The Set Up
It seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Just set up a time to go on a date and you’ll inject some much needed fun into your relationship. “Hey, let’s go to our favorite restaurant and not worry about the kids!” The problem is, you may wind up talking about the kids, or the bills, or the list of undone home maintenance. You may just spend a bunch of money for the pleasure of a two hour commiseration about problems, or worse, an argument. Or worse, worse: the dreaded restaurant silence.
Why Doesn’t This Work?
It may work just fine, some of the time. But if you’ll notice, date nights can kind of blend together and rarely stand out in your memory as especially great times. Too often, they can put a big spotlight on the fact that the two of you have not cultivated a relationship outside of your shared responsibilities and problems. If you take money, kids, work and home repair off the table, you might just hear…. crickets.
The problem is, date nights are only as good as you make them. While unwinding at TGI O’Cheddars can be a great break, even doing some of your favorite things can lead to habituation — that’s when the your emotional response to something diminishes the more you get accustomed to it. Maybe the first fifteen times you stare at each other across a blooming onion appetizer seems magical. Eventually, though, it all kind of blends together into the same old same old.
Aren’t You Bored of You?
Turns out it’s doing new, different and even challenging things that can help grow your relationship. Compelling research shows variety and new experiences can forge stronger bonds between people. Take a look at this article citing a study showing just that. Novelty, challenge and excitement actually seems to change what’s happening with our brain chemistry. When people get creative with the way they approach time together, they feel better and perceive things in a more positive light.
Here’s an article with some ideas to get started. It doesn’t have to be a chore. Think of something you don’t usually do. Maybe go to a museum — even a small one you never paid attention to before. Take a different walk, go to a play, go to an amusement park or take a cooking class.
Are You A Broken Record?
It’s not just about what you do. Don’t forget that changing what you talk about can be just as important. One reason we may grow tired of being with one person is that we literally do not change our stories. We are like a broken record looking for new ears once we wear out the ones we’re with. (That’s one reason other people can seem so appealing us — our old jokes and stories are new to them, so we think they are more interesting!) But instead of changing the audience, we can change the “record” instead, and be far more interested and engaged in conversation. If you feel like there’s nothing to talk about, you’re not alone. There are plenty of ways to refocus conversation in new directions, like starting with new questions.
I don’t mean to suggest that date night is a bad idea. Actually it’s very important to set time aside to be together regularly, daily and weekly. But just as dinner can mean a supersized bag of fast food in front of the t.v. or a beautiful, home cooked masterpiece with home-grown vegetables, it’s what you make of it that counts.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She provides couples and individual counseling in her office in Springfield, Illinois, and throughout the state by phone and web. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones.
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