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Challenge: Romance After Kids

Why Date Nights Matter When You’re Married

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Date night is a ritual that’s become an institution in the Briggs household. It was established years before my wife Rhonda and I became parents, consistently observed before we married and eagerly anticipated when we were dating.

When I tell people that every other Thursday is reserved for date night with my partner-in-crime, I sometimes get a look of amazement. It’s as if once you say “I do,” date nights instantly become “We don’t,” and occur with the frequency of a Big Foot sighting, a coast-to-coast total eclipse, or a Cubs World Series championship.

But ever since we married in 2009, Rhonda and I have made time to date. My mind flashes back to Halloween 2015 when we observed date night by dancing the night away at a wickedly delightful fundraiser in Chicago known as the Big Orange Ball.

That year, we saved the date with our babysitter and stopped at Party City to buy the ingredients for our costumes: a tiara, a Day of the Dead hand fan, a cape, and a top hat.Rhonda got all dolled up as a flamenco dancer; I transformed into a ghoulishly undead gentleman. It was one of the few occasions where it took me longer to get ready than Rhonda because of my makeup, not hers. (It’s hard to look undead.)

After ten years of date nights here are three reasons why date nights rule:

1 | Date nights help solve the puzzle of dinner

Sometimes it feels like the purpose of marriage is to have someone in your life committed to helping you answer (’til death do you part) the most challenging question of our time: “What’s for dinner?”

Somehow we aren’t terribly indecisive about breakfast or lunch, but when it comes to dinner, we need IBM’s Watson to calculate the possibilities.

I thought I was alone in the struggle until I heard about a recipe book by Zach Golden titled “What the F*@# Should I Make For Dinner?” which seeks to be “your go-to guide to save you from headache, hunger, and your own wishy-washy self.” On date nights, this problem is easy to solve for. Thank you, Restaurants of America.

2 | Date nights carve out quality time

Like most families with a young child (or children), our day-to-day schedules are hectic. Weekdays start at 4:30 a.m. in the Briggs family and are filled with daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, long commutes, deadlines at work, and calendars filled with meetings. In between the hustle and flow, Rhonda and I catch up and connect, but date nights allow us to shut out the demands and distractions of the world and focus on one another for a few hours. I get to talk to the woman I met B.W.W.P. (Before We Were Parents), seeing who she is now and how her inner world is shifting. Quality time keeps our bond strong.

3 | Date nights strengthen marriage

Trust me, research has the receipts on this. Harry Benson from the Marriage Foundation and Steve McKay from the University of Lincoln analyzed data for a group of nearly 10,000 couples with a young child to identify what effect, if any, date nights have on the odds of staying together or splitting up.

The frequency of date nights across the couples broke down as follows:

  • once a week or more: 11 percent
  • once a month: 30 percent
  • less often than once a month: 23 percent
  • hardly ever: 36 percent

Over a 10-year period, the married couples who observed date night once a month had the highest odds of staying together compared to the other groups.

Surprisingly, the study’s finding only held true for married couples, not cohabiting couples (more on that later).

“Compared to couples who ‘hardly ever’ went out, couples who went out weekly or more often were no more likely to stay together,” Benson and McKay noted in their 2016 report. "In other words, the relationship between how often couples go out and their likelihood of staying together is not linear. Going out more often does not help couples stay together.”

Once-a-month date nights may be the sweet spot because, as noted by The Knot, going out too often may be a buzzkill (e.g., the stress of planning, increased babysitter expenses, loss of personal downtime). Less may indeed be more, but twice a month works just fine for me and Rhonda.

So there you have it. If you’re married, get out and do something new with your boo (dinner, movie, comedy club, concert, etc.). Once a month is all it takes.

Oh, and for that bit about couples who cohabitate? Benson and McKay put it this way:

“By going out every so often, married couples reinforce the importance of their relationship. Because their relationship is founded on a clear public act of commitment, a night out together makes a statement about the nature of the relationship. Among cohabiting couples, where there is some element of ambiguity about the future of the relationship, a night out of any kind is simply a night out.”

Definitely something to talk about…on your next night out.

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