They call it the seven-year-itch for a reason: the fact is, falling in love is really not that hard. Staying in love? That’s another matter altogether. Those early butterflies can make you feel as if you’re the luckiest person on the planet. But as time passes, we get to know our partners’ habits and reactions. They become…predictable. And predictable sometimes means boring. Of course, that doesn’t mean that every love affair is doomed, but the spark does fade from many relationships. We’ve all seen it: people drift apart. One challenge can be that the quirks you find so endearing when the relationship is new can become irritating or even maddening over time. That predictability factor might be the culprit: when love is new, everything becomes more vivid and exciting. Then, that vibrancy seems to fade. Enter the antidote: the answer to the damage done by the erosion of time. If you want to feel the freshness of new love for a longer period of time—possibly even forever—make date night part of the spice that keeps things exciting.
Date Night Maintains the Relationship Spark
I know– you’re suspicious. You’ve heard about restoring romance or intimacy by getting off the daily treadmill of your life and recapturing the ambiance of earlier days. But who has the time? Our jobs put us on different schedules, and wouldn’t it take more energy to link up our schedules? Besides, isn’t it normal to have the first flush of love fade a bit? I hear you. But the time to attend to the relationship is not when you feel the fade, but while love is still in bloom. Date night can relieve, not cause, more stress—and it just might bring a lifetime of happiness.
Studies indicate that shared activities help sustain relationships; however, positive, stress-free activities and relationship quality – both in the moment and for the future – require both of you to want the activity and the result it might bring. Studies also indicate the quality of the connection should be a priority before there’s a threat to it. Most individuals who enjoyed their date night activities reported a positive impact on their relationship even after the event; they felt they had learned more about their partner and could implement higher levels of relationship skills.
Date Night Goes the Extra Mile
Everyday maintenance is valuable, but date night can add that something extra. It presents opportunities to openly discuss thoughts and feelings, maintain a cheerful and affectionate demeanor, and gives the partner assurances associated with commitment and satisfaction; it also predicts whether the relationship will last over an 8-week period. Research shows that date nights have positive effects including a dedication to commitment, concern for the partner, more time to understand the significant other, shared fun time, and greater communication. If both members of a couple are willing to demonstrate these qualities, they are definitely long-term-relationship material.
So, what kind of activities work best in keeping a relationship healthy and thriving? Studies show that activities that are novel, exciting, and arousing will boost closeness more than those that are routine. According to one source, activities that are “adventurous, passionate, sexual, playful, romantic, spontaneous…and involving a high level of alertness and involvement” are those that best reinforce closeness and commitment. One study showed that partners who shared skydiving reported higher levels of relationship satisfaction than those who did not. I suppose if you’re willing to jump out of a plane for your partner, you’re invested in the relationship! Yet, closeness was reportedly highest when activities involved a balance of safety and risk: no one wants to explain to the ER doc that they were engaging in risky behavior to keep their relationship healthy. The getaway—a holiday or day at the beach—is at the top of the chart in fostering closeness and intimacy. Dining out, or even planning alone time where the couple cook together, shopping, gardening, or setting aside designated time for intimacy are all activities that work well. Knowing your partner’s preferences for any of these activities might provide the extra spark that keeps the flames burning. As with any activity and any successful relationship, communication and honesty are essential; accommodating the partner was a crucial aspect of both parties’ positive relationship evaluation. Finally, pick activities that do not produce anxiety; studies show stress-free events generated more closeness and were associated with higher relationship quality. To keep it stress-free, show you’re invested! Don’t take on an activity you don’t like, simply because you want to make date night work. That shared mutually-attractive activity is out there: go find it.
The Value of Quality Time
Yet, more important than the activity itself is the commitment from both parties to invest in spending time together. Studies show that positive activity outcomes depend less on what the couples do and more on how they feel about doing them together. Activities chosen for their ability to boost closeness work better than activities that are selected for the “fun-factor.” Also, when one half of the couple perceives the partner is only half-heartedly committed to the activity, lower closeness is reported. According to one study, couples who didn’t make it to the three-month mark of the study involved men who were not eager to participate in shared activities with their partners.
Couples who build date nights into their relationships experience better communication, greater affection and gratitude for the other, and a desire to spend more time together. Date night provides a welcome entertainment so couples can return to focusing on important issues without distractions. The date night experience indicates that the partners are taking the relationship seriously and willing to invest in it. Both contribute to alleviating stress for the other during enjoyable events. One of the additional major perks? Date night leads to more shared time, which in turn, creates higher levels of sexual satisfaction.
Take Home Message
If you have a good thing going and want your relationship to last, don’t wait for signs of trouble. Spice up your life now and reap the long-term benefits. Perhaps tonight, while sitting on the sofa, put a mischievous gleam in your eye, tilt your head to the side, and put it out there: “Hey honey, how about a date tonight?”