Good news for parents who are cash-strapped in this economy: Date night is not mandatory for a good relationship.
"I've never been able to do date night. By the time it gets to be evening, the last thing I want to do is go out in the cold or rain, pay another baby sitter," ... I heard someone say who approached me on the subject.
Connecting doesn't have to be huge, expensive or time-consuming. Make your marriage sweet and memorable in the littlest moments every day.
After their kids are in bed, one couple head to the basement, where they keep frozen cookie dough hidden at the bottom of the freezer. It's their own version of date night, chatting while eating their favorite treat in private, hoping the kids don't wake up. What a great private indulgence.
MORE THAN A KISS
We live in a culture of overparenting, permissive parenting and hyperscheduling, and so what tends to happen — knowing from interviewing couples and from all the research of parenting in the 21st century — we tend to give so much to our children because we think it's good for them, and yet by doing that, we're taking away from our primary relationship, the one with our spouse or partner.
By doing that, in the long run, we're also taking something that is absolutely crucial away from our child: the opportunity to see, first-hand, day-after-day, how to have a loving, respectful adult relationship.
It can be as simple as a kiss.
Fun idea: 'Theatrical Smooch' because when Dad gets home from work, it's a loud, happy time and there's a contest to see who is the first one to greet him. The couple decides that the first kiss always goes to Mom, and so he dramatically moves past the dog and the kids to give Mom this big, sloppy, theatrical smooch.
What a crucial lesson that this couple is sharing with their kids. Even with the kids screaming and the dogs barking, this is their moment - they are choosing their spouse.
Think of the message that's sending to your children over time ... in the long run, your kids will be so glad you chose a loving spouse versus overinduldging them in all their needs. You don't have to hire a baby sitter; you don't even have to get out of the house.
MATTER OF CHOICE
Research shows two-thirds of couples experience significant decreases in happiness and significant increases in hostility toward one another after they have kids.
We know that the first time in the marriage lifespan that divorce becomes the most common peaks right around year eight. The old thought is 'the seven-year itch,' but research shows it's actually an eight-year itch, and it's not really an itch, it's more like a diaper rash, because that eight-year mark is when a lot of us are having babies or raising kids.
Most couples are surprised by these feelings of hostility they are having toward their spouse. They think, 'Wait a second, we're having children, isn't this our life dream? This is what we wanted.'
It's incredibly crucial to let couples know it is absolutely normal to feel this way, and it's what many other couples are feeling, too. So many of us think we are the only ones who are going through this.
The good news is research also shows marital satisfaction heads back up again over time, although empty-nesters are at risk if they've focused more on their children than their relationship over the years.
But it's not hopeless, even at that point. Couples get to choose. Our marriages are truly up to us. We can choose to get third-party help. We can choose how we greet each other at the end of the day. We can choose to have loving nicknames for each other.
We can choose whether we call our spouse during the day. We can choose whether we want to complain about something — or to start such a discussion softly instead of harshly. We choose. And it's the little choices along the way that serve you so well later, when most couples experience the height of marital satisfaction.
WAYS TO CONNECT
There are little moments in which a couple finds a way to sneak loving conversation into their day:
Example: With small children, it can be hard to find time to talk about adult things. One suggestion is to make it a ritual to put the kids to sleep together. Once they have fallen asleep, a couple can continue to sit in their room and talk about their day and the things that brought them joy and gratitude. It helps to stay connected and feel that they are still close.
Find ways within your crazy, busy, stressful lives to take and embrace these moments.
Day after day, our kids need our care and attention, and we so often believe our marriages don't, but they do, they need some care and attention if they are going to survive.
We maintain so many other things in our lives and, just like a car, our relationship needs maintenance, too. Anything that is precious and functioning and working needs maintenance to stay working.
OK, it's hard to maintain our relationship while we're parenting, but we can chose to to do it.
So maybe it's time to sneak some cookie dough and call it a date night.
What are your *cookie dough* moments? Share your little moments? Share your little rituals ... what memories do you purposefully create?
What are you doing to keep the fun and passion alive?