Date Nights: They Make Your Relationship Stronger
I recommend that couples with children have a weekly date night to get out of the house, detach from their parenting roles and reconnect on a romantic level. To be good parents, I would argue, you need to have a solid relationship and feel mutually supported. That means putting time and effort into your relationship on a regular basis. Dates nights are one of the best ways to do this.
In addition, it is crucial to see one another as you once were, before you both stepped into the oftentimes chaotic role of being a parent. Taking a regular break from bedtime schedules, stepping on small toys and doling out discipline can mean the difference between a happy, healthy couple and a voluntary straightjacket for two.
The goal is to bond, have fun, and rekindle that pre-parenting romantic spark instead of repeating the same old transactional communication patterns that leave couples feeling needy, sad and lonely. Regular date nights can provide the two of you with a healthy relationship that is mutually fulfilling and brings you joy as opposed to one that is boring, mundane and leaves you wanting more.
DATE NIGHT GUIDELINES
Ditch the Phones
First, make sure your cell phones are turned off. This might seem obvious, but most people have a difficult time unplugging. If you need to be connected to the babysitter in case of fever, tummy aches and to solve an argument that ice cream does not constitute dinner, take turns as to whom is the contact parent. Assign the sitter’s number a unique ringtone and only answer those calls. Give your date the priority of time and your full attention they (and your relationship) deserve.
Let It Go
Next, make an effort to let go of any anger and resentment you might have for the next 2-3 hours you are on your date. Try to be in a good mood. In addition, parenting talk is off limits! You are there to reconnect with the person you love and not discuss your daughter’s messy room or your son’s new affinity for wearing plastic heels and bejeweled princess tiaras to preschool.
If one of you feels as if they are always the planner, then agree to alternate who plans your date night – try to plan something fun that the other person will really enjoy. Surprise them. You’ll always earn brownie points if you arrange a date in the location you met or a special place you visited early in your relationship.
If you are on a budget—and who isn’t these days—Google "free events." There are so many free events in LA: concerts, museum, gallery openings and walking tours, to name a few. You don’t have to break the bank to have a great date.
Dress to Impress
Please make an effort for your partner. Wear something that shows you care about how you look. Dress as if you are trying to catch his eye and reel him in again. (Believe it or not, I have had clients complain about this!)
The Icing on the Cake
If you really want to score extra points, bring a small gift – maybe a book of poems, chocolates, a bottle of your partner’s favorite wine and, of course, flowers.
Ideas for a Fun Night Out
As mentioned above, for date ideas, try Googling “the best dates ideas in LA,” “things to do in Los Angeles this week,” or “free things to do in Los Angeles this week.” Additionally, if you both have new places you’ve always wanted to visit, keep them on slips of paper and do a blind draw to reveal what you’ll be doing on this week’s date night.
Share New Experiences and Adventures
One of the best ways to fall in love again and inject some excitement into your relationship is to experience something new, different or beautiful together. While the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon might be too far for a date night, how about a hike somewhere with gorgeous views? Or a flotation tank for two? How about a wonderful meal in a new neighborhood you have never explored? You could even try taking a class together. Coursehorse.com offers everything from candle making to stand-up paddle boarding as well as fun, date-night activities.
During your night out, take a moment to acknowledge the beauty, fun or gratitude you are sharing and add some physicality like a kiss, hug or holding hands to anchor it in your minds. This will assist you in temporarily detaching from the parenting role and seeing one another as the romantic, fun, care-free person that, at times, get buried under diapers, activity schedules and playdates.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
So often, we don’t really listen to what our partner is saying or understand the meaning behind what they are saying. We are more concerned with trying to get our point across or we find ourselves completely consumed by the lives of the tiny humans whom we are trying to keep alive and happy, that we simply don’t hear what our partner is saying.
Try active listening: Think about something that was important to you that happened in the past week (keep it light) and tell your partner about it in a few sentences. Then, have your partner repeat what you said and have him ask if he got it right. You can then respond with a simple yes or no and add anything detail that may be missing.
The next step is to explain why it made you feel the way you felt. Again, have your partner repeat that back to you and ask if he got the details correctly. Alternate who is the listener and who is the speaker. Try this for 20 minutes and see if you feel a deeper sense of communication and understanding of one another’s feelings.
CONTINUE TO BOND
This is the perfect time to take some cues from your kids and their unending quest for fun. Tell some jokes! Be silly. Repeat an old story that makes you both laugh. Watch a funny movie or TV show. Netflix has several comedies; some even about the craziness and oftentimes hilarious job of parenting!
Think of a dream that you both share. Maybe it’s a vacation in the Caribbean, the kind of parents you aspire to be or the type of grandparents you hope to be (many, many years from now). Maybe you dream of a second home or what you might do in your retirement together. Shared goals bring couples together in a synergistic way. Don’t let worries or limited thinking overcome you. This is an opportunity to dream together, however big, small or fantastical and have some fun while doing so.
LEARN SOMETHING NEW ABOUT YOUR PARTNER
Quizzes, Questions and Discovery
It’s always fun to learn something new about your husband, especially if you have been together for 20 years and think you know everything about him. To learn something new, try:
The 5 Love Language Quiz (take it together!)
You can even create your own fun questions list for instance, asking off-the-wall questions like: “What was your most embarrassing moment?”, “Where were you when you laughed at an inappropriate time?” and “If you had to eat only 3 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?”
But not with the intention of a happy ending. Touch, kiss, massage, hold hands and caress the other person’s body. Subtly rediscover what is sensual for your partner and where his erogenous zones are (without being thrown out of the restaurant). Try to do this throughout your date so you can again share that first-date spark. Your partner might go wild!
Make a Date for Intimacy
Conversely, its okay (and often necessary as parents) to schedule a sex date. But spice it up – try something new: a sexy outfit or costume, a new position, incorporate food, light bondage, a sex toy or role playing (as long as it is consensual). Take your partner to the Pleasure Chest for a demo and buy some things to enjoy together. If you can manage it, try having sex during the day when the kids are at school or while they are at a sleepover. This will free you to be as uninhibited and vocal as you like. Consequently, for those of you who’ve yet to learn, there is nothing more embarrassing than your child catching you in a naked, compromising position and proclaiming that they are now scarred for life. Though the little one with impeccable timing will be okay, you, however, will forever carry that embarrassment with you.
END YOUR DATE IN A SPECIAL WAY
Take turns saying 1-3 things that you each really appreciate about one another. It could be something he did in the past week that made you feel good, his sense of humor, or something that makes him unique from other people you know. Maybe you really admire how good of a parent they are or the way she recently handled your child’s heartbreak over his departed goldfish. Make sure you include your heartfelt feelings about whatever it is that you appreciate.
This is a great way to bond. If the eyes are the window to the soul, try this technique at the end of your date. Choose a comfortable place to sit, hold hands and look into your partner’s eyes for 5 minutes. You can turn your cell back on now and use it as a timer. This might seem like an eternity and feel somewhat awkward and challenging at first. But you will be surprised by what this simple exercise can accomplish. Couples are often moved to tears and bad feelings diminish while fond memories, butterflies and a few tingles in the right places emerge.
The Ultimate Goal of Date Nights
Remember, every relationship has good times as well as conflicts. The goal is not to eliminate those conflicts but to learn where the other person is coming from while being understanding to their position. Weekly date nights will help you to achieve that in addition to allowing you time to bond, see one another outside of the parenting role and have some fun. All of these activities will accentuate the positive so that the negative is minimized. It will also allow you to see one another as the individual, loving, exciting and sexual beings you were before you stepped into the crazy and wonderful world of parenting. You see, you’ve not changed, you’ve just added another dimension to who you are as a couple and a family.
DAVID STRAH is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (LMFT) and is the co-author of Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood (Penguin Putnam/ Tarcher). He has a private practice in Mid-Wilshire, Los Angeles and sees individuals, couples and families. His website is davidstrah.com and he can be reached at 917-922-2650. David’s sons are 18 and 22 years old.