It’s no secret that marriage takes work. In my years as a sex and relationship therapist, I’ve found that most couples are ready and willing to do so. They care about each other, respect each other, and yearn to maintain and improve the unique connection that led them to marriage in the first place.
The truth is that many couples don’t know how to put in the work, and this isn’t always their fault. There are hundreds of marriage guides, but none is a one-size-fits-all playbook for the perfect relationship. Each couple has individual needs, and those needs change after children in ways we can’t anticipate.
However, the one thing that every couple has in common is the need for special time alone together - AKA the date night.
“Date night” is a bit of a loaded term. For some of us, it means another boring dinner with a stale conversation and the expectation of sex. For others, it means an exciting chance to spend more time with the love of their lives. I’m not here to tell you how to have the perfect date night - that’s been done before in more ways than I can count - I’m here to convince you that they’re important even if they suck. A healthy relationship depends on a mother’s satisfaction (and her partner’s), and date nights give you the chance to do things that satisfy you.
A date night allows you to take your brain out of mommy mode and relax for a night, even if you find yourself too burnt out to be excited about it. It lets you reconnect with your partner, check in with each other, and sets aside time for sex which has been proven to increase marital happiness. This never means that you have to have sex, but you need to have opportunities to do so.
Date nights also let you identify areas of your marriage that need work - especially if they’re lame. If it’s hard to talk with your partner, then you know you both need to focus on relating to each other. If you’re tired, that means you need to find ways to take time off before you burn out. If the sex is subpar, or you don’t want to do it at all, then you know that sexuality is an area of your marriage that needs work.
Date nights can even help during reconciliation; an evening together after a fight is an invitation to share your true feelings and make amends. It’s a chance for your partner to woo you if they’ve screwed up or a chance for you to make things right if you’ve hurt them.
Even at home, date nights don’t have to be boring. If you have a bad date night, you should talk with your partner about it at the moment or at an appropriate time afterward. Make note of what went wrong, come up with an idea to change it, and ask your partner to do the same.
But how is a mom supposed to find time for a date night? With children, there’s no end to the messes, chores, and pop-up emergencies that stop you from catching your breath. Still, just because a mother’s work is never done doesn’t mean she’s always got to be working.
When my clients feel too overwhelmed for a date night, we usually analyze the situation and come up with a solution that works for them (since every mom is different). That said, there are a few winners that seem to work for most.
Finding a sitter is the obvious solution, but it can be costly or stressful if you don’t already have one you like. Plus, if you want to have an at-home date night, it’s harder to find somewhere for your kids that’s safe and enjoyable for them. Not all of us have family and friends we trust, but if you do, you should absolutely not be afraid to ask them for help every now and then.
If family is out of the question, try and meet the parents of your children’s friends. One of my favourite ideas is the “date swap.” Set up two dates - one for you and your partner and the other for the parents of your child’s friend. Agree to have their kids over for their date night, and vice versa. Not only are you freeing yourself up for a date night, but you’re helping another mom do the same.
When childcare isn’t the problem, most of my clients say they simply don’t have time on top of housework, work, or other obligations. Dating on the weekend can help with the work problem, but household chores get a little more complicated.
One of the most clever ideas I’ve heard for this came from one of my clients. She’d planned a date with her husband but found herself swamped with an unexpected mess involving her toddler, her puppy, and a few pantry items she thought were out of their reach. Determined to keep her date, she grabbed her husband, set a timer for an hour, and they both knocked out as much cleaning as they could before they left.
This was brilliant of her on a few levels. First, she set a block of time aside for work and nothing else. This let her and her partner focus on it with intention and gave them a sense of accomplishment afterward. Second, the date felt like a reward; they were both working to make it possible and looking forward to it while working. Third - and most importantly - she got her partner to share the work with her.
Did she finish it all? No, and that’s okay. The work will still be there when we get back, but the moments we have with our partner won’t always be. Sometimes all we can do is take a deep breath and recognize that taking time off is just as important as time on.
Ultimately, date nights don’t exist to fix problems or provide the perfect getaway, but they do provide a getaway. They’re an ongoing experience that you and your partner can use to take a break from the kids and work, identify issues in your relationship, tell each other what’s going on in your lives, and make time for things you can’t do regularly.