Last October, in the Florida Keys, the second day of the Front Row Dads retreat began with a compelling activity. Jon Berghoff placed two large Post-It notes on the wall: one read “Ask” and the other one read “Give.” Then, each dad was handed several smaller Post-Its, along with some instructions:
- If you need help in an area of your life—you’re struggling, confused, at a loss for answers—ask for help in that area. Write it down on a Post-It and stick it to the wall next to “Ask.”
- On the other hand, if you feel like you have help to offer in an area of life—you’re progressing, changing, excelling—write that down too, and stick it to the wall next to “Give.”
- And, finally, if you have a similar “Ask” or “Give” as someone else, stick your note next to his.
One of the guys had enough guts to go first and asked for help with date night.
You don’t improve your conversation during date night; you improve your date night conversation before date night.
The second guy did, too. And the third. By the end of the activity, the biggest cluster of Post-It notes on the wall surrounded this essential question about date night. It reflected the wisdom of the group: we were there to become better dads, but harmony and health are like water—they flow downward. When the big people are working well together, the little people are happy to join in.
So, it’s a great question: How do you improve your conversation during date night? The answer, though, is a little counter-intuitive. You don’t improve your conversation during date night; you improve your date night conversation before date night. A satisfying date night is not an opportunity for good connection; it’s the result of good connection. Because intimacy on-demand never works; it puts too much pressure on everyone involved. We freeze up and clam up. When you order your appetizer, the waiter can’t serve up instant safety and vulnerability.
Unfortunately, those things take a lot longer to create than a cheese plate.
This year, I finally admitted to myself that I suck at buying Christmas gifts for my wife. Really, really suck. And I finally admitted to myself why that is: I try to come up with ideas sometime around December 15. But the truth is, under that kind of pressure, I mostly just think of stuff I’d want: like a new television or a better snow blower. If I want to come up with good gift ideas, they’re not going to come from me; they’re going to come from her.
And if I’m paying attention, she’s giving me those gift ideas all year long.
So, this year, I decided to get serious about Christmas. In January. I started making a list of everything she shows interest in throughout the year. When Black Friday 2019 rolls around, I’ll be ready to go. In fact, I’ll have too many ideas. I’ll have to pick and choose. The same is true of date night. Pay attention every day and you will discover that you don’t have to come up with topics for date night conversation—she’s supplying them all the time.
- Notice what excites her—talking about it will be a gift to her.
- Notice what softens her—talking about it will be a gift to her.
- Notice what delights her— talking about it will be a gift to her.
- Notice what frustrates her—talking about it will be a gift to her.
- Notice what entertains her—you get the point.
Be ready to cultivate vulnerability by modeling it.
And then spend a little time noticing all of those things in yourself. Write down one topic for each feeling. Be ready to share. Be ready to cultivate vulnerability by modeling it. Be ready to deepen your intimacy by risking it. Good conversation is a dance between two people opening up about what matters to them. Be ready to dance.
You can—and should—start preparing for next month’s date night today.
It’ll be here before you know it.
ABOUT KELLY FLANAGAN
Kelly graduated with his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Penn State University and is co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. Several years ago, he discovered writing was the thing he never knew he always wanted to do, so he began the now popular blog, UnTangled, where he writes weekly about how to live redemptive stories right now. He is the author of THE MARRIAGE MANIFESTO and his first full-length book, LOVEABLE, published by Zondervan in March 2017.
Kelly is married to another clinical psychologist named Kelly, because they decided to make life even more complicated than it already is. The Kellies–as they are called by friends and family–have three children, and they have a deal with their kids: they teach the kids how to grow up, and the kids teach them how to grow young again. So far, it’s not clear who is helping who the most.