Date Night Ideas For Every Couple
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By Natasha Burton
While some couples might have time to reconnect over an unhurried, interruption-free candlelit dinner, we haven't met many of them. Whether it's a new baby or a new episode of Modern Family, there's always something to derail date night plans. (And usually, the bigger that something is, the more you both could use a break from it.) Here are 10 date scenarios you might experience (or need!) at some point in your life, along with expert advice on how to make the "date" part of them actually happen.
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According to Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., author of Marriage Rules, identifying a technology addiction is the easy part, but actually getting yourself—and your partner—off the couch? Not so much. If your partner resists, then Lerner suggests striking out solo on a Saturday night with some friends. "Try this experiment every weekend for one month" she says. "If you do this without pressuring or distancing from your partner, you'll see change." When your partner is game for turning off the tube, entertain others in your home with a small dinner party, suggests Isadora Alman, MFT.
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New York City psychologist Joseph Cilona, Ph.D., suggests a "two-birds-with-one-stone" date so you can both connect and relax. He stresses the necessity of choosing the activity together, so one person doesn't have to compromise. "If it doesn't make you both feel less tense, more rested or otherwise better, take it off the list and find something else," he says. Lerner adds that most couples "get caught in a time famine" and need to restore their connection daily. "Agree to a 10–15-minutes-of-conversation-a-day rule," she says. "Set a timer if you'd like. No nagging, no talking about kids."
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Your date nights need to be scheduled, prioritized and baby-free, says Cilona, because the chance to be "impromptu and spur-of-the-moment is about as likely as that unicorn spinning above the baby's crib coming to life." He notes that keeping connected is essential for being good parents. Lerner agrees, urging couples to jump into a date night routine as soon as possible. "Push yourself to go to a restaurant, a real movie theater—whatever you enjoyed before you became parents," she says. "Don't worry if you have a ho-hum time or end up fighting about the cost of the meal. That's normal."
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Kick off your new chapter together with romance, suggests Altman. "Try a grand gesture like a soft blanket, a bottle of wine and some hors d'oeuvres in front of the fire, or a spontaneous getaway weekend that's planned and packed for by one, for both of you. This says, It's just the two of us again and won't that be fun?" she says. Family therapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., adds that with the kids gone, couples often realize how much they've each changed over the years. He suggests making dates that have a common goal—like taking a class together or trying a new sport—to revive your bond.
What to Do6 of 11
Anniversaries tend to be ripe with pressure, says Hokemeyer, especially on men, who are often expected pull out all the stops year after year. He suggests relieving the pressure by taking turns. "Agree that in the odd years of marriage, the husband will be responsible for making plans and that in the even years, the wife gets to set the tone," he says. "This way, everyone eventually gets what he or she wants." Lerner adds that when it comes to the actual date, use your judgment. "No matter how dense you pretend to be, you know what warms your partner's heart better than any expert," she says.
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"You can't make intimacy happen, so don't pressure yourself or your partner to suddenly be the romantic partners you once were," says Lerner. "If you want more sparks, begin by framing what you now have in a positive light." Hokemeyer suggests doing this by jumping right in. "Forget the wine and roses—go directly to sex. Set a time, date and place where you will get undressed, get into bed (or any other suitable location) and get busy," he says. "Don't worry about making it perfect or memorable. The goal is to clear out the ashes and get the fire burning."
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OK, so you messed up and need to make amends—fast. "Listening without defensiveness is the most precious 'date' we can give our partner," says Lerner. She suggests cooking a nice dinner and allowing your partner the chance to share her feelings. "Ask questions and stay deeply curious about her experience of feeling angry or hurt," she says. "Decide in advance that you won't interrupt, defend yourself, correct her exaggerations or distortions, or bring up any issue of your own." There's no substitute for "a true apology where you take full responsibility for your behavior," she says.
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When the stress of planning your nuptials takes its toll, step away and get back in touch with your sense of humor, says Cilona. "Wedding planning can be like a second job, one that doesn't pay well and has a lot of pressure. If you were really working two jobs, you'd need a vacation," he says. "Create a certain number of 'sick-of-it' days, so each member of the couple has the freedom to get a break when they need one without creating undue guilt, stress or burden on the other. Sick days should always be taken together, and whoever is using one of theirs gets to decide how it will be spent."
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Think outside the box by hitting up an art fair or book reading, says Lee Block, founder of Post-Divorce Dating Club. With a stimulating activity and environment, you can alleviate the feelings of awkwardness or nervousness that come with being out with someone new, she says, and "you don't have to fill up the date with mindless conversation—going through the Rolodex of what to say during the silences while sitting at coffee—because you are occupied with a painting, a reading or people-watching." Plus if the date's a bust, then at least you got out of the house and did something fun.
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Setting the tone for this date is key, says Hokemeyer. "This situation requires flat-out directness," he says. While he believes that "the best time and place to do this is over a romantic dinner," he notes that going for a walk in the park would work well too. Because keeping nerves at bay is important, Altman suggests doing something that will distract you and keep the adrenaline flowing, like hiking, skating or visiting an amusement park. "Have a hot cup of cocoa or a cocktail afterward. When you catch your breath, it's a good time to have a relationship talk," she says.
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