By Amy Stewart, LMFT
Date nights are as ubiquitous in couple’s therapy as presenting with communication issues. Both often function as a generic catchall that may not accurately speak to or address the problem at hand. Do you really have problems communicating or do you simply not like what your partner is saying? Similarly, will simply adding date nights to the schedule get you closer to the feeling you’re wanting?
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot to be said for taking time as a couple. You’re prioritizing your relationship, doing the work of finding childcare and reorganizing schedules. You’re setting intentional time to spend together. These are all wonderful, relationship-building things… and then what?
For many of us, we’re simply re-enacting much of what would happen at home. But, bonus!, with the additional stress of getting out the door on time only to have the same conversations while spending more money. We’re not exactly “dating” we’re simply eating dinner in a different location.
If you’re in a long term relationship, think back to what it’s like to actually date. You primped and primed solo, potentially to your favorite “going out mix,” you picked your trusted fabulous-but-not-trying-too-hard ensemble, fantasized about how the night would go and then you saw your partner. Whether you met up at someone’s abode, hopped into an actual car or simply met at the bar, you did none of the prep work a’ deux. There was no rushing around while the other person repeatedly called out how you were running late or sat on the couch taking 12 minutes to put on one shoe before resting a bit then moving on to the next. (Hyperbolic, maybe.)
There may have been similar levels of stress, but it was likely positively coded as anticipation and excitement rather than anxiety. Sure, the stressors are likely quantitatively and qualitatively different now, but how can you recapture some of the features of old-school dating given your current context?
One idea is a Surrender Date, as in surrendering control of the evening to your partner. Obviously, this concept operates uniquely for every couple, but the basics are as follows:
Each partner is completely responsible for the entirety of one Surrender Date. This means asking out their partner, scheduling the day, time and activities and procuring child care, pet care and managing any other necessities.
The activities of the date are kept secret from the surrendering partner. Beyond directives around clothing and shoes requirements, keep mum about what’s in store. I often have clients choose what their partner will wear.
Get ready separately and meet up outside the home. This looks different with kiddos involved, but there are ways to make it work. The goal is to step out of the usual stress of getting out the door and travelling together.
Discussing kids, work or home management is off limits. This is a date, not an administrative meeting.