Research by the Gottman Institute shows that many marriages end due to loss of intimacy and connection (especially 10 to 12 years in to the marriage). Regular date nights are one of the best ways to help prevent the “silent drift apart” over time.
National Marriage Project (2012) findings suggest that couples who devote time specifically to one another at least once a week are more likely to have high-quality relationships and less likely to divorce. Couples who spend more time together also report higher levels of communication, sexual satisfaction, and commitment (Wilcox & Dew, 2012). A recent survey conducted by OnePoll.com (2014) also found that going on 3 date nights per month was linked to being happily married.
However, many people do not make spending one-on-one time together a priority. One magazine survey found that a mere 12% of women in relationships have regular date nights with their significant other.Rusian117/DepositPhotos
The National Marriage Project (2012) summarizes the 5 active ingredients of date night as:
1. Communication – Date nights remove distractions so couples can discuss the things that are important to them, foster intimacy, and “build a sense of communion” (Wilcox & Dew, 2012).
- While it’s sometimes necessary to discuss things like what to do for a daughter’s birthday party or who will repaint the bathroom, discussing more emotional topics on dates is also important.
- The Gottman Love Maps App is one tool to deepen communication beyond “We need to fix the water heater” and “should we get rid of cable?”
2. Novelty – Date nights are a way to participate in fun, active, exciting, or unusual experiences that nurture interests and minimize the natural trend toward taking each other for granted (Wilcox & Dew, 2012).
- Go new places – Go to new places such as the batting cages, high school football games, country line dancing, hiking, or to plays.
- Choose activities that are “satisfying, stress – free, and increase closeness,” as research suggests these predict greater relationship quality.
- Don’t drag each other along on the things you like to do – find things you like to do together, because research indicates that relationship quality is best sustained when partners both want to share the activity.
- Ask new questions – There has been ample research on how discussing these specific 36 questions can lead to greater intimacy.
- Feeling really creative? Try Dr. Epstein’s love-building exercises, like this one. “Mind-Reading Game: Write down a thought that you want to convey to your partner. Then spend a few minutes wordlessly trying to broadcast that thought to him or her, as he or she tries to guess what it is. If he or she cannot guess, reveal what you were thinking. Then switch roles.”
3. Eros, or romantic love – Date nights can be one means of engaging in romantic activities together, rekindling “spark,” and fostering intimate and sexual connection (Wilcox & Dew, 2012).
- Being playful, having fun, and joking around on a date can strengthen your attraction. Social psychologists note that the two types of flirting—described as “flirting for fun” where one makes “playful romantic overtures” or “flirting with intent,” as part of the courtship/relationship process—is an important factor in retaining relationships.
- Chick, Yarnal, and Purrington (2012) found that playfulness, a sense of humor, and being fun-loving were extremely attractive traits in both men and women. “Playfulness” ranked far above other traits such as “good earning capacity” and “attractive.”
- Stan Tatkin, author of Wired for Love, argues that “the installation of happy memories” is important. By “actively creating playful, happy, and bonding moments with each other” you “mutually amplify positive states” and create a pleasurable surge in dopamine, a feel-good chemical in the brain.
4. Commitment – Date nights show you “put each other first,” and remain dedicated to a sense of togetherness (Wilcox & Dew, 2012).
- Research suggests that true commitment means “doing what it takes to make the relationship thrive,” “even when it’s not going well for you” or you are “not getting your way” in certain areas.
- One way to build a sense of commitment is by exchanging phrases such as “I couldn’t imagine a world without you in it.”
- You also show commitment by planning, not cancelling, being on time, and being fully present during the date night.
5. A Chance to De-Stress – Stress corrodes relationships. Taking time apart from life together can relieve symptoms of burnout and can re-energize couples (Wilcox & Dew, 2012).
- Thomas Bradbury, a researcher who has studied the effects of stress on couples, suggests that couples build a virtual “firewall” around the good things they have in their relationship (like date nights) and refuse to let them be affected by stress. He also says couples should become aware of the ways their partners experience and exhibit stress so they better understand when they are affected by it. Date night is a perfect time to step back and evaluate how you and your partner are being affected by stress.
- Engaging in lighthearted activities together may also provide a stress release, which can free you up to offer more support to each other.
Beyond improving your relationship, date nights often bring about more personal and couple joy. Joy is the whole point of relationships, and date nights are one of the most powerful tools to indulge in shared good times.
Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, author of the forthcoming book The Joy Fix for Weary Parents: Tools to Help You Reduce Fatigue, Stress, and Guilt and Build a Life you Love, is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, read her blog at www.parenthappy.org, or sign up for email updates at www.erinleyba.com