Remember back when you and your partner first met and it was all smiles, butterflies, hand-holding, and anticipation? The early days of romantic relationships are full of excitement and infatuation, but we all know they don’t last forever. Eventually, you settle into your partnership, and real-life seeps in—especially when you become parents. And even though there is still love between the two of you, the butterflies and hand-holding turn into budgeting and baby-holding, which is why carving out time to connect is so important.
Of course, many people in a committed relationship would love nothing more than to have more free time to devote to dating their partners. But the reality is that work, parenting, and the general maintenance of a home and family take a lot of effort and leaves us exhausted by the end of the day. Not to mention, between the costs of a babysitter and of the outing itself, date nights aren’t always affordable. It’s no wonder why they often fall off our list of priorities, but they’re essential to the well-being of your relationship, both now and for the future.
Why Are Date Nights Important in a Relationship?
Partnerships require effort to remain strong. When couples carve out time to go on dates, it helps them create a closer connection, improves communication, and can even result in increased affection, intimacy, and satisfaction in their relationship.
Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great and professor at Oakland University in Michigan, explains, “Date nights are important because it gives a couple special time to pay attention to each other and do something together.”
While dates are important in any relationship, Dr. Orbuch notes that they are particularly necessary for parents. “Although children are wonderful, amazing, enriching, and bring joy to your life, being a parent can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming,” she says, adding, “studies show that relationship happiness decreases when partners become parents.”
Dr. Orbuch goes on to explain that parents often put themselves—and in turn, their relationship—on the back burner while they’re raising their children. In a world full of mom guilt, it’s easy to understand how so many of us fall into this rhythm, but she stresses that this will have negative effects on a partnership. “If you don’t take care of your relationship at all times, you will lose the bond and spark that you share,” she warns, but making the effort to schedule regular date nights, whether they are big outings or a game night at home, “can give parents back the spark, excitement, passion, and intimacy” that first led them to fall in love.
If you’re like many parents and feel your relationship has taken a back seat, don’t fret. Prioritizing time together is something you can begin today and build from as you go. It’s about strengthening your foundation one effort at a time. Here’s how to get started.
How Often Should You Have Date Nights?
For many parents, it’s a big ask to set aside one night a week for dates—we only have so much free time! So what’s the sweet spot? How often should a couple schedule a date to ensure they’re prioritizing their partnership without the event becoming a burden?
“Every two weeks would be ideal,” says Dr. Orbuch, but if that isn’t doable for you right now, she says once a month at a minimum. A recent study by The Marriage Project found that couples who prioritize date nights at least once or twice a month report “greater levels of marriage happiness, stability, and sexual satisfaction than those who don’t.”
How to Make a Night at Home Feel Special
Again, for parents of young children, getting away for a night out can be difficult and expensive, which is why date nights at home are so great for this season of life. The key, though, is to create an environment where whatever it is you’re doing on your “date” is obviously different from what you’d be doing together on a typical night. Essentially, don’t use your date night as an excuse to settle onto the couch and catch up on your TV shows while simultaneously scrolling through social media on your phone.
Some ideas Dr. Orbuch shares include:
- Cook a restaurant-quality dinner at home—just the two of you. Feed the children first and then the two of you do some cooking together. It’s romantic and fun when you actually produce something together for dinner.
- Set up a living room picnic. Lay out a blanket on the ground, use paper plates, have a cooler with drinks nearby, and enjoy a fun dinner as if you were outside. Or, if you have an outdoor space and the weather is nice, have a picnic there. (Just be sure the signal for your baby monitor(s) can be reached.)
- Pick a theme of food, get takeout, dress up nicely, set the table with fancy dishes, and have a “real” dinner together after the kids go to bed.
- Plan an activity date night at home—buy a puzzle and work on it together, make cupcakes and decorate them, buy a paint-by-number kit, make scented candles, etc.
At the beginning of Covid, my husband and I adopted weekly date nights at home (because, where else were we supposed to go?), and we’ve kept up the practice ever since. We often use the date as an opportunity to get takeout from a local restaurant and then follow up our meal with an activity. Some of our favorites include strategic games (we love Azul, Unstable Unicorns, and Ticket to Ride), 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles (which are also great for the occasional quick weeknight activity), easy video games (like Nintendo Switch Sports or Mario Party), or trying a new cocktail recipe under the market lights of our backyard patio.
Tips for Date Night Success
To get the most out of your date night, Dr. Orbuch suggests parents do the following:
- Set expectations. There’s no talking about home tasks or kids on date nights (within reason).
- Plan out activity ideas. Discuss your date interests with your partner ahead of time. Hearing from each other about what the other wants from your special time together confirms and validates the relationship, and the planning aspect can sometimes be just as exciting as the actual date.
- Change things up. Scheduling new activities on date nights is key to reigniting the excitement and passion you felt at the beginning of your relationship. For this strategy to work, the activities you plan should be new and different for both of you.
Additionally, to ensure you’re making time for your dates, Dr. Orbuch recommends getting out your calendars and marking off the days to prevent scheduling conflicts with other commitments. Avoid the trap of trying to just squeeze in dates where you can because as a busy parent, you probably know that there’s rarely room for extra activities in any given week.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what you and your partner do during your date night at home, just as long as it’s something you both enjoy and that allows you to talk and reconnect without being distracted by Cocomelon songs playing in the background while your kids beg for your attention. These dates may not be as fancy and exciting as they once were, but the conversation can be just as amazing. Before you know it, you’ll be holding hands and feeling butterflies in your stomach all over again, and reconnecting over things that made you fall in love in the first place—and isn’t that what it’s really all about?