Dating When Married
Becoming Favorite Recreational Companions
Willard F. Harley, Jr.
Many years ago, I created a test that measures the degree of attraction between spouses. I use that test to this day because it has proven to be a very accurate measure of how much spouses love, like, dislike, or hate each other when the questions are answered honestly. I call this 21-item test the Love Bank Inventory. Some of the questions in this test are:
The answers are numbered from a +3 to a -3 to indicate how you feel toward your spouse. A +3 is ďdefinitely yes,Ē while a -3 is ďdefinitely no.Ē The numbers in between indicate positive and negative feelings that are less intense. The answers are added together and divided by 21 to obtain an average score.
A score above 2.0 usually indicates that a spouse is in love; between 0 and 1.9, that they like the other spouse; less than 0 but above -1.9, reflects dislike; while -2.0 or below usually indicates hate. I use evidence from my counseling with a spouse to validate the results.
The feeling of romantic love inspires spouses to meet each otherís emotional needs and avoid Love Busters. But hating a spouse inspires exactly the opposite effect: an unwillingness to meet emotional needs and to engage in Love Busters. Your emotional reaction to being with someone you hate is to act in a way that is unpleasant, even repulsive, to that person. As hard as you may try to be warm and friendly, your body language comes through with what you really feel: hatred.
So, a spouse that has come to hate the other spouse will tend be disrespectful and angry toward that person. Eventually, it will make the other spouse hate them.
Before I counsel a couple, I ask them to complete this test so that I can create a plan for their marital recovery that fits their present state of mind. I quickly score it while I see them for the first time, but I donít show them the results. Its purpose is for me to create a plan that is likely to help them the most. Every session thereafter, the test is given again to help me know if they are making progress with the plan Iíve chosen. If the scores do not improve when they follow the plan, I change it.
The first couple that I introduced to you, Norah and Jason, liked each other. Both spouses scored about 1.5, very close to the 2.0 that indicates romantic love. So, I sent them out on dates almost immediately. All they had to do was to schedule enough time for dates, and their instincts did the rest. Within a few weeks, they were in love again, with scores above 2.0. Their Love Bank accounts had breached the romantic love threshold.
The second couple, Wanda and Peter, had scores below zero. They disliked each other. Wandaís score was -.8 and Peterís was -.3. But they were highly motivated to make their marriage work, and said they would do whatever I assigned them to do.
Since their Love Bank Inventory scores were so close to zero, I decided to let them start dating right away. But I had to instruct them to plan their dates to include affection, intimate conversation, recreation, and lovemaking. Their instincts would have prevented them from meeting those needs for each other if it had not been part of their assignment. After a rough start, they were able to quickly correct their mistakes, and they went on to build their Love Bank account balances above 2.0. By then, they made it very clear to me that they were in love with each other. Dating had worked.
Improving Love Bank Balances for Couples Who Hate Each Other
Sherry and Todd were motivated to save their marriage, but they were not as easy to help as Wanda and Peter. Their scores on the Love Bank Inventory clearly told me that they both hated each other. It was based on those results that I decided to postpone any dates until their instinctive behavior toward each other changed.
Their scores remained the same while they were trying to eliminate their instinct to make demands, show disrespect, and become angry. Thatís because the worksheets that they filled out every week upset each other. They didnít like being evaluated.
But as unpleasant as the assignment was for them, it was a necessary step to help them stop the bleeding. When they were finally able to present blank worksheets, proving that they had succeeded in eliminating demands, disrespect, and anger, they started to feel much better toward each other. Their test scores improved, but not yet enough for a date.
After they had completed the series of sessions on Intimate Conversation, I saw immediate results. Their scores had improved. But they were far from being able to schedule enough time for dates each week. Their time was taken up with recreational activities that did not include each other. So, before they could date, I had to replace their independent activities with those they would do together. They needed a series of lessons that would teach them how to become each otherís favorite recreational companions.
Ships Passing in the Night
Sherry and Todd had grown far apart during their brief marriage. They had no friends in common, they had separate bank accounts, and they did almost nothing together recreationally, which were among just a few of the things that made them incompatible. They were like ships passing in the night. While my ultimate goal was to eliminate all of these barriers to the health of their marriage, this series was to focus only on their recreational activities.
Sherry was part of a singing group that met almost every week and performed occasionally on weekends. She was also a volunteer at their local community television station where she would help produce television programs.
Todd was an outdoors-man who loved to go on hunting and fishing trips with his friends whenever they could get together, which was often. He also played poker almost every Thursday night.
They would each care for their children when the other spouse was engaged in their recreational activity. When they both were involved in an activity, their parents would watch their children.
The Recreational Enjoyment Inventory
Sherry and Toddís first assignment in this new series of sessions was to read chapter 6 in His Needs, Her Needs: Recreational Companionship and to complete the Recreational Enjoyment Inventory (available for free download in the questionnaires section of the marriagebuilders.com website).
The Recreational Enjoyment Inventory is a list of 125 different recreational activities that asks a husband and wife to rate each according to how much they enjoy, or think they might enjoy, each activity: +3=very enjoyable; +2=enjoyable; +1=somewhat enjoyable; 0=no feelings one way or the other; -1=somewhat unpleasant; -2=unpleasant; -3=very unpleasant. They can also add other activities that they enjoy to the list.
Sherry and Todd brought the completed inventory with them for their next session. The activities of hunting, fishing, and poker were rated +3 by Todd and -3 by Sherry. The activities of singing and video production were rated +3 by Sherry and -3 by Todd. They showed no interest in each otherís favorite activities.
But the results did indicate that there were a few activities that they would enjoy together. One activity had a sum of 5. That activity was watching television. Todd had rated it a +2 (enjoyable) and Sherry had rated it a +3 (very enjoyable). Eight other activities had a sum of 4, but only five of those were rated 2 by both of them. The other four were rated of 3 (very enjoyable) for one of them and 1 (somewhat enjoyable) for the other.
The five activities that were rated 2 by both were Amusement Parks, Movies, Sailing, Sightseeing, and Woodworking. By adding Television to the list, they had a total of six activities that were enjoyable for both of them. It was where they would begin in discovering mutually enjoyable recreational activities.
My assignment was for them to experience all six activities with each other before their next appointment with me. I also wanted them to avoid any recreational activity with anyone else during that time. For the time being, I wanted them to spend all of their recreational time identifying and developing activities that they would enjoy together.
Neither Sherry nor Todd were happy about this assignment.
Iím sorry, but I canít give that up, was Sherryís response. Iíve made a commitment. Itís my responsibility. Others depend on me.
Todd was equally concerned, but for a different reason. I canít give up what I enjoy the most in life. Itís my reward for all of the grief I have to put up with at work during the week. Itís what keeps me going.
Up to this point, Sherry and Todd had been spending very little time together. The first assignments I had given them regarding demands, disrespect, and anger required just enough time to talk to each other so that they would have something to report on their worksheets. The conversation assignments took more time, but even that was only half an hour a day. Occasionally they would spend more time, but it rarely went over an hour.
They were actually getting along much better. There were no more fights and they were starting to smile when they were together. Maybe we can make it with what weíve already learned, they both thought. Why give up doing what we enjoy doing most.
When they had first come to see me, they had made a commitment to me and to each other to follow my plan right up to the end. I guaranteed them that if they followed that plan, they would not only avoid a divorce, but would also be in love with each other again. They had come this far, and so they decided to stay on course.
So, Sherry told her singing group and the community television station that she would not be joining them for at least a few weeks. Todd also let his friends know that his time with them would be on hold for a while. They would now be using that time for television, amusement parks, movies, sailing, sightseeing, and woodworking.
The contrast effect is very powerful. If you compare two activities, one that you find very enjoyable with one thatís only enjoyable, the enjoyable activity will seem downright boring. I didnít want that contrast to make their time together seem boring, so the very enjoyable activities that they did without each other had to go, at least for now.
I warned Sherry and Todd that they would probably find their recreational time together to be frustrating at first because theyíd be thinking about what they were missing. But after a few weeks, they would enjoy their activities together, and look forward to them. They had to give it a little time.
Scheduling Time Together for Recreational Activities
The assignment of spending all of their recreational time together was to prepare them for what was to come: scheduling their dates where they would be meeting each otherís intimate emotional needs. With no other recreational activities as an option, if they wanted to have fun, they had to be together. So, they planned their new recreational activities to take the place of their old activities.
But they faced a problem: Who would take care of their children while they were out together?
When Sherry was with her singing group, Todd would watch the children. When he played poker, she would have them. Occasionally, when Sherry was performing on a weekend, and Todd was fishing, Toddís parents would take them, often for the entire weekend.
Their new assignment required careful thought about childcare, and that pointed them in the right direction: They had to schedule time to be together without their children. It didnít take long for them to ask both sets of parents about their willingness to babysit more often. A neighboring teenage girl was also asked so that they would have options if their parents were busy.
Three weeks later, Sherry and Todd were in my office: mission completed. They had crossed each activity off of the list. The friends of intimate conversation were welcomed and the enemies were avoided. Their demands, disrespect, and anger worksheets were almost blank, and when a mistake was made, each spouse apologized and took full responsibility. Their time together reminded them of their dating prior to marriage.
Their Love Bank Inventory scores indicated that both of their Love Bank accounts had moved into positive territory. They liked each other.
For the past year, prior to my counseling with them, they had made love very seldom, once every two or three months. But during the past three weeks they had made love every week and were becoming more affectionate without my having to encourage it.
They were ready to start dating.
Putting It All Together