If you’re in a long-term relationship, you may know about the concept of ‘date nights’ – setting aside time each week or month to do something that you both enjoy, that is just the two of you. It’s an often recommended strategy for parents of young children, and for people whose relationship has become either stale or toxic. The purpose of a date night is to remind you of the reason you got together in the first place, and to talk about something other than potty training or who last took the rubbish out.
Even if you think your relationship is pretty good, there’s a lot to be gained from the concept of the date night. The elements of date night that make it work are concepts that can be applied to your relationship at any time, whether or not you actually get to go on the date, and whether or not your relationship is in top shape or rock bottom.
So what makes date nights so special?
The chance for newness and excitement
One of the reasons new relationships are so fun is that change, whether good or bad, is interesting. Going on a date or even just creating one at home is a positive break from your routine, and so will bring excitement into what is already familiar. If you can, go somewhere new or try a new activity. Doing something for the first time together creates a strong bond, because the first time we do something sticks in our head, simply because it is new. If that experience can be with your partner, you’re creating a shared, lasting memory. Even if you hate the new restaurant or rock climbing, doing it together is a bonding experience that you can recall fondly later – once the bad taste has worn off or the bruises have faded. If you’re at home, at least mix up the takeaway food you buy, bring out the candles and the special wine or have a backyard picnic – whatever is out of the ordinary for you. Setting aside this special time for just the two of you can be part of the newness too, if this is a habit which has fallen by the wayside with time. If this is the case, learning about what’s actually on your partner’s mind at the moment might turn out to surprise and excite you too!
The chance to be your best self
A special occasion can give us the freedom to let go of things we feel we need to fix and just concentrate on enjoying the moment. Talking about bills, who does what and planning our schedules is necessary, but so is having a break from all that stuff and just focussing on fun! The chance to be your best self really comes into play when finances or other circumstances mean going out for date night just isn’t possible. Being your best self, you can bring fun to at-home dates through making your partner laugh, talking about a book you read on a topic that interests both of you, getting into some of the deeper parts of life and living, or talking about your hopes, dreams and goals. Too often, we spend our best selves impressing acquaintances and give the leftovers to those who already love and accept us. Try flipping this and giving your best to your partner – they totally deserve it!
The chance for them to be their best selves
The same as above, but different. Our tendency in any ongoing relationship is to expect the other person to do the right thing as a given, and to focus on and talk about, all the things that need fixing instead. However in a new relationship, we do the opposite. When we’re newly in love, we minimise weaknesses (no, you’re tired, I’ll do it) and focus on strengths (I can’t believe how good a Foosball player you are). Date night is a chance to remember what it is we liked about our partner in the first place. Going on a ‘date’ sets up the expectation of a good time, and that means focussing on what you like about the person you’re with, not what you don’t like. Getting dressed up or making a special effort are also the types of behaviours that naturally elicit compliments anyway, helping to keep our focus on the good stuff.
What if my partner doesn’t want to?
No excuse, sorry! Think laterally – you can still pick a day or an evening where you choose to be your best self or to focus on your partner’s strengths. You can build newness into your lives in tiny ways, like watching a TV show together you’ve both never seen before, or doing a new activity together, even if that means bringing the kids.
What if I’m single?
If you’re single and don’t want to be, then knowing the above tips can give you an advantage in dating. Instead of setting a first date at a restaurant you know and love, choose somewhere that sounds interesting that you’ve both never experienced so you’re creating a shared memory right from the first meeting. Hopefully you’re already presenting your best self on a date! But focussing on the good things about the person you’re meeting might be relevant. When you date, are you looking at the person’s strengths and the reasons to get together, or are you scrutinising them for things you don’t like before you get too involved? While some character traits deserve a red flag, keeping your overall focus on the person’s good points is a helpful habit whether you’ve known each other a day or a lifetime.
If you’re struggling with your relationship, I offer both solo and couple’s counselling which focusses on improving your relationship. Call me today on 0421 720 635 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more and book your appointment.
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.