Whether date night is on your calendar every week or only gets a casual mention, most couples find that date nights are a great way to enjoy the company of their spouses without distraction. We know that date nights are essential, but how often should parents have a date night?
Every couple is in a unique situation and has unique interests, so it is impossible to establish a date night frequency that works for everybody. Still, every couple can benefit by having regular dates. Most studies and opinions conclude parents should enjoy date night at least monthly, sometimes as frequently as weekly.
Read on to learn more about the value of date night and how you can find a frequency that works best for your marriage.
Are Date Nights Important for Parents?
It is vital for parents to invest time and attention in each other to maintain a healthy and functional marriage. Date night is a common and effective way to prioritize time for this purpose.
We might think of dating as the first step in a multi-stage progression that culminates in marriage. We start by dating someone with whom we have a mutual romantic attraction. Then when we see viable lifelong potential in our relationship, we proceed to engagement.
Finally, if we pass the rigorous business-like test of planning, preparing, and conducting a wedding, we move on to marriage.
Under this model, it is easy to see how married couples might view dating as a “back then” activity or might describe those early years as when we were “just dating.” Yet, the things that made those early years of dating meaningful are still important for married couples.
When dating, you invested time, money, energy, and thought in each other through the enjoyment of shared activities. You did things you both enjoyed, made time to talk and get to know each other, and bonded through shared experiences and memories.
Bonding, sharing, and growing do not stop once marriage begins. Making room for date night provides essential maintenance to keep the bonds of marriage strong and the lines of communication free from clutter.
We perform routine maintenance on our cars, household systems, and bodies. Our marriages deserve the same level of attention and care.
What Counts as Date Night?
Date night can be the classic dinner-and-movie excursion, but it doesn’t have to be. Concerts, ball games, and park walks are popular date activities. Any activity that a couple enjoys that allows them time to focus on each other without having to tend to children, work, and other obligations is an eligible date night activity.
It would be impossible to come up with an exhaustive list of date night ideas. After all, the ideas are as limitless as those who enjoy them. Still, there are a few parameters to keep in mind:
Date night is a shared activity.
This one is obvious but worth repeating. If I’m sitting on my couch reading a book while my spouse is at the other end of the couch working on a puzzle and the ball game is on TV, are we having date night? No. Even though we are alone together doing recreational activities, we are not sharing the activity.
Date night doesn’t involve household obligations.
You and your spouse might schedule an evening to meet with the accountant to prepare your tax return. Is this date night? No, this is an administrative task. Similarly, you wouldn’t count a joint trip to the grocery store or the doctor’s office as a date night.
Date night doesn’t involve other family members.
No matter how much you enjoy a family visit with the grandparents, family gatherings are not date nights. Similarly, sitting on the sidelines and cheering on your child’s basketball team doesn’t count. These are good activities, and you might enjoy them very much, but they aren’t dates because your mutual focus is on other people and not on each other.
Can We Have Date Night Without Going Out?
No rule says date night only counts if you leave the house. Some couples prefer at-home activities such as board games, puzzles, or simply enjoying nature from the back porch. The COVID pandemic of the early 2020s further expanded our options for in-home activity, making our date night options more numerous than ever.
During the pandemic, closed restaurants and canceled events forced us to find at-home substitutes for our usual date night outings. Some of us rediscovered our backyards and bicycles or pulled old jigsaw puzzles out of the attic (source).
Many of us appreciated the creative solutions that came to market during this time (source). For example, streaming services gave us an ever-expanding array of movies to enjoy without leaving the house. Moreover, game manufacturers launched subscription services through which we could have murder mysteries and escape rooms delivered to our mailboxes.
Even as restaurants, malls, and entertainment venues reopened, many of us discovered that we prefer at-home date nights to going out.
We should also note that if date night can count even if you don’t leave the house, you’re also not limited to having a date night in the evening. If daytime activities are more in line with your schedules and interests, then make it a day date instead.
How Important is Date Night with Kids?
Date night is frequently more important for couples with children than those without children. Children require time and attention, which has to come from somewhere. Planning and scheduling regular date nights ensure that couples do not forfeit all of the time that they are accustomed to sharing exclusively with each other.
When you became a parent, your world changed. Your obligations at home increased with the addition of a child. You’ve had to reallocate financial resources, time, and energy to parenting. One or both of you might have reduced your work hours to adjust, but you most likely took your parenting resources from discretionary areas of your life.
You still have to pay for necessities like housing and food. To afford a child, you spend less on recreation and entertainment. You need to be home more for your child’s sake, so you limit your leisure activities.
Suddenly, you have less time, money, and energy to put into date night. This is where it becomes essential to protect some of that time and money to preserve regular date nights.
It takes some planning now since you have to schedule child care, and everyone might be a little more tired these days. It’s easy to settle into a routine that loses date night altogether, but it can be risky to do so.
The First Season
Statistics show that half of the marriages that end do so during the first seven years (source). These are the seasons of the most significant change, and couples that persevere through the changes put themselves in a much better position to enjoy a lifelong marriage.
No change is more eye-opening than becoming parents. Some new parents grieve the loss of freedom to be spontaneous once it becomes more difficult to simply take an unplanned trip to the beach or mall.
Other couples happily invest significant time and attention into their new addition at the expense of one another. When this happens, it is easy for couples to stop making time for each other and begin to drift apart.
Parenthood affects each couple a little differently. But no matter how the change has affected your life, you can benefit from making time for each other by scheduling regular date nights.
What Happens When Couples Don’t Have Date Night?
When parents neglect to preserve a portion of their time for one another, their marriage may suffer. Date nights protect and facilitate communication and bonding that benefit a healthy marriage.
The previously cited Gottman Institute study shows that behaviors like contempt and criticism are key indicators of early divorce. Such attitudes lead to conflict, which will remain unresolved without making time for productive interaction. The natural consequence of unresolved conflict is dissatisfaction.
Putting intentional effort and care into your marriage can give it new strength and keep healthy, productive communication at the forefront of your interactions.
The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that the current divorce rate is 2.3 per 1000 people. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is nearly half the current marriage rate of 5.1 per 1000 (source). Recognizing and addressing the risk factors can help you avoid becoming one of these statistics.
When you invest in your spouse through date nights, you are taking a step toward keeping your marriage from going off-course. You have time and space to address areas of concern before they develop into conflicts.
This doesn’t mean that date night should become a check-up session. But it does make honest and constructive communication at other times easier because you are reinforcing your commitment to each other and a shared purpose. Date night is the time to remind yourselves that you are partners on the same team.
Date Night Statistics
Regular date nights are essential, but how regular is “regular”? Wedding blogs and opinion writers passionately promote and defend a variety of frequencies, from weekly to biweekly to monthly. One study uses a survey of almost 10,000 couples to arrive at monthly as the ideal date night frequency. Let’s examine some of their findings.
A 2016 study by the Marriage Foundation examines multiple factors and their impact on a lasting marriage. On the subject of date night, the study found that weekly (or more frequent) date nights had little impact on separation and divorce (source).
The study also found that couples who went out monthly or more were least likely to divorce. Couples who scheduled less frequent date nights still strengthened their marriages, but to a lesser degree. The data from this study suggests that the most effective frequency for date night is somewhere between weekly and monthly.
What Frequency is Right for You?
Still, there are factors that you and your spouse can consider to help you discover the ideal date night frequency for your marriage.
Perhaps you already have monthly date nights but feel like you need more. Or maybe you’ve gotten into a good rhythm by dropping the kids off with Grandma and enjoying a weekly date night, and you don’t want to slow down.
What happens outside of date night often affects how frequently you need a date night. Everything from your job to your lifestyle to your hobbies can influence how you approach date night.
There is no formula for calculating the perfect frequency, but there are factors that you can evaluate. As you do, remember that the purpose of date night is to ensure that you and your spouse are investing time and attention in each other and your marriage.
How much you need to invest might depend on how other areas of life add to or subtract from this goal. Consider the following:
Daily and Weekly Schedules
Do you work different shifts and hardly see each other, or are your schedules so aligned that you can sit down together for dinner as a family most weeknights?
If one parent takes one child to their soccer game while the other takes a different child to piano lessons, that’s less time spent together overall.
Do you have an hour or two to unwind in the evening, review the day, and enjoy a show together? Or are you going right to sleep or logging back on to the office as soon as the kids are in bed?
Do you take regular vacations (with or without the kids)? When you do, do you purposefully disconnect from work or other obligations, so you are not distracted?
What other lifestyle choices affect how your family interacts? Do you commit to getting to church together every week? Have you decided to forego television altogether? What other activities and priorities impact your family time?
When we become parents, we take on a new role without giving up our existing roles. Being a good spouse and a good parent are seldom competing goals. In most situations, the same attitudes and choices that make us good parents also make us good spouses, and vice versa.
As your children grow, they will benefit from having parents who love and support one another and make an effort to not merely coexist but thrive as a couple with a sense of commitment and unity of purpose. The same family dinners, annual vacations, and weekly church services that benefit you as a couple also benefit your children.
To read more about how our habits and routines affect our children, check out our article Family Gatherings: Promoting Bonds to Last a Lifetime.
As we discussed earlier, our lives are full of changes, and the most significant changes occur in the early years of marriage as we get settled. If we have children during this season, the children will experience these changes with us.
How we react to these changes and how our spouses react may surprise us in unexpected ways. Consider all of the significant life events that a couple could experience together:
- Having children
- Moving to a new home
- Changing jobs
- Losing loved ones
- Experiencing a major illness
- Becoming grandparents
- Getting a new pet
- Making a major purchase or investment
This list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. Everyone will experience more than half of this list. More importantly, every one of these changes creates a checkpoint where it is essential for a couple to refocus together.
This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
Getting into a habit of enjoying regular date nights is a proven way to ensure that you face changes as a team, which benefits your marriage and your children.
No matter how you spend your date nights or how often you have them, it is essential that you make them a priority. Whether weekly, monthly, or a different schedule works best for you and your spouse to discover together.