Date Night. You know you should. You know you want to.
How long has it been since you and your partner went out alone together for a lovely date? A month? Six months? Maybe a year?
Who has the time, right? Not to mention the energy!
You logged fifty hours at your job this week, then had to jump on your computer once you were home to check your emails and catch up with your colleagues who are in a different time zone.
Or you spent all day with your small children and can’t find or afford baby-sitting for them while you go on date night. Plus: you’re tired. And you feel bad leaving the kids just so you can go have a good time.
Or perhaps you just prefer couch time at night—a great way to relieve all the stresses of the working day. You’re really into the new American Idol, what with their revamped judging panel featuring J-Lo herself, and be damned if you’re going to miss an episode.
We’ve never been busier as a society, but you have to wonder at what cost.
The truth is, if you don’t take the time for date night, you’ll never have the time for date night.
It’s a matter of prioritizing your relationship as an important part of your life—just as important as work, just as important as spending time with your children—which I know is hard to do when we have so many commitments and so few hours in the day.
How relationship ruts happen
Let’s backtrack for a minute, because relationships never start off in a rut.
When we first fall in love, spending time together is no effort at all. We are like magnets, drawn in to each other again and again while we court.
We have boundless energy, talking for hours late into the night about our hopes, dreams, and fondest moments. We are spontaneous, fun, crazy, and drunk with love.
Well actually, we’re drunk on hormones.
That rush of love you experience is a heady cocktail of feel-good hormones, delivering you these surges of energy. It has even been mapped in a brain scanner by Dr. Helen Fisher, who recently discovered the path love takes for every couple.
At any stage between six and 18 months in every relationship, these hormones quietly and quite naturally fade away, making room for new ones. These new hormones are lovely too, but not quite as flamboyant as that first burst of love.
Instead, they act to bond us to each other, make us devoted to and protective of our partner. In short, these are the hormones we need to sustain a long-term relationship. But unfortunately as they creep in, the energy and bounce of early courtship dissipates. We become much more content to sit on the couch and watch television. We become tired easily and turn into a Boring Old Married Couple.
The danger here is that you start to drift apart, spending less quality time together, not engaging or conversing as often, and growing in opposite directions. This leaves you and your relationship vulnerable to arguments, resentment, and affairs. You are less likely to look after each other or support each other.
If you do have a young family, the unhappy marriage creates extra strain on the family unit.
What’s the good news?
The good news is that we can do something about all of this. Experts agree that the way to keep your marriage a priority is to spend time together.
A regular date night is the most obvious answer. Make date night a ritual. A habit. This date night should be treated like any of your work commitments: given priority and booked in advance.
Here are four easy steps to help you start your date nights as a couple today.
1. Get your partner on board
Let your sweetie know you’d like to spend more quality time with them.
You can sit down and have a frank conversation at home if you think they’ll respond well. Or you can really back up your actions and take them on a surprise date, then talk to them about it there.
Perhaps call them at work and ask if they’d like to have dinner/a picnic/go to the movies with you. Have them meet you at the destination if you can—it will re-conjure memories of your early dates together. See if you can inspire them to agree to make regular date nights happen, no matter what.
2. Decide which night will be date night
Whether you decide together that date night should be every week, every fortnight, or once a month, make it a regular time you can stick to. Then you will know that every Wednesday, for example, should be kept free for date night. Make that time sacred.
Nothing should get in the way of date night—remember, your relationship is now a priority too.
If you absolutely have to schedule something else on date night, call your partner immediately to ask if you can reschedule date night to another night that week.
3. Both of you take responsibility
Take it in turns to organize the night’s activities so that you are taking each other on dates, and not just having one partner do all the work.
4. Do new things every time
Visiting the same old favorite restaurant every week, ordering the same dish from the menu that you know you love? I don’t think so!
What we now know is that simply spending time together is probably not enough to keep your relationship solid. In 2008, Arthur P. Aron found that it is doing new things together as a couple that keeps our relationships alive. Novel experiences shared with your partner spark the same brain chemistry as when you first fell in love—all those exciting, spontaneous hormones we talked about earlier can actually spike again.
It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture every week. Try a new restaurant, a new cuisine, go for a picnic, go ten pin bowling, play pool in a seedy pub … as long as it’s not something you always do, go for it!
Make date night your resolution
Many couples I speak to love the idea of a regular date night, but don’t seem to think they can make it work for them. Or with great intentions, they begin regular date nights but can’t sustain it longer than a few weeks. If there is one New Year’s resolution you keep this year, let it be date night. And if a week or two slips by and you miss a date, don’t worry. Just jump back on the date night horse! Your relationship will thank you for it.
Do you and your partner date each other? Do you think you should? What difference do you think it makes in your relationship?