Date-nights are an interesting topic in my practice. There is a lot of relationship advice on the internet suggesting how beneficial date-nights are for your relationship, but my own personal experience and the experiences of the couples I work with in couples therapy suggests that something critical might be missing from the iconic date-night.
Whenever my wife and I are lucky enough to have an evening babysitter, we excitedly think about having a date-night and all the glorious things we can do with our time together, but at times in the past, we have ended our date-night not feeling much better about us, or the connecting quality of our relationship. For many couples, date-nights are lack-luster, emotionally un-gratifying, and can often feel forced. For this reason, I do not prescribe couples to go on date-nights (not yet anyway), until some certain awareness’s are developed regarding the date-night.
Despite a wish that many couples hold, spending a few hours together at a Chili’s restaurant and going to see a bad movie will not generally improve your relationship at all. And for many couples, this is the date-night. Although called a date-night, this can just be an expensive way to get into a recurring fight and to feel more disconnected in your marriage. In fact, going on an unsatisfying date-night might cause more erosion in your marriage if you left the cherished and hope-filled date-night only to feel let down, disappointed and more disconnected from your partner. My preference is to first have couples consciously understand their purpose of the date-night, and learn the things they can do differently to improve the quality of the date night. To this aim, I have addressed the 5 reasons why your date-night isn’t working, and most importantly, what you can do to change the tide!!
5 Reasons Why Date-Night Are Usually Not-So-Great & How To Do It Different
1. Undercurrent of Unresolved Feelings
If you’re struggling in your relationship, to be frank, going on a date is usually just “more of the same” and does very little to fix the root cause emotionally undercurrent of the relationship. If you’re feeling resentful, lonely, anxious, or depressed, chances, are, you’re going to feel all of those same feelings on your date-night too. For many partners, they embark on a date-night filled with negative emotions but simply try to deny those feelings for the sake of the date-night. This will never work because no matter how hard we try, our true feelings will always bleed out of us.
What Can We Do Instead:
As we enter our date-nights, we really want to pay attention to what we’re feeling and share this experience with our partner. The absolute worst thing you can do is to try and hide your feelings, or disavow them. The reason this is so bad is because you CAN’T hide your true feelings and they will begin to show up in the conversation or in your body language at some point, which will be a very confusing and conflicting experience for you partner. Honor your true feelings and let your partner know your current emotional state as you begin your date night. Review this Date Night Tip Sheet and use it as a conversation starter to engage your partner with an understanding of their current emotional state.
2. Preoccupied or Distracted
Most couples (yes, most) enter date-nights mostly mentally preoccupied or distracted. I am very guilty of this – my wife will attest. Whether we have our children on our minds, or we’re thinking about work, or a whole host of other things, we simply cannot be successful partners and spouses with our mental space so cluttered and distracted. Whether your preoccupied thinking about that project you need to finish at the office, or what you’re going to make for tomorrow night’s dinner, it’s important to let our partners in-on-the-know for what’s happening in your thought life.
What Can We Do Instead:
Sometimes, even with our best intentions, we simply can’t turn our minds “off” and our preoccupation with other things won’t leave us. Try not to judge this for yourself, and if that’s happening with your partner, try not to judge them. That will only make things worse. Instead, open up with your partner and share with them what is on your mind and what is keeping your thoughts preoccupied. The worst thing we can do is to try and suffer in silence – that will only make us seem very disengaged and not present. Take a look at the Date Night Tip Sheet and use this as a tool to ask your partner where their head is at. This is a wonderful way to take one thing (our sense of preoccupation and distraction) and turn it into an intimate conversation. By doing this, we might just discover something meaningful about our partner we didn’t know.
3. Not Connecting Conversations
Many couples gravitate toward a date-night with hopes of having meaningful and connecting conversation, only to find themselves taking about superficial, or trivial things that do not bring a sense of togetherness in the relationship. This can get a little tricky when you have young children because often for these couples, date-nights are used to play catch-up on weekly events or to strategize about issues surrounding the children. Of course this is not bad, however, we will inevitably leave the date-night not feeling a sense of togetherness in the relationship if our focus is not on us, or the relationship.
What Can We Do Instead:
It’s important to remember that a date-night can be a special opportunity to just focus on you, and the relationship. Focus on YOU, not the kids, bills, work, or upcoming calendar events, home improvement projects, parent-teacher meetings, etc. Getting the most out of our date-nights is being intentional about creating good relationship habits that cultivate the relationship. Part of doing this is remembering to carve out intentional time to discuss things that will foster intimacy in the relationship. Review the Date Night Tip Sheet for a simple reminder to keep our conversations on track that build connection with each other.
4. The Environment is Horrible
The choosing of where to spend our beloved date-night is very important. Often times, we find ourselves in loud and crowded environments with glaring TV’s playing sports games in every direction, and indulging with bad food. If you have any semblance of AD/HD like I do, it’s really hard to focus on conversation and be an intentional listener in environments like this. Many couples find themselves in environments where a quality date-night is almost impossible because of the multitude of stimuli that draws our attention away from our partners.
What Can We Do Instead:
Date-night’s need not be extravagant events to be massively successful, therefore, try not to be compelled to do too much. I believe the simpler, the better because there are less opportunities for meaningless distractions. Find places and situations to connect with your partner that don’t distract from being with each other. Consider finding quiet places, where you can truly dialogue. If children are not present, the best date-nights can be simply at home! Another important consideration is limiting the technology when we’re together. If you can, leave you iPhone at home or turn it off. Our insatiable desire to stay connected with social media is eroding our ability to have meaningful connections with our partners. And so, if you take a picture of your dinner and post it on Instagram on a date-night, we’ll all know you’re not engaged!
5. We Don’t Know What We Need
For many couples, initiating a date-night often looks something like this:
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
“Oh, I don’t care…whatever sounds good to you.”
“How about ________?”
“No, I don’t want to do that!”
Have you been there? I know I have. Instead of asking the question, “What do you want to do tonight”, instead ask your spouse “What do you need tonight”. Those are two very different questions with the later being incredibly important because it requires us to check in with ourselves and our feelings and to identify what we might need from our date-night. Asking our partners what they need also helps us to avoid the cliché dinner and movies that can leave us feeling unfulfilled.
What Can We Do Instead:
Instead of asking our partners what they want to do, instead try asking them what they need to do. Getting to talk with our partners about our needs is a critical relational development and so we might hear things like:
“I need to connect with you”
“I need to just rest”
“I’m needing to have fun”
“I need to vent to you about something”
When we ask our partners what they need on a date-night, we might be surprised to learn something about them that we didn’t know prior to asking, or if we had just asked the mundane, “What do you want to do tonight?” Many times, we enter date-nights without the awareness of what we need or what we’re looking for on our date, but it’s vital to you personally and to your relationship that you identify what you need and communicate this to your partner. This helps your partner get to know you, learn more about you, and offers them a chance to meet your needs.
Before the next time you go on a date-night with your partner, download the Date Night Tip Sheet and review it with your partner before deciding what you’re going to do. My hope and belief is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more gratifying and connecting your date nights will become.
**I am excited to announce my new Group Therapy called “Better Dad’s & Better Husbands Group”. If you, or a Dad you know would like to meet with other like-minded Dad’s and Husbands in an extremely life-changing and powerful way, please shoot me an email!
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