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Date Night Makeover

“My belief is that date night is extremely important to a marriage,” says Gary Lundberg, a popular marriage and family therapist and the author of several books on marriage. “Too often, I will ask couples in therapy what they do for fun, and they say, ‘We do nothing for fun.’” You chose your spouse—why not choose to have fun with him or her and strengthen your relationship? Here are some key suggestions for enhancing your bond.

Make time for your date.

How did you find time for dates when you were younger? You made time. And that’s what you have to do now. “You make time for that which is important to you,” says Lundberg. “Jobs and even church callings can take big precedent over the marriage. It comes back to priorities. If marriage isn’t a priority, then everything else takes priority.”

Even though you are busy with kids, work, church callings, fixing the car, feeding the dog, and a million other things, think about how important your spouse is compared to everything else. Hopefully, your partner ranks high on your list! And though your spouse promised to be yours forever, you still need to put effort into your relationship to make it a good one.

Decide how often you want to go out, at least once a month. Set aside a time in advance, and don’t schedule anything that will interfere with it. And don’t assume that all date nights need to be on a weekend—if a weekday works better for you, set your date up for that night instead. Treat that block of time like you would any important appointment—don’t cancel except for an emergency and leave extra time beforehand to get ready. This way, your date won’t begin with a stressful rush out the door.

Make plans for your kids.

You may think that you and your spouse need to spend more time with your kids than without them. After all, they are growing, developing, and they need their mother and father around. But in reality, your kids will benefit from your going on dates with your spouse. They will see the importance that you place on your marriage and will hopefully emulate that same effort someday. This will also give you a chance to see how your kids are internalizing the family rules—it’s a great opportunity for building trust between you and your (older) children.

Lundberg says that he often sees people do activities with the family, but not with the spouse alone. “That’s all right, but date night between husband and wife is important to keep the marriage alive. Too often people don’t understand how important it is [to spend time alone].”

When you plan out our monthly budget, add in the cost of a date and a babysitter for three hours. You are investing this money in your marriage—and your marriage should certainly be as important as groceries and your house.

If you absolutely cannot afford a babysitter, ask another couple if they would like to swap babysitting. If your kids are friends, this works out well—they can just play with each other for entertainment. You can take the kids on Friday while your friends go out and then swap on Saturday, or you can switch off every other week.

Put some effort into it.

When you were dating your spouse, you cared about how you looked when you went out with him or her. You might have spent hours looking in the closet and deciding how you were going to dress to impress. Going on dates after the marriage shouldn’t be much different. Yes, you have your spouse forever, no matter what you wear, but don’t you want him or her to find you attractive?

Style your hair, put on your best outfit, and spray on a bit of perfume or cologne. If your spouse knows that you are making the effort to make your dates special, they might step it up a notch, too. Dressing up will also make you feel good, which will enhance your date night with your spouse.

You might also want to consider giving your date a small present every once in a while. This might be some flowers or a small, inexpensive piece of jewelry for a wife or a batch of favorite sweets or a sports magazine for a husband.

Keep it exciting.

Remember how you used to feel when you were single? Every date was exciting! You didn’t know where you were going or what was going to happen. And because you didn’t know the person very well and weren’t quite sure how the relationship was going to end up, it was always interesting.

Ask your spouse if he or she would like to go on a date with you, even if you have that time already set aside. This will make it feel more genuine, and it will show that you really care—it’s not just something you have to do because it’s on your calendar. Being asked out was always exciting, even if it was just a call on the phone. Asking your spouse out doesn’t have to be elaborate unless you really want it to be.

Lundberg, who has been married for 54 years, says that dates will never get boring if you try new things. “There are some things my wife likes to do more than I do. I go with her to do those,” says Lundberg. “I enjoy her enjoyment of it. The idea is to enjoy being with each other. If you focus on each other, then what you are doing is less important than who you are doing it with.”

Take turns planning your dates and keep the event a secret from your spouse. This will increase anticipation of the date and add something extra to your night out. Make sure you stay within the planned budget. If you are considering a date that goes above the budget, ask your spouse if he or she thinks it would be okay to go over. It might be fun to plan an expensive evening out, but depleting the family income without discussion is not the kind of surprise you want to give your spouse.

Date on a budget.

Perhaps you think that you are just too poor to take your wife on a date. If you are in financial trouble, now you need the support and love of your spouse more than anything else. “It doesn’t take much money to buy one root beer float and two straws,” says Lundberg. “The whole idea behind the date is being with each other. What you do is superfluous.”

Even if you can’t budget cash for the date night, challenge yourself to come up with some cheap, or even free, date ideas. Remember, if you are staying home for your date night, the kids need to be out of the house!

Here are a few ideas to consider:

Jackson Pollock painting. Cover the floor with old sheets and pull out some poster paper and paints. Drizzle, drop, and splatter paint on your paper, let it dry, and then do it again. Repeat until you are pleased with the result, and let your kids admire your work when they get home!

Couples massage. Purchase an inexpensive massage book for beginners (these can be purchased for around $8 on Amazon.com) and some inexpensive massage oil, and take turns giving each other half-hour massages. You can add something extra to this date by covering the house in lit candles and playing soft music.

Dinner for two. Comb through those cookbooks you’ve had for years and choose something that sounds exotic and that neither of you has tried. Go shopping together for the ingredients and then cook the meal together.

No money at all? Go on a walk and enjoy the beautiful nature around your home, whether it be the ocean or mountains or plains. Play tennis at the park, and end with a picnic. Check your local paper for free entertainment. Your community, local bookstores, and other facilities often have free concerts, speakers, or activities.

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