Date Night: Why and How To Make It Happen

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress and co-founder of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.attachmentparenting.ca.  Her date night blog is at www.datenightyyc.wordpress.com/about/.

In the movie Date Night, the characters played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey are in a long-term relationship that they try to spice up by1414109_13630179 candle going out to dinner once a week on a date night. The trouble is that their date night is monotonously predictable—they go to the same restaurant and order the same food on the same night every week. They start to notice the sameness when they become a little too clichéd even for their own taste by talking about the variation of the chicken quality instead of their feelings, week after week. One night they do something different—they dress up, pick a new restaurant and go to dinner in the city for a change. What happens next is hilarious, and they end up with an incredible evening tale, though probably one that no couple would wish for. The end result is that they had a renewed sense of each other as the people they loved, not just their roles such as parents, children, siblings, etc. (although those roles were strengthened, as well).

Why Have Date Nights?

No matter how long they have been together, couples need sparks, creativity and fun in their relationships. As the years pass, they need it even more. For centuries, organized religion has discovered that people need continuous affirmation of their faith in the form of weekly rituals such as church attendance. Relationships need the same kind of tending and care. Regular meetings are required in order to talk, have fun and spend time together.

We know that friendships survive on shared interests, yet as soon as we partner up with our very best friend, we tend to settle into domestic boredom and let the shared interests slide. Every relationship has peaks and valleys—moments where love is overwhelming and moments when you seriously wonder why you are still with your partner. Couples need to remind themselves of the qualities that they saw in each other at the beginning of the relationship and what they still love about each other. This is even more critical when mortgages, pets, children, jobs, laundry, broken appliances, normal conflicts and elderly caretaking occur alongside the couple relationship. These are normal stresses, but they can be overwhelming in a relationship without some nurturing buffers, such as date night and time together.

The “Date Night” Rules

  • Together, choose an evening of the week for date night, but make it the same day of the week so it’s not left by the wayside.

  • If you have children, hire a standing sitter to come each week at the same time. Try to get a sitter who drives, and pay the sitter well. If finances are a concern, consider finding or starting a babysitting co-op or have date nights at home after the children are asleep.

  • If you don’t wish to leave your children or if separation anxiety is a concern, plan date nights at home when the children are asleep.

  • Each partner takes a turn planning the date, executing, driving and paying. The other partner is the guest. Switch roles the next week. It’s more fun to keep plans a secret until you are both in the car or it’s the time of the date. Surprise is part of the fun!

  • The planner should hire the sitter and feed the kids before you go out.

  • Look your best, even for home dates. The only information the guest needs to know is what to wear and if he or she should eat before going out.

  • Try to plan an evening without friends so that intimate subjects can be addressed if need be. Some subjects are difficult to bring up, but with time and space, it’s better to broach the subjects and give them air time than to bury them. Couples who bury critical conversations end up with nothing to talk about in the later years and drift apart.

  • Be tolerant and enjoy the evening as much as possible, knowing that your partner put a lot of effort into making it special for you, even if he or she didn’t quite nail it that week.

When the Going Gets Tough – Babies, Toddlers & Teens

Research shows that the first five years of a relationship are the most difficult because of career-building demands, money woes and especially the parenting of babies and toddlers. The lack of sleep, child tantrums, worry and differing parenting styles can tear down the closeness and caring of even the most loving couples, as we tend to take our parenting frustrations out on each other. This can be toxic to relationships. We need frequent reminders to be kind and caring to each other in the good times and especially in the challenging times.

As kids get older and easier to parent, relationships naturally improve, but they take a dip again in the teen years. This coincides with menopause, career peaking, travel and mid-life crisis issues. We may start to look around the buffet table, even though we are on a diet! The parenting of teens can be challenging and adds to the stress. Couples need to put more work into their relationship at this stage, similar to the first five years. Research shows that after the teen stage, relationships improve and enrich. That’s a no-brainer, because parenting is essentially “done.”

How We Made Date Nights Work

My husband and I started our own date night when we had three children under three and felt we were losing the essence of “us” in the dreary day-to-day details of domestic life. We made a point of hiring a standing sitter to come every Tuesday evening. Some days we were so tired, we blearily welcomed in our sitter, grabbed our pillows and headed to the parked car in the driveway for a blissful, uninterrupted nap. People would question the cost of a standing sitter, but we considered it a financial investment. Research shows that divorce is the single most disastrous event that devastates couples’ finances and wealth, and in light of that, we felt that hiring a weekly sitter made sound financial sense. Not only did we fund her college education, the kids actually enjoyed the sitter coming, since we didn’t have any grandparents or relatives to take over. She was fun and responsible and became an extended family member.

It was hard when the young babies and toddlers were going through separation anxiety.  Although we are both attachment parents, the kids’ crying seemed to bother me more than it did my partner. I would like to say the decision was easy, but like many gray areas in life, sometimes I felt that I couldn’t leave the kids. I discussed with my husband some ways to stay at home and not leave them, and he was sensitive to my needs.

Date Night at Home Ideas

  • Snuggle in bed with a movie and a picnic of wine, bread and cheese
  • Dinner and movie at home with a theme, such as French night (for example, have crepes and watch Chocolat)
  • Board or card game night
  • Dance
  • Bake cookies
  • Play video games
  • Read together in the bathtub with candles, salts and wine
  • Grab a pillow and blanket and sleep in the car with the baby monitor on
  • Pick up books from the library and have a read-in around the fireplace
  • Sit around the fire-pit outside and make marshmallows or hot dogs
  • Relax in the hot tub
  • Be a kid again and use the trampoline (or just lie on it an watch the stars), swing set or swimming pool
  • Turn off all the lights, sit in the dark and watch the animal world outside
  • Bring out photo albums or watch photos or videos on the television at home

Other times I realized his needs had to come first, and we absolutely needed some time alone for the sake of our relationship, or we might not make it through another week. Like in any relationship, we had to see whose needs were paramount at that moment and meet them. That’s real life and the eighth Principle of Attachment Parenting. We would say goodbye to the kids as gently as we could and walk out the door. The kids usually had settled in with the sitter when we phoned ten minutes later, and most often we had a great evening, a heartfelt talk and the kids were okay. We felt that a strong parenting partnership was the greater good for all concerned in the long run. As in many parenting decisions, when and how to leave the children is a decision that each couple must make individually for themselves.

Date Night Out Ideas

  • Live theaters (high schools and smaller troupes have inexpensive or free nights)
  • Concerts (check out university and community bands)
  • Parks and reserves with boating rentals
  • Go out for a coffee or a beer at the local pub
  • Movie in the park
  • Picnics everywhere
  • Dinner crawl—go to several restaurants for appetizer, salad, main and dessert
  • Pub hopping downtown
  • Zoo, museum, library or science center
  • Wine tasting events
  • Couples’ massage
  • Pottery painting
  • Classes
  • Friends’ house party
  • Go out for breakfast or meet for lunch
  • Comedy theater
  • Bike ride, either cycle or motorcycle
  • Drive-in movie or movie-in-the-park
  • Pick up take-out and watch the planes land at the airport
  • Go-karting or laser tag
  • Shakespeare or other plays in the park
  • Fitness: gym date, bowling, rock climbing, yoga, roller skating, golf, hiking or running
  • Lecture (check out libraries, universities and bookstores)
  • Volunteer together, such as canvassing or working at the food bank or other places where you can talk and have fun
  • Window shop
  • Ride the city trains—bring a snack and have a train picnic

We feel a critical aspect of parenting is giving the kids a model for respectful relationships and a blueprint for keeping love, passion and companionship alive in long-term, monogamous relationships, whether that follows a traditional marriage or a domestic partnership between consenting, loving adults of whatever gender. We try to hash out conflicts in front of the kids, as well as resolve and make up, too. We need to show them that parents are human, too.

Not Just For Couples

In addition to date night, we also have private time on our own. We have Mom’s night out (Mommy goes to the movies or book club with her friends) and Dad’s day out (Dad goes out to play volleyball with his friends). People need to care for themselves in order to care for others.

We also have kid date night (although I can’t call it that anymore with the teens around) where one of us or both will take each kid out one-on-one for some special time. They get to pick what we will do. We mark off their birth date on the calendar each month, and then everyone knows that is the date to keep clear. For example, my son was born on September 4, so every fourth day of the month is his day. In the early days, with my partner working out of town, I would get a sitter to stay with the other kids. It’s amazing the difference in our parent-child communication because of that and how much it cuts down on sibling fighting.

Twenty-four years later, we are still going strong. With five children, some of whom are teens and adults, we no longer need sitters. Spontaneity is back. We can suggest a movie to each other and be out the door in five minutes, just like we did BC (before children).

Date Night, No Sitter Available Ideas

  • Walks or car rides (the kids can either fall asleep or be entertained by a portable DVD player you bring)
  • Go to places like Ikea, airports or restaurants with play areas, so you and your partner can talk while you keep an eye on the kids
  • Go to a book store with a cafe, plunk the kids down in the children’s section with an assortment of books, then you and your partner grab and in-house coffee and a nearby seat
  • Set the alarm early to have coffee on the porch and watch the sun come up together
  • Take the kids to a playground and have a picnic for you and your partner
  • If your kids are school-aged, book two tables at a restaurant. Sit your kids at one table, with you and your partner at another table, and monitor them from afar.

For more ideas that are continually updated, visit our date night blog. Even though the ideas are for the Calgary area, they are easily transferable to any city. If you have young children, check out the blog for information on how to start a babysitting co-op.

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