Date Night...the Necessity
If you are already having enjoyable time as a couple at least once every other week or so, then you do not need to read on. You already know that planned time together, whether for a romantic dinner or a walk on the beach, enhances your friendship as well as your emotional connectedness. Friendship is a critical part of any committed relationship. It makes for open and honest communication and an assumption that the other person “has your back.” It is easier to address a conflict with a spouse who is also viewed as a friend versus one seen as an adversary (Gottman, 1999).
Emotional connectedness brings added depth to your relationship. For many individuals, it is a necessary factor in generating sexual desire, another important aspect of any long-term committed relationship. The initial romantic love relationship lasts less than two years for most couples. Inhibited desire affects one in three couples (McCarthy, 2013). Putting date night back into the routine can help couples work as a team to rekindle desire.
Given these two positive consequences of having “dates," why would any couple fail to plan them regularly?
In my work as a couple’s therapist, I have heard a variety of excuses for not planning such time together. Excuses range from cost and living within a budget to exhaustion from a long work week. Sometimes there is just an assumption that the other person doesn’t care to go out so “why bother?” There is also the common challenge to parents of finding a sitter for young kids. Many couples have difficulty agreeing upon whose responsibility it is to plan dates, including arrangement for a sitter.
First, I will address cost and budgetary limits. There are numerous articles, blogs, and even books written on "how to spend less than $20 on a date". The underlying point is that, for most people and especially those in established relationships, it isn’t about how much is spent for the event. It is about being together and prioritizing the other person over your obligations to work and other family members. Spending time together is one of the major ways that we show our love for another person (Chapman, 1992). If you can spare $20, you can “go out” on your date. On the other hand, sometimes you just don’t have the extra $20. In those times, why not plan an “at home” date? A candle-lit dinner after the children go to sleep, or listening to your favorite music while dancing in your home can be as fun and romantic as any pricey restaurant.
The second most frequent excuse that I hear from clients is exhaustion. After a long work week, many fall into the habit of sitting in front of the TV and not wandering far from there for the weekend. A TV date can work if you have planned to see a particular movie or maybe sporting event together and both of you are looking forward to that. All too often, it becomes one person engaged in the program while the other tolerates it at best. Needless to say, that type of evening does not build the friendship or the connectedness. There are plenty of options in the above-mentioned links that do not require lots of physical activity. The key feature is to find something that you both enjoy doing, even if that is just sitting in front of the fireplace and relaxing together.
A third common excuse for not having a date night is the issue of who will do the planning. Many of the most fun events do require some planning, whether it is purchasing tickets for a concert, rental of sports equipment, or just deciding about which new place to explore. This is not difficult to resolve when you see your partner as a friend with whom you will enjoy the time together.
Lastly, when there is strong resistance to planning couples time, I begin to wonder whether both partners are avoiding time alone together. If this is a long-standing pattern, it is worth thinking about whether one or both of you have a fear of emotional intimacy and deal with that fear by always including other friends or family in your free time. This is a more serious problem which usually requires much effort to overcome. It is best dealt with through either individual or couples counseling.
Usually, the challenge for long-term couples is to get out of the routine that they have fallen into and put in some effort to make their lives together more fun and joyful. The best relationships require effort from both individuals. If you don’t have your next date-night planned, go ahead and do it. It is not really a luxury after all. Consider it a necessity for a happy and life-affirming relationship.
Chapman, G.1992. The Five Love Languages. The Secret to Love that Lasts. Northfield Publishing, Chicago.
Gottman, J. 1999. The Marriage Clinic. A Scientifically-based Marital Therapy. W.W. Norton & Co., New York.
McCarthy, Barry and McCarthy, Emily. 2013. Rekindling Desire. (2nd edition). Routledge.