Date night. That weekly appointment you have with your spouse as a means of keeping things fresh. You go out to dinner, you go see a movie and you find just enough energy to get out of the house for a couple of hours.

Admittedly, looking at an outing with your spouse as an obligation hardly makes it a romantic endeavour. And for some people, getting married meant the end of dating – the end of going out and paying too much for a meal you can make yourself; the end of navigating sticky movie theatre floors and trying not to yell at the person kicking your seat; the end of getting dolled up for someone who now knows the truth of your yoga pants collection.

But dating your spouse shouldn’t be something you do because you have to. It shouldn’t be an appointment you have to keep like a dental check-up. Once you get past all the excuses and reasons why it’s not feasible, date nights are proven to be good for your health, an opportunity to find joy in time shared with one another and a chance to get creative and step outside the dinner-and-a-movie box.

The things that get in the way

Despite its many benefits, it can be difficult to find the energy to prioritize a date night if you’re both working, raising kids, renovating a house and surviving on the go-go-go mentality that leaves you on constant overload. But it’s because of all those little things that married couples need to set aside intentional time with one another. And, as Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley note in their book Take the Date Night Challenge, being intentional starts with a change of the heart.

For Mark* and Susan*, those little realities of life put date nights at the bottom of their list of priorities. They both worked, starting their days at 5 a.m. Their precious two-year-old daughter demanded their attention. Their house had its own list of demands. And their finances could be used more effectively elsewhere. All in all, the closest they got to a date night was watching an episode of The Office before heading to bed while the sun was still up.

Of course they had their fun family outings on Saturdays to the pool and their Sunday mornings were filled with blueberry pancakes and church fellowship, but time spent with just the two of them was always interrupted by something else. As their daughter got older and found her voice, even conversations in the car were nearly impossible without her putting in her two-cents every two seconds. And when she moved from crib to bed, their movies were interrupted by sneaky footsteps in the hall coming to join them on the couch.

Before they knew it, they had accepted the shift from married life to family life without much thought, something that the Smalleys say is a common mistake for couples. In their book, they explain that "through it all, you still retain the titles you were given by the pastor when you were first married: husband and wife! You have added additional titles and roles as the years have passed, but you still are, and always will remain, husband and wife."

Dating is good for your health

The moment Mark and Susan realized they had to get serious about spending time with just one another was at a regular doctor’s appointment. Susan had gone in for a routine check on her hormone levels. The doctor had noticed an imbalance and immediately knew the culprit: stress.

It was doctor’s orders, then, that Mark and Susan were to get a babysitter and set aside part of their budget and time each week to go on a date.

A study completed by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project notes that "date nights may help couples by providing them with a buffer or escape from the stresses that confront them or time to engage in collaborative coping that can reduce those stresses." Intentional time with one another also gives spouses the opportunity "to extend emotional support to one another in times of trial."

In addition to de-stressing, the University of Virginia details four other benefits of dating your spouse: communication, novelty, romantic love or eros, and commitment. The study also points out the common sense of how dating your spouse is beneficial, noting that it’d be "absurd to assume that two partners who intentionally set out to increase positive couple time together would typically not benefit from such time with increases in connection and happiness."

When you’re intentional about your time together as husband and wife, the Smalleys write, it can positively affect how you deal with the health of your marriage as a whole.

Getting creative

While it’s great to go out and spend time with one another, the Smalleys warn that doing the same old thing isn’t enough. "You need to make a concerted effort to introduce new and exciting activities into your dating repertoire. All it takes is a bit of novelty and creativity to add that little ‘spark’ that may be missing from a relationship that has begun to feel routine and mundane."

After a while, Mark and Susan had found they had slipped back into their couch-bound routine. The logistics of going out at 7 p.m. on a weekend was never an easy feat since the traditional date night timeline didn’t match up with their daughter’s dinner and bedtime routine. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

One Friday afternoon, after both of them got off work early, they realized they didn’t have to wait until the evening to go out. Their daughter was in daycare until 5 p.m. and they had an afternoon free for just the two of them – so they went out for a meal at their favourite restaurant. Since it was mid-afternoon, they got served in record time, they had almost the entire place to themselves and they weren’t rushing to get home or worrying about how much trouble she was causing the babysitter trying to put her to sleep. It was an impromptu date opportunity that opened up because they had the foresight to make it happen.

Dates don’t need to be what they were when you first started going out. They can be whatever you want them to be, provided husband and wife are intentional with one another. The Smalleys recommend not using the time together as a business meeting, discussing to-do lists and responsibilities, but rather using it as a time to find out more about your ever-changing spouse, to reminisce on old times, to enjoy new ones and to find activities that both husband and wife can enjoy. So if that means dropping off the kids at their grandparents’ and going on a hike or taking the time to roam Costco aisles without little fingers grabbing at the samples, be intentional and have fun.

After all, it’s less about what you do than how you do it. The Smalleys remind couples that it doesn’t matter what the date entails, but you should "always act as if you’re trying to get a second date!" Adding, "Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and woo our spouses . . . So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment each other. Be affectionate, hold hands, cuddle, and steal kisses."

If you’d like more ideas on how to get the most out of your date nights, check out Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley’s book Take the Date Night Challenge: 52 Creative Ideas to Make Your Marriage Fun, take a look at our list of great date ideas or find out how to get your church involved in the Date Night Challenge.

*Names changed to protect privacy

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

Amy Van Veen is editorial manager at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2014 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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