Date Nights: They Are More Important For Your Relationship Than You Think

08/03/2016 3:02 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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These days, everyone is busy. We get it. Between work, family and social commitments, there's hardly enough time to squeeze in half an hour of Netflix, let alone carve out a significant chunk of time to spend with your significant other.

That's right. We're talking "date nights". When was the last time you and your partner had one, just the two of you? Or at the very least, put away all the screens and spent some quality time together at home?

"Date nights are so important. In fact they are critical," psychologist and relationship expert Melanie Schilling told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I would even broaden that out a bit and say a date night doesn't have to mean getting a babysitter and going to the movies. It can be something you can do at home, such as a screen-free night once a week. Basically, carving out the time to be just focused on each other.

"If you can manage that once a week, you're doing really well. Once a fortnight is great too."

It is a sentiment echoed by Matt Garrett of Relationships Australia, who said all too often couples are put off by the idea of a date night because they assume it has to be a fancy affair.

"It doesn’t have to be a full-on, three course meal with the violinist in the background and a dozen roses, though that never goes astray, let me tell you," Garrett told HuffPost Australia.

"The most important message a date night or special occasion or catch up -- whatever form it takes -- conveys to the couple is that they are creating a unique and special space for one another.

"People might be really surprised at just how small a gesture can convey a huge amount of meaning."

The importance of the date night comes back to the point that these days, people live increasingly busy lives, and often the time and effort required to successfully nurture a relationship can fall by the wayside.

"Relationships are work. That's a fact," Schilling said. "And while so many of us are happy to work on our fitness goals or career goals or family goals, when it comes to our intimate relationships, we tend to neglect them.

"I think our relationships can seem to just 'be there’ and it's easy to take our partners for granted. We assume they will always be there, when in actual fact that relationship is an important project in our life that needs focus and attention."

"Let’s get practical. Our lives are so busy and full, if we don’t make this time, feelings of being taken for granted can easily come up," Garrett added. "And that is the death knell for any relationship -- feeling that you are being taken for granted."

chrissy teigen john legend

Chrissy Teigen and husband John Legend are a fan of date nights.

It is a problem Garrett says comes up often in marriage counselling sessions.

"I'll be talking to couples who obviously want to stay together and want to work on their relationship," Garrett said. "And the question I will invariably ask is 'when do you spend time together?'

"The answer is often 'well, we don't'."

"I guess this is where couples can grow apart," Schilling adds. "When people commit to a relationship, they don’t stop growing. I think there can be this assumption of, 'ok, I'm in a serious relationship, I’m done now,' but you do continue to grow. In fact it's important that we do. Nobody wants to end up being clones of each other.

"The flip side of that is, without investing in that relationship and really prioritising it, it can be really easy to grow in different directions without being aware of it.

"Having that open communication and closeness allows you to be aware if one of you is growing in a different direction or at different rate and make adjustments.

"It's like if you have a car, you want to make sure you are topping up the oil and water regularly, rather than waiting for it to conk on on freeway.

"That is essentially the function of the date night. You want to nurture your relationship every week rather than wait for it to break down."

In terms of actually organising what (and when) your date night will be, Garrett says it's surprising how many couples find it difficult to find the time.

"There might initially be some resistance with couples struggling to make the first move," Garrett said. "Or they are wading through a plethora of activity and other demands.

"I hear it all the time: 'we can’t do it then because that’s happening, we can’t do it then because that’s happening.'

"In that case, it can be very difficult to identify a suitable time and some couples really struggle. Of course, that’s what led them to this place to begin with.

"Sometimes I have to nail them down and say, 'come on guys, you are fitting so much into your schedules, there must be something that can give in order for you two to spend some time together'."

Schilling says a good way to fit in regular 'dates' together is to combine common interests.

"What works really well is if a couple can find an activity they can do together that celebrates shared values," Schilling said.

"For example, if they are both really into health and fitness, making a commitment to go for a jog together once a week.

"Another example is if they share a value of adventure. You might, say, go once a week to learn Japanese together because you are going to take a trip to Japan next year.

"Investing in 'together time' in this way reinforces your common values as well as builds intimacy."

"At the end of the day, there is no rule of thumb when it comes to date nights," Garrett continued. "Sometimes what happens when you check in with couples, after having set up a date night for them, you'll find they will go and have dinner after their counselling session.

"Really, most of the work is done after the couple leaves the room."



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