“Date night is so important,” they say. It’s scrawled in the advice column in most wedding guest books and cards by well-meaning couple friends and parents alike.
But, if you’re anything like my husband and me, we’ll broach the subject from time to time, make eye contact, and then burst into laughter.
It’s not that the idea itself is amusing, it’s actually really important and necessary for a thriving relationship. But sometimes it sounds so ideological—impossible, really—when you’re parents of young children.
Typical follow up questions: “Have you seen our house? Who has time to get dressed up when we’re buried in diapers, dishes, laundry and toys? Why would anyone want to watch these kids? Should we choose to go on a date, or get the oil changed?”
Studies, such as this one by the National Marriage Project, have pretty charts and graphs confirming that date nights improve happiness levels, commitment, communication and parenthood stability which all lead to happier, stronger marriages.
Our pre-marriage classes, structured around a line of established, happy couples singing the virtues of “keeping it alive with the little things,” hammered the idea home.
It’s important. It’s great.
But it’s also hard. If it’s not a shortage of time and energy, it’s lack of budget to hire a babysitter or even vet a trustworthy babysitter.
If you find yourself agreeing to all of this—I hear you. We’ve been there. We ARE there. With three kids, five and under, we get it.
But what we’ve learned is this: don’t wait until you can plan the perfect date or book a babysitter because, if we’re being honest, a year could go by without all these little stars aligning.
Don’t put off dating your spouse until kids are out of college. We should never push off to the future what is important today.
Studies and anecdotal evidence alike tell us that caring for our marriage is way up there on the list of priorities—if it is a happy, lasting marriage that we seek.
Don’t wait until you can plan the perfect date or book a babysitter because, if we’re being honest, a year could go by without all these little stars aligning.
In their Marriage Minute newsletter, The Gottman Institute stated that, “small things often can create big changes over time,” and dedicating a little time to date your spouse can create great and wonderful changes and habits over time.
My husband and I have decided to try to take these words to heart. But for us, it doesn’t always mean (it can’t always mean) hiring a babysitter and going out for dinner. Because when you’re raising little ones, sometimes you have to get creative.
A few weeks ago, in a spur of spontaneity, we packed everyone in the car and went to explore the tide pool about 10 minutes from home, to take in the sights with the kids at sunset. It was refreshing and reviving. And it was simple enough that we actually did it.
We are challenging ourselves to do more of these “everyday” dates and want to invite you to join in. We are firm believers that it can be super simple and take place anywhere, pretty much doing anything, even WITH the kids in tow… as long as it’s intentional. That’s the kicker.
It’s being mindful that can make or break a date, whether it’s something simple like an hour exploring the tide pools, or a fancy resort dinner. Because the bottom line is, if you’re not there, with your mind and heart turned towards and focused on your spouse, is it really a date?
Taken from this article about the study, we want to highlight the five elements that make up a successful date — whether you’ve got the kids along or not.
Five Components of a Successful Spouse Date Night:
It may sound cliche, but this is so important! Often, poor communication, what and how, can lead to misunderstandings, mismanaged expectations, disappointments and hurt feelings which can cause unnecessary arguments and uncomfortable tension.
Many times in the busyness of our daily lives we don’t get the chance for the heart-to-hearts about deep things that matter, without being interrupted— to be vulnerable together. Dates should ideally allow time for discussion, sharing, opening up, learning, understanding and growing together.
For example, we find that when we take drives and go out into the beauty of nature, the car ride seems to wake us to ideas we don’t get to on a daily basis while naturally lulling our kids to sleep.
We can reflect, dream, and connect. We’ve found that in a pinch, kids will be happy in the back seat, listening to an audiobook or music, and we can have some wonderful conversations as if in a whole other world together.
Trying something new or exploring someplace new together can help spark interest and breathe life into the ordinary routines that usually help keep us on track. Planning ahead of time can create weeks of eager anticipation, and good, new mutual experiences become cherished memories.
For us, the spontaneity of getting in the car to go see the sunset when we normally would have been cleaning up the kitchen and getting the kids ready for bed, is novel enough for now to make for a fond memory.
Having some physical connection can help rekindle those “sparks” of romantic love which can easily hide behind the comfortable practical love we get used to everyday. We find that something as simple as the “6 second kiss” (another gold nugget advice from Marriage Minute) and holding hands helps us remember we’re on a date even if we’re out with our littles.
By putting in the effort and time to date our spouses, even if it means we need to get really creative, we show commitment and dedication to our relationships. Spouses who make this kind of commitment, “specifically, partners who put one another first, […] who cultivate a strong sense of “we-ness” or togetherness are markedly happier than are less-committed couples” (National Marriage Project).
Whatever you decide to do, it should bring more joy than stress. So avoid stress inducers like traffic, crowds, certain conversation topics, and meltdown situations. This is where a little foresight, prudence, and preparation can go a long way.
Know when the best time is to get out with your kids is when they are fed and rested. Pack some drinks and snacks and choose places that are somewhat contained or safe for the kiddos so you aren’t running after them the whole time.
Letting go and finding joy and humor in the little things also helps!
Lastly, here are six simple and affordable date ideas you can do with (OR without) little ones tagging along:
1 Take a walk together—on a trail, near a lake, or by the beach. Pro tip for beach-goers: go at low tide for the extra space, safer surf, and ocean treasures revealed (check your local tide levels first. Check out Fishing Points, My Tide Times).
2 Sunset or sunrise drive along a scenic route. Avoid traffic areas.
3 Order in, or splurge on something special to cook together after the kids are in bed. Work together to tire out the kids and shuffle them to bed early.
Enjoying a hot delicious meal together on the patio with some music (where both of you get to sit down at the same time) can be quite nice. Make it special by treating yourselves to a nice bottle of wine and dessert so it’s not just a “late dinner”.
4 Do a dreaming date. Grab a drink or snack and spend time researching and write down on a piece of paper or popsicle stick all the cool local places and sites you want to discover, things to do, and put it in to a jar. Then commit to pulling one out and making it happen every week.
5 Visit botanical gardens, museums on slow days, or go on a scenic hike.
6 If you’re interested, learn about each other’s personalities by taking time to do a Myer-Briggs personality test—and share the results! Or discover each other’s enneagram numbers!
Besides this, learning each other’s love languages will benefit your relationship so much in knowing how to best show love to your spouse and also to appreciate and recognize your spouse’s acts of love towards you.
Dating your spouse doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. But it does have to be intentional. Whatever it is, make it fun, relaxing, and unitive; but don’t wait until the time seems perfect and the kids are easy. It will make the biggest difference if you start now!