5 Ways to Rev Up Your Relationship Without a Date Night
According to a study by relationship experts Henry Benson, Ph.D., and Steve McKay, Ph.D., married couples who go on dates about once a month are more likely to stay together for ten years or longer than those who rarely go out. But you don't need to shell out for babysitters and restaurant meals. We asked relationships experts and happily married moms to divulge how they and their partners reap the benefits of dates without actually going on them. Here’s their stellar advice about how to be romantic at home.
1. Notice your partner more often.
This is a little habit that doesn’t take any time or planning. All you have to do is pay attention and say something back when your spouse talks to you. “Research shows that responding to your partner’s emotional cues is what keeps bonds strong,” says Sue Johnson, Ph.D., author of Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. The extra awareness doesn’t have to be a big deal. “A one-sentence love note tucked into a backpack or a ‘thinking of you’ text goes a remarkably long way,” adds Marianne Dainton, Ph.D., professor of communication at La Salle University, in Philadelphia.
John Gottman, Ph.D., coauthor of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, recommends a six-second kiss every time you see each other after an absence. Another subtle way that our partners try to get us to notice them is by commenting on literally anything—a news story, a meme, a relative’s new haircut. Rebecca F., of Durham, North Carolina, says she and her husband do some of their best bonding when they’re engaging in benign gossip about friends and family. She knows that when her husband asks if she saw Cousin Tillie’s wacky Facebook post, he’s asking her to pay attention to him—and so she does.
2. Inject touch into everyday life.
The more nonsexual—but affectionate and sensual—physical contact you have, the more comfortable and connected you’ll feel. For most couples, behaviors like cuddling spur deeper feelings of love than verbal expressions (like a muttered “Love you”), according to a recent study from Penn State. Couples therapists call this “no-strings-attached intimacy,” the kind that gives partners the feeling of being courted and cherished without ending up in the bedroom.
Elsie Kagan, of Brooklyn, says that she and her husband have instituted a tradition of lying down together right after they get their three children to sleep. “Screens, household chores, and distractions are off-limits, and we just check in with each other for a few minutes,” she says. Other moms hold hands with their partner as they walk home from dropping their kids at day care, or give each other foot rubs while they watch old sitcom reruns.
3. Remember the early days.
It’s never going to be like those early, passionate days, and that’s okay. Still, it’s worthwhile remembering what you first liked about each other and what you did together then. As Dr. Dainton says, “Remember your inside jokes? Use them. Hearing them takes you into a different time or place that isn’t so stressful.” A particularly sweet example: Milda DeVoe, of New York City, and her husband text each other photos of clocks showing their anniversary—10:17. “It always cheers me to know he’s thinking of me at least twice a day,” she says.
Retell the story of how you met to your kids too. It will make them feel more secure to know their parents have a real love story at the core of their relationship—even if they roll their eyes when they hear about it. Looking at old pictures is also a great activity for stay-at-home date night.
4. Sneak romance into platonic events.
Jennon Hoffmann, of Chicago, has a brilliant grocery shopping hack. Instead of having one spouse stay home with the baby and the other hit the store, all three shop together on Friday nights. Their favorite market has a small walk-up wine bar, so she sips wine and her husband has a beer. “Together we roam each aisle to pick up ingredients for Sunday’s meals,” says Hoffmann.
Some couples leave PTA fund-raisers early and grab a drink or a dessert together, or combine parent-teacher conferences with dinner or lunch out. Mary Richardson Graham, of Philadelphia, told me about a nice “day drunk” she and her husband recently shared: “We visited a preschool we were considering and then got lunch at a nearby place. The weather was perfect, we sat outside, and we just kept talking and drinking.”
No shared errands on the calendar for weeks? Talk while the kids are asleep, watching a movie, or distracted in the stroller. All you need are a few moments with each other to chat about something other than logistics, says Dr. Johnson. “Time together as partners first, not parents, is key.”
5. Go big for stay-at-home date night.
Rather than trying to squeeze in dinners out, save your money and energy for a stay-at-home date night. Sometimes pizza and a movie on the couch feel much more intimate—and cost a lot less—than fancy restaurant meals. Plan the date night for after the kids go to bed, or have them stay at a relative's house overnight. You can elevate the romance factor with candles, soft music, and fancy dinnerware.