By Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D., LMFT
Marriage is meant to be a comfortable place. It is healthy to settle into a comfortable routine, to feel secure in the fact that you are loved and appreciated by your spouse and your family. There are dangers, however, to that comfortable routine. It can turn into a rut. Ruts, over time, can turn into big dark holes that feel impossible to escape from.
You may feel like you have a happy and solid marriage but find that you have settled into a comfortable rut, where it’s easy to take your spouse for granted or to feel taken for granted. One or both of you may be wanting a little more closeness or time together. When having fun together is a memory, rather than an ongoing process, it may be time to jump start the intimacy and emotional engagement in your relationship.
Many couples who come to this conclusion, decide to begin “date night”. Date night is a common practice used by couples all over the world to bring their relationship back into the foreground of their lives. Date night is a tool that assists couples in regaining focus on the relationship, in improving communication and positive feelings, and in helping a marriage stand up against the stressors of modern life.
There are lots of different ways to set up “date nights”. Couples are not all alike and have differing needs. Some couples schedule date nights weekly, some biweekly, and some monthly. Regardless of how often you have a date night, make it a “sacred time” by making sure that nothing takes precedence over it. By making “date night” a priority that is scheduled on your calendar for consecutive weeks over a long period of time, it will become a habit and you will follow through with it. Get past the excuses for not making it a priority.
Decide together, what you want to experience on your date nights. Make sure that you have the same agenda for date night. I hear people complain that there is nothing really to do on date night or that they have run out of things to talk about. Have some fun on one of your date nights developing a list of things that you would enjoy doing on date nights. Get some conversation starter exercises (e.g. “The Honey Jar”), and take them on your date if there is an uncomfortable lull in the conversation. The following are tips for following through with a date night and making it work for your relationship.
Tips for date night.
- If you have children, make sure you have a list of reliable sitters or caregivers for the kids.
- Focus on the positives and having fun. Don’t use date night for problem-solving sessions. If you need to have problem-solving conversations have them some other time. Schedule them just like you are scheduling a date night. Don’t complain while on a date that you never have dates.
- Have “give and take” conversations. Two parallel monologues do not make a conversation. In conversations, each party gets to talk and listen and respond to what the other says.
- Talk about yourself and ask your partner to talk about himself/herself.
- Take turns choosing the date activity. Expand your horizons by trying something new. Take some chances to get out of your comfort zone sometimes. Don’t get into the “dinner and a movie” rut on your dates.
- Don’t pout if it is not your favorite activity. Don’t complain if a particular date night did not go as well as you would like.
- Date night does not have to be expensive or a grand gesture. Keep some date nights simple.
- Spend time nurturing the relationship between dates. When your spouse requests more time and attention, don’t get defensive and throw date night up in their face. When someone requests your time and attention, it is not necessarily a complaint.
- Relax. Laugh. Play.
The keys to successful date nights are consistently having them, feeling connected, focusing on the positive and communicating. If you look at the three most important things in your life, your family, your spouse, your relationship is probably up there. Date night helps you take that from theory into action.