Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Peter and Heather Larson’s and David and Claudia Arp’s new book 10 Great Dates: Connecting Faith, Love & Marriage (Bethany House Publishers, 2013).
Have you ever tried to pray or discuss the Bible together as a couple, only to give up after a short time because you and your spouse got distracted or frustrated? Connecting spiritually with your spouse can be challenging, with so many other pursuits vying for attention in your busy schedules. But it’s always worthwhile to make the effort to connect on a spiritual level, because that’s the part of your relationship that will last forever.
A great way to build a stronger spiritual connection with your spouse is by designing dates around that purpose. Here’s how you can connect with your spouse spiritually through dates:
Extend grace to each other. Just as God gives grace to you, be graceful with your spouse, giving the freedom to learn and grow spiritually in the ways that come most naturally to your spouse. Be positive and patient with your spouse, encouraging him or her to enjoy the process of growing closer to God with you.
Schedule your dates and set ground rules for them. Get each one of your 10 upcoming dates on the calendar and plan how to interact with each other during the dates so that both of you feel safe talking with each other openly about deep thoughts and feelings. Set ground rules such as: staying positive, focusing on what your relationship to be like in the future, talking mainly about your relationship and avoiding distractions by saving other topics (such as your jobs or your children) for other times, participating enthusiastically, refraining from forcing discussions when they get stuck, being honest yet still kind to each other, resisting attacking your spouse or defending yourself, and aiming to have fun while growing spiritually.
Connect faith and love. On this first date, you and your spouse will talk about each of your spiritual journeys up until this point, as well as how you want to continue your journey together as a couple. Enjoy a leisurely dinner together, and over the meal, tell each other the stories of how God has worked in your life individually. Then discuss how you all would like to pursue closer relationships with God together from this point on.
Appreciate your differences. On this second date, you all will learn how to appreciate the God-given differences between you and learn how to use those differences to complement each other. Talk about some specific God-given gifts that you recognize in each other, and encourage each other to put those gifts to use in practical ways as a team, so your different strengths will work together to accomplish more than either of you could alone.
Experience God together. On this third date, you’ll figure out where and when you each feel closest to God and what factors can best bring you together spiritually as you worship God together. Discuss where and when each of you feel closest to God – such as in nature, in church, in solitude, or in prayer. Then suggest new ways you all can try to pursue God together. Next, discuss each other’s core beliefs – about such topics as God, life, death, marriage, family, forgiveness, pain, and hope. Identify the spiritual values that you both share.
Get into the Bible. On this fourth date, you’ll learn how you can read and study the Word of God together successfully. Talk honestly about any previous attempts at studying the Bible together that have left either of you feeling coerced, frustrated, or dissatisfied. Then make a fresh plan for how to do so in a mutually enjoyable way. Find the best time of day or night to read the Bible together on a regular basis, choose a Bible with a commentary or application that’s relevant to both of you, and ask four key questions: “What does this passage say?” “What does this passage mean?” “What does this passage teach about God?” and “How do I apply this to myself?”
Love your closest neighbor. On this fifth date, you’ll discover how to love your closest neighbor – your spouse – unconditionally, as well as how to encourage him or her. Go someplace where you can focus on deep conversation, and then discuss how each of you feel loved the most (such as with words of encouragement, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, or receiving gifts). Use that knowledge to plan new ways to express love to each other from now on.
Talk with God together. On this sixth date, you all will learn how to overcome obstacles to praying as a couple and figure out how to create a meaningful prayer life together. Discuss how you all can best incorporate prayer together into your schedules, be creative when trying out new prayer styles (such as silent prayer while holding hands, or praying through a Bible passage), take turns praying when you’re together, and make sure that you convey unconditional love to each other while praying so both of you feel safe opening up to each other about deep thoughts and feelings.
Build your marriage on a strong foundation. On this seventh date, you’ll discuss the importance of leaving, cleaving, and becoming one in order to create a strong foundation for your marriage. Make your marriage relationship your highest priority after your relationship with God. Invest the time and energy you need to create emotional closeness with each other. Aim to love each other passionately every day for the rest of your lives.
Face the storms of life together. On this eighth date, you all will talk about hard times that you experienced as a couple and that brought you closer together spiritually, as well as figure out how best to trust God to help you deal with future crises together. Discuss specific ways you can seek God’s guidance, comfort, and provision when more storms hit your marriage.
Guard your hearts under God’s canopy. On this ninth date, you and your spouse will discover the meaning of God’s sacred canopy of protection over your marriage, and talk about how to best guard your hearts to grow closer to each other and God. Discuss the temptations to sin that you each need God’s protection from, such as materialism, pornography, affairs, and obsession with power. Talk about how you can best seek God’s protection and hold yourselves accountable to staying faithful to God and each other.
Make your marriage a lighthouse. On this tenth date, you all will learn how to reflect God’s image and shine God’s light to other people in need of his love. Serve each other and those around you. Show the people who are watching you and your spouse what holy fun, acceptance, forgiveness, and commitment look like in action.
Adapted from 10 Great Dates: Connecting Faith, Love & Marriage, copyright 2013 by Peter Larson, Heather Larson, David Arp, and Claudia Arp. Published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.
Peter and Heather Larson and David and Claudia Arp help couples of all ages and stages build great marriages. Peter is a licensed clinical psychologist and Heather is a Christian life coach. David and Claudia, founders of Marriage Alive, created the many Great Dates seminars and resources now popular across the United States and internationally. To learn more, visit www.10greatdates.org.
Whitney Hopler, who has served as a Crosswalk.com contributing writer for many years, is author of the Christian novel Dream Factory, which is set during Hollywood's golden age. Visit her website at: whitneyhopler.naiwe.com.