Ah, date night. It either makes your heart flutter with romantic thoughts or makes you roll your eyes. I’ll say it right away: date night won’t save your relationship if it’s in need of saving. But, date night can help your relationship no matter what state it is in. Date night can accomplish a lot of really great stuff in a super short amount of time, which is why it gets recommended so often. It’s that utility that unfortunately has made some people think the idea is overly simplistic and won’t actually end up mattering, but it does (!!!) and here are some benefits you and your partner could see from starting up a new routine.
First, it creates opportunities for positive interaction. Dr John Gottman (et al) studied thousands of couples of different ages, backgrounds, and life circumstances, and no matter what was going on in their marriage, the research showed that if a couple had five positive interactions for every one negative interaction they were able to reconnect quickly and minor issues did not rise to become major issues. Couples with that (nearly) magical 5:1 ratio also did much better in working through major issues while remaining positively connected. Intuitively this makes sense, if you have way more positive interactions you’ll be more gracious and react less when mishaps pop up. Research also shows that our brains process negative emotions more intensely than positive, so unfortunately we give more weight to the bad stuff than the good stuff, which also fits for that 5:1 that Gottman found in his research. Giving your relationship time and space structured around a feel-good activity is a way to hit that ratio more regularly.
Another perk of date nights is that it makes your relationship a priority. Live intentionally is my favorite mantra, so anywhere in your life that you can set some positive, healthy intention and follow through is a huge win. Making date night a priority communicates to your partner that you think they are important, and that you think the relationship is important. Actions speak louder than words in long-term relationships, and for those of you who struggle putting your emotions into words, this is a great way to communicate your love through action. Getting a baby-sitter, leaving work on time, or making reservations are all actions that show you care about your partner. Additionally, setting a plan and then executing that plan makes your brain happy. You get a little dose of feel-good drugs (the good, natural kind) when your brain expects something and then that expectation comes true. Crossing an item off your mental list also gives you a little boost of those happiness drugs in your brain, so all these physiological responses in your brain help you feel positive about your relationship.
Third, it helps keep the spark alive. Oof, even I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at that wording. But seriously, I have so many couples in my office who think they “fell out of love” or want to “go back to how it used to feel” when they first met. Spoiler: you didn’t fall out of love, life happened. When you were dating you just prioritized your relationship nonstop. You stopped seeing your friends, you went on all these cool dates, you stayed up talking on the phone until 2 am, you did all sorts of unsustainable things to prioritize spending time with your partner because your brain demanded it. Falling in love is just a bunch of pheromones and hormones making your brain go temporarily crazy because it feels so great spending time with this new, wonderful person. They’re still that same wonderful person, they just don’t seem new, so your brain doesn’t go crazy over them in the same way. You don’t fall out of love, you just get used to your partner, then you have kids or you move or change jobs or lose parents or whatever normal life occurrence takes your attention away from your relationship and your brain doesn’t maintain that natural, biological high related to your partner. We can get those happy chemicals back, not to the same intensity, but we can go for a more consistent and sustainable effect which is what healthy long-term couples find. Date night, and the fun/recreational/feel-good activities release those same hormones and pheromones that your brain was drowning in when you first started dating. And having date night be a consistent thing helps because your brain looks forward to getting those feel good chemicals, so just the simple act of planning a date that you’re looking forward to has a positive effect on your relationship.
So, plan a date night. Plan two a month. Or sign-up for an activity that gets you spending time together on a weekly basis. Be intentional about setting time to be happy with your partner, and your relationship will be better because of it.