It’s an unfortunate, incorrect myth that parents seem to accept too often: the romance in our relationship cools off and takes a back seat once there are children on the scene. This is a very meaningful topic, and I don’t profess to have it all figured out or know all the answers, but I have learned from experience that establishing a regular date night with my wife can help our romantic relationship continue to grow stronger, even after becoming parents.
These five tips have helped us make date night a meaningful experience that helps us grow closer as a couple. Some of the tips apply to the date itself, while others are important leading up to date night.
1. Get a Babysitter
My wife and I have a goal to go out on a date once a week. While we don’t always succeed, we have learned that to truly have a meaningful date, we need to get a babysitter.
We love our two boys. We love having them around. We love planning meaningful activities to do with them and to do together as a family. But trial and error has shown me that one of those family activities should not be date night. When we have brought the boys along on a date because we didn’t manage to set something up with a babysitter or to save money, I’ve noticed that my wife and I don’t have the same meaningful opportunity to spend time together. Duh, right? Seems pretty obvious, but it took experiencing it for myself to understand the importance of spending date night together without the kids.
So if you want date night to be meaningful in nurturing your relationship, get a babysitter.
2. Serve Each Other
Serving each other throughout the week is important to lead up to a meaningful date night.
I remember a lesson from high school where love was defined as putting someone else’s needs before your own. Obviously the definition has stuck with me, and I feel like it’s probably pretty accurate. I don’t know if there’s a better way to show someone that you’re putting them first than to find ways to serve them.
My experience is that serving a spouse can be more difficult once you have children. You both get so caught up serving your children that you sometimes look track of things you can do for one another. Sometimes the most meaningful thing you can do for each other is to lighten the load of the children for a bit. I know one couple in New York where the working spouse was always sensitive to the need for the other spouse, who stayed at home with their kids, to get out and get some fresh air at the end of the work day.
But even third-party service with an indirect benefit doesn’t replace the big, and maybe more importantly the little, things that you can do directly for one another. Sometimes those can arise spontaneously, but more often than not you need to be purposeful in searching them out.
I’m confident though that if you haven’t been putting one another first throughout the week, date night won’t have the same significance.
3. Hold Hands
Showing love and care throughout the week is important to enjoying time together on date night. Physical touch is a natural and powerful way to connect with others. A simple touch releases oxytocin, aka “the love hormone.” Some experts recommend up to 3 hours of hand holding and other non-intimate physical touch a day. We can’t claim to reach that threshold, but as with service, the compassion and love physical touch communicates needs to be shared throughout the week if you want date night to be a success.
4. Make a Plan
To be meaningful, date night requires planning. Sure, come date night, you could just leave the kids with the babysitter and see where the road takes you, but if you’ll give the night a bit more advanced planning, you’ll also feel that you get more benefit out of it. For one, if you’ve made a plan, you’ll have something concrete you’re looking forward to, which will help the anticipation and excitement build. And for two, you’ll find you’re sharing more experiences of substance than you would if you always just “see what happens.” You’ll also find date night is easier to cancel without a plan or commitment.
Keep in mind that a plan doesn’t mean expensive or elaborate. Also, planning for date night doesn’t always have to be the task of one or the other. Generally, my wife and I try to take turns deciding who gets to plan the upcoming date night.
5. Get Ready
I remember when getting ready for a date was a big deal: fresh shower, fresh clothes, fresh breath, clean car. These days, at least for my wife and me, date night seems like less of that. Instead, it seems more like hurry home, hurry and feed the kids, hurry and get them in pajamas, then hurry out the door once the baby sitter has arrived. No special attire. No freshening up. No fresh cologne or perfume. No clean car. It’s something we’ve recently noticed and are trying to change.
Also, as a helpful tip to fellow husbands and fathers: I once was in a meeting with an expert in clothing design. At the end of the meeting he offered a grooming tip for men: to be more attractive, focus more time on the cut of your hair and the cleanliness of your shoes. The comment has really stayed with me, and I believe it’s worthwhile advice. In my personal experience, my wife is quite careful to make sure her own hair and her own shoes look good, so it makes sense to me that she would find it attractive when I do the same.