FEATURE — Can you remember the first date you went on with your spouse? Where did you go? What did you do? As you consider your courtship, can you recall the anticipation you felt looking forward to the next time you would be together?
Do you remember the energy you spent planning the details of your dates? Can you recollect the thoughtfulness you demonstrated as you tried to win your spouse’s heart? As these memories are flooding back, filling you with happiness and fondness, do you also find it ironic that many couples stop dating after they are married?
Most couples intuitively know that if they want to strengthen their relationship with their spouse, spending quality time nurturing that relationship is critically important. But is dating your spouse after marriage just another good idea, or is there empirical evidence to support this practice?
Every year, the National Marriage Project presents data regarding different aspects of marriage, and in 2012, they wrote about the significance of date night. Drawing from a nationally representative data set, the researchers reported that couples who continued dating after marriage were 3 1/2 times more likely to report being very happy in their marriage.
That statistic was true for both men and women. They also reported that these couples had better communication, were more committed, reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction and were twice as likely to stay married.
So, spending regular, quality time is an empirically based practice to sustain a happy marriage, but what are the logistics of date nights? I would suggest three things:
Make it a priority
I once heard a quote that has always stayed with me: “We will find the time to do the things that are important to us.” If we cherish our relationship, we will make sacrifices to nurture it. Put the date night on the calendar, and don’t let anything interfere with it.
I know it’s sometimes difficult to leave the children, but I think you will be a better parent having strengthened your marital relationship. My suggestion is to spend at least a few hours once a week on a date with your spouse.
Take turns planning date night
In my experience working with couples, it is not uncommon for spouses to have differing interests. One likes athletics; the other likes art. One likes movies; the other likes museums. I recommend having couples take turns planning the date, and I encourage spouses not to complain or be critical if their spouse plans something they don’t particularly enjoy.
For example, I may plan to go skeet shooting one week, and although it’s not my wife’s favorite activity, she willingly goes with me. The next week, I might find myself watching a chick flick, which is not my favorite activity, but that’s OK because I am with the love of my life. Remember that the date night activity is a means to an end, and the end goal is to facilitate a deeper relationship.
Do novel things together
Neuroscientists have discovered that when couples engage in new and fun activities together, dopamine and norepinephrine are released, which creates pleasure and excitement. Sometimes couples get stuck in a rut with their dating practices. I would suggest that couples choose novel experiences to try together that could range from trying a new sport to trying a new restaurant. Create fresh memories doing novel things together as a couple.
This is a beautiful time of year to live in southern Utah, and there are so many options for date nights! I invite you to make date night a priority. Take turns planning it, and make it novel. Happy dating!
Written by CHAD OLSON, licensed marriage and family therapist and co-owner of Integrated Counseling and Wellness.
This article was first published in the March/April 2021 issue of St. George Health and Wellness magazine.
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