"Hey, remember that time when we were dating?"

First, you date.  Or if you’re like BJ and me, you are friends that send mixed signals back and forth for 12 months…then you date.  You go out to dinner all the time, stay up late talking and playing games, go on long walks, and have awkward conversations that help move you forward in the relationship. Then you’re engaged and you face the daunting task of figuring out how to take two independent lives and join them.  Bank accounts, health insurance, phone plans, housing…you slowly plan a merging of each of these things while piecing together a wedding.

Then you get married and you learn about living as a single unit.  You learn to truly replace “me” with “us” and “mine” with “ours”.

Then comes parenthood.  A game changer if there ever was one.

Since our son was born, I have grown to love BJ even more than I did before.  Our ability to work as a team, solve problems and stay calm under pressure has grown exponentially.  Becoming parents was our final push into adulthood.  In this way, parenthood has brought us much closer.

Without a concentrated effort on our part though, it would be very easy for the sum of our conversations to be centered around discipline strategies, toddler eating habits, number of dirty diapers changed in one day, paying bills, reducing debt, scheduling appointments, fixing the car, and planning the future.  In other words – it would be very easy for us to work great as a team, raise a healthy, independent child AND always have serious conversations…living in the grind and never just having fun.

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When BJ and I were dating…and throughout the first two years of our marriage, we played games on a regular basis.  We played cards, chess, and goofy little games we would make up in the car.  Once we had a baby, it was easy for us to turn down games in the name of “not enough time”.  At the end of the day, once he was finally asleep, dishes were cleaned and homework was done (yay for being in college with kids!)…one of us might say, “do you want to play cards?”  And the other would groan out a “ugh, I just don’t think I can think about one more thing today.”  In truth, the one who asked would breathe a sigh of relief because exhaustion had hit both of us.

The “two-college-students-and-a-baby-budget” doesn’t leave a lot of room for dinner and a movie, but we have decided to stop letting this be an excuse.  Last month, during a week where money was particularly tight and the days were especially long, we went on a mid-week date.  We ate dinner at home, put our sweet boy to bed and left him with my parents while we went out for coffee and cards.

Two hours later, we wrapped up our game, threw away our empty coffee cups and noted that for the first time in recent months we weren’t talking about anything serious.  We love our son and when we got home that night, we went straight into his room and watched him sleep…but you know what?  We didn’t talk about him even one time during that card game.  And that was good for our marriage.  And in the end, it will make us better parents.

Early in our marriage we were told to always choose to make our marriage come first, even before our kids.  This seems sacrilegious to the way we raise kids in the West…but it is for our kids.  When we take care of our marriage, we are better able to take care of our children.

I used to justify not playing cards at the end of a long day by saying that I didn’t have time.  But here’s the thing, I don’t have time NOT to play cards with my husband.  You only live once and at the end of my life, I’m not going to wish we had watched more TV or worked harder…and I don’t want to sit there wishing I had spent more time in coffee shops playing cards with the man I love.

So to all of my friends, whether you are married now or hope to be married in the future, always remember when you were dating.  Have fun.  Turn off the TV and play a game.