If you're expecting some hidden gem of sage wisdom on how to magically save your marriage (or preemptively make yourself a better partner for any future adventures in the dating world), this could be that thing - but it might strike you as extremely obvious. Allow yourself to get into it here before you write this concept off as clickbait - because ignoring it is actually the root of that disconnection you may be feeling with your partner or with yourself.
The answer is date nights. If you rolled your eyes, fair enough. Who has time for that luxury anymore? Between getting a decent night's sleep, which is a rarity in most adult-life cases, hobbies (if you have time for those, even), and everything else life throws at you - dates tend to slowly and then rapidly careen down the cliffside that is your weekly schedule, until you crash into Friday and are too tired to move. However, I did some research of couples and non-couples on how date nights improve their relationships, or how the lack thereof contributes to the strain of your average, normal, everyday romantic struggles. So I guess you can call this your awakening to start baking these moments into your life. Just hear me out on this one.
Take Valeria and Gary Lipovetsky. They go on date nights multiple times a week. I'm exaggerating for effect, of course. But if you follow either on social media, they don't take their couple time for granted. They're out in the world having dinner alone, with friends, meeting new people, or attending events. Now, I realize this is the life of a privileged couple with economic stability. They have access to caregivers and therefore, access to dinners out. But that doesn't mean the philosophy behind date-night is any different than if they could only budget take-out once a month. If Valeria and Gary had no means to get a caregiver to take the kids, they would still makeshift a date night, as they assured me, and here's why:
It's about prioritizing the other person. "It's so profound when it happens, that one-on-one time," says a friend from childhood, a young working mom of two children under five, about her and her husband. "We schedule dates ahead of time, and we go on them, regardless if we're pissed at each other in the moment."
Like Valeria and Gary, parents especially need to give themselves time where they can take off the parental hat. As my friend tells me, even if you're having supposed alone time at home and the kids are in a different part of the house, one parent always has to be listening for that hint of danger or moving to block said danger from reaching their child, even if it's just a squabble. That's just instinct, and you can't avoid it.
Another point is that, as humans, it's unhealthy to remain in one setting. Your physiotherapist wouldn't suggest sitting in your office chair all day, and it's the same idea for your brain. We need mental stimulation - and why not have that be date night? Dinners can be unjustifiable in terms of cost these days, so even a scheduled evening walk is a date night. Another person I asked said immediately that they don't want to spend hard earned money on a bi-weekly dinner. So instead, they mix things up. They go bowling, they spend that budget on a babysitter and go see a movie, or they just carve out alone time outside.
"I feel like I don't even truly see my husband until we initiate that one-on-one time across a table or walking next to each other and I can actually look at him. We're so busy, I am constantly thinking about the kids or work, so I physically have to schedule that time to only focus on him, and vice versa. He sees a completely different, non-parenting side of me when we remove ourselves from our everyday routine."
For my friend, who told me this over the phone, this time is essential for her well-being. It's imperative for her to be seen as that non-parenting partner regularly. It benefits her and her marriage. All at once she's reconnecting to her partner and reconnecting with the part of herself that isn't "mom."
As Gary told me when I asked about his and Valeria's date nights, he still considers that he is "dating" Valeria. Just because they're married, doesn't mean she isn't his "girlfriend." I think that's a refreshing approach to partnership. Whatever you call your relationship, just because you're "official" or say, have been married for fifty years, it does not mean you should stop devoting that priority to spending specific time with your partner.
Dianne Grande, a Clinical Psychologist who works with couples and families, wrote in a 2017 article that one excuse couples often give for not bothering to schedule date nights is the disagreement of who is actually going to do that planning and arranging for a babysitter. She stresses it's more about prioritizing your partner over your other obligations, and again, vice versa (Psychology Today). That means taking time to schedule time for that person. If you take the initiative this time around, you partner will see that prioritization and hopefully, take up the reins next time.
If you're reading this and you're not in a relationship - that doesn't excuse you from not devoting time to "date nights." Going on dates with strangers or friends, or taking yourself to a dinner and movie alone, reaps the same benefits as it would if you had a partner on your arm. Dating lets you have fun, and not to mention, shop around for what you do (and even more importantly do not) want in a future date night partner. Plus, going out solo is granting yourself time to leave the house, focus on only doing something fun, and take a break from the routine.
An article from Bustle in 2018 listed popular ways people were taking themselves on dates, which includes spending time in nature, meditating, trying a new class, and going to a concert or sporting event (Bustle). If that sounds awkward, you'll be among fellow fans and in a lively environment, so it's an easy way to "break the ice" so to speak, on that first solo date. In that same article, writer, speaker, and founder of lifestyle brand LetGoForIt.com Jill Sherer Murray, says that going on solo dates as often as possible is really important, as it's part of the ritual of cultivating "‘Radical Self-Love’ (RSL) — which takes the take-care-of-yourself kind of generic self-love to a deeper, more grounded place by adding intention," (Bustle).
So whatever your love life situation, there is no doubt that carving out that devoted time will benefit it immensely by allowing you to reconnect, and have that one-on-one time with your partner or with yourself. Whether it's self-growth or growth in your partnership with another, it's past time to schedule a date night.