When I go to restaurants I like to check out the people around me to see who’s on a good first date (I can tell because there’s much hair tossing, attentiveness, laughter, active conversation and quick touches to the arm); and then I like to look for who’s on the dreaded “date night” (key music from Jaws). 

I can always tell when some therapist or well-meaning friend told a struggling couple to have a date night. I mean, what a great idea – we’re barely getting along, just about everything you do bugs me, let’s definitely spend some forced hours together trying to get that spark back. Brilliant plan! I see them sitting at the table, having stilted conversation (God forbid they were ordered not to talk about the kids or work – then there’s really nothing to say), they’re gulping down a too-expensive bottle of wine, they order quickly because they’ve been ordering the same meal at this restaurant for years, and there’s no touching, flirting or playful banter. 

And I know exactly what they’re thinking:

  • Let me see, the babysitter is going to be at least $60 and the bill for this meal –wait, did she just add shrimp to that salad?! This “date” is going to cost at least $200 and I’m still not going to get sex later.
  • Oh God, he’s going to expect sex later. I really don’t want to have sex when all I can focus on is the way he’s chewing on those ice cubes. Who the hell puts ice in wine anyway?!

Now, I know that some of you love your date nights. You get away from the kids or the house and have time to relax and connect. However, for way too many of you, it’s not something you really look forward to. I know for a lot of the women, just finding a new thing to do (new restaurant, play or movie), taking care of the logistics with kids and pets, and getting everything done so you can “relax” makes the date night feel like one more thing on your “to do” list and not something awesome to look forward to. 

Let’s think about the idea of “date night” for a minute. There’s just too much pressure to make a big connection – you’re supposed to have fun and there’s definitely pressure to have sex later – I mean, it’s friggin’ date night!  So, you finally get home (exhausted after the week and the pressure of date night) and now you’re supposed to have rock star sex to show that you’re interested in improving the relationship. Result:  non-rock star sex (if any happens at all) because women have to feel some connection and closeness to get excited about sex and being tired at the end of a long and stressful day and date is not getting her there. 

This can definitely be true for you men out there too – you’ve worked hard all week also and this big build up is not helping you to feel relaxed or sexy. You know you need to “wine and dine” and it just ends up feeling like too much. 

So, why do therapists and friends recommend a date night? It’s to connect. I will tell you right now that the vast majority of people I work with complain about one thing the most in their relationship. It’s not actually money or sex. It’s about feeling emotionally disconnected.

The issue is that lasting emotional connection does not come from big, grand gestures. It’s not from the whirlwind vacations, big date nights or sex (although all of these things can be great). 

Lasting emotional connection is built from what I call micro or mini-connections. These don’t happen in one fell swoop. These happen over the course of a day, that builds into weeks and months. You’ve got to build the trust to create this connection and that comes from consistency. You don’t build trust in your relationship on a once a week date night. 

So, I want you to focus on building these small connections and intimacies throughout the day and week. Here are my top 10 tips for making it happen:

  1. If you’re in the house and your partner comes home, go to the door and greet them. Yes, stop whatever you’re doing and go to the door and create a real connection. Make eye contact, say something thoughtful like, “I’m so happy you’re home.” Extra points if you make out for a minute in the doorway. 
  2. Make a point to kiss your partner good morning and good night (or at least go out of your way to say it to them), every day. 
  3. Continue to make bids for time together. If you’ve been asking your partner to go to church with you for years and they “always” say no, think of something different to ask them that you think you might get a “yes” for. Start somewhere smaller and build to going to church.
  4. Touch your partner more often – even if it’s just getting their attention – put your hand out and touch them in some way. A good trick is to touch your partner every time you touch your phone! 
  5. Make it a goal to consciously do one nice thing for your partner, every day. This could be putting away the dishes without being asked, cooking a favorite meal, filling up the gas tank or any number of other tasks to make your partner’s life just a tiny bit easier. Just the act of thinking of nice things to do for your partner will have you in a better headspace. 
  6. Don’t make any statements and, instead, ask your partner questions (open ended) about themselves (not just their day). “If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?” “What’s one thing you’d like to change this month?” “If I was the perfect partner, what would I be doing more of?”
  7. Make it a point not to criticize or judge AT ALL! This will be easier if you’re not making statements and only asking questions. Making comments on your partner’s driving, how they “could” or “should” do something or comparing what they’re doing to how you’d do it, “Well I’d do it X” are all ways you judge without realizing it!
  8. Make it a goal to catch your partner doing something right every day and tell them what you see. Compliments and appreciation that are REAL feel so great for the receiver.  
  9. Kiss your partner for more than five seconds, once a day.
  10. Have time each day that’s an electronics free zone – if it can be more than a meal time, then great! This means no phones in the room, no TV on, etc. 

If you are going to try to grab a bite or if you need to mattress shop or something, I highly suggest doing it on a Monday or Tuesday night. One of the reasons date nights fail is that couples schedule them on a Friday night at the end of a long week and everyone is tired going in! On a Monday or Tuesday, you’re feeling rested from the week-end (OK, those of us with kids aren’t so much rested as “less exhausted,” but anything helps when you’re trying to connect). There are also less people out on these nights so if you do end up sharing a quick bite to eat, you won’t need a reservation. It makes the night more casual and easier to “go with the flow.”  Relaxed couples are much happier couples. Just don’t call it a date; you’re just hanging out. 

If you start practicing this combination of doing random acts of kindness for one another and creating time that’s more relaxed together, you’ll find that you’ll start to talk more and argue less. You’ll find yourselves moving towards one another again. It took time to become distant, so give yourselves time to become close. If you do these practices consistently, you’ll be going on that date (and enjoying it) before you know it.