reflecting back on you. You’re not saying, “Well, I forgive you and I’m sorry but if you’d be a little bit more punctual we wouldn’t have this problem.” That’s not gonna get it.
Dave: We’ve been there, done that. (laughter)
Claudia: We just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, so we have many years of experience.
That is so awesome. Well, in Chapter Six, “Building a Creative Love Life”, you say that “attitudes are caught, not taught”. What do you mean by that?
Dave: I think, if nothing else, that romance is something that you have to cultivate. It’s something you have to be intentional about. It doesn’t just happen, particularly with the hectic lives that most of us live today. We have to be intentional. During the active parenting years, there’s nothing wrong with actually setting up times when you’re going to be together, when you’re going to be intimate together. Put it on the calendar. Some people say, “Well, geez that isn’t romantic” or “That certainly isn’t spontaneous”. If you have, like we did, small children running around and you’re waiting for spontaneity, you’re going to wait for a long time. (laughter) We found that just a little creative scheduling makes a big difference. Once you do that, then often the romance and the spontaneity just start to happen a little more automatically.
Claudia: One of our favorite dates is walking together. We do a lot of work in Europe and we just love hiking in the Alps and one of the most romantic things we’ve started doing is picking wild flowers, and then pressing them in a little book. We even made a little glass wall hanging in front of the window that has something about wild flowers from a very, very special walk. And I remember that night, that we kissed a lot on that walk.
Dave: We did, we did.
Claudia: We’ve encouraged couples to practice the ten-second kiss rule. In the morning, before they say goodbye, and in the evening, when they say hello, to kiss for ten seconds. That can certainly change your attitude about romance in your marriage.
That’s a great rule, I love that one.
Dave: It is. In our seminars, we talk about the ten-second kiss. In fact, that’s one of their assignments; to see if they can make if to ten seconds. You look out across the audience and some people are shaking their heads like, “Oh, that’s a good idea”. Others are saying, “Gee, what’s the big deal about ten seconds?” I say, well, maybe ten seconds is a little longer than you think it is. We have our two little Hallmark kissing bears, and they have those little magnets in their mouths, you know. So we put them together and then we have the audience count, “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three — ”
Claudia: That’s about the time our bears start misbehaving (laughter).
Dave: We were doing an interview with Dr. James Dobson [president of Focus on the Family] and we were talking about the ten-second kiss and he said, “What do you do after the first four seconds?” We said, “That’s your problem, not ours”. (laughter) We get more emails on the ten-second kiss than almost anything else.
Claudia: It is an attitude you want to have. You want to do all you can to be intentional about keeping romance in your relationship.
You suggest starting your own “Marriage Alive Dating Club”. What’s that all about?
Claudia: We found that some couples will be a lot more intentional about dating and building their marriage if they can join with some other couples in having a date. So we’ve put together the “Ten Great Dates” program for groups and churches around the country are offering it. If the church provides free or low-cost child-care, couples will come, because they want to spend time with their mate, but they probably feel guilty if they leave their children at home. This is a way that the church can step in and be that extended family, by offering the dating club with “Ten Great Dates”. They watch a short video “date launch”, then they actually go out for an hour and a half and have a date with their spouse. Time alone. People who run the program say their favorite part is seeing those couples come to pick up their children just looking deep in one another’s eyes, so in love and so benefiting from time alone together. It’s a great program and we’re getting really great reports around the country.
Dave: After about the second or third date, the husbands really get into it. It’s true that for the first or second date, they generally have to be sort of drug or encouraged to participate. But it’s very consistent that by the third date, husbands are saying, “Now when’s the next date? We don’t want to miss it”. It’s working very, very well. If you’re the church on the corner that’s offering free or low-cost baby-sitting and fun dates, couples will come. It’s a great outreach into the community.
Claudia: We have heard some incredible stories. I’m thinking of one couple out in Colorado, who actually separated. Their counselor sent them to this program. Four months into the program — I think they were doing one date a month — they got back together, moved back together and their marriage has been growing. This was a couple years ago. And they give the credit to re-energizing and rediscovering their love through three dates.
We’ve found that couples can know all the scriptures, know all the principles, know all the skills, but if you’re not having fun in your marriage, if you’re not building your friendship, your marriage is going to be less than it could be. And will be bland. That fun factor and the friendship factor are the things that really energize your relationship. We like to say in our seminars that “fun in marriage is serious business”. We’ve never met anyone on the way to the divorce court who were best friends and having fun together.
Wow, that’s provocative, to say the least. Would you tell us a little bit about your website, please.
Dave: Our website is at marriagealive.com. We have a lot of resources available. You can sign up for a periodic marriage builder on the website. We have a series of books called “Sixty-One Minute Marriage Builders”, “?Family Builders”, “?Memory Makers” and all of those resources are on the website. You can get to them free. We have a two-minute radio program called the “Family Workshop” and you can listen to those on the website as well.
Claudia: You can actually go to our website and see a streaming video preview of a “Ten Great Dates” program and also our “Marriage Alive” seminar. It was really funny, we were speaking last summer at the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration at Focus on the Family. We were so excited and we had just gotten the streaming video up on our website, so we announced that they could see that. Immediately afterwards, we got an email from someone who said, “You might want to correct a typo on your website”. We went to our site and what it said was “steaming video”.
Dave: Check out “Marriage Alive’s new ?steaming video'” rather than “streaming video”.
It goes along with the “ten second kiss”. I think you ought to leave it “steaming” video. (laughter). Any final words for our viewers?
Dave: Let me just say this, many times when we are doing call-in radio interviews, women will call in and say, “I really want to re-institute romance and some excitement in our relationship, I just can’t get my husband off the couch. One of the things we encourage wives to do is to think of something that they know their husband would like to do — a hobby he’s already into or a sport or something — and plan a date based around that and surprise him with it. If you find something your husband already wants to do and turn it into a date, it’s a way to jump start that experience together.
Claudia: I would encourage, especially the wife, don’t just passively be resigned that this is just the way your marriage has to be. I believe it takes one heart, one person, to begin to work in a relationship and whoever is reading this, you can be that one person.
Copyright © 2003 Marriagetrac. All rights reserved.
Claudia Arp & David Arp, MSSW, founders of Marriage Alive, are educators and award-winning authors. Frequent contributors to print and broadcast media, they have appeared on the NBC Today Show, CBS This Morning and Focus on the Family.
Read more from Claudia and David at marriagealive.com.