The other day, I was cleaning the bathroom while my husband was sitting in our bedroom. I grabbed a piece of toilet paper, poked my head into the bedroom where he was sitting and ceremoniously waved it over my head while calling, “I’m waving a white flag. This is me surrendering. You have officially won our passive aggressive contest over date night.” He looked confused so I held up the dust-laden copy of a date night ideas for married people book that I had placed in a magazine holder near the toilet literally years before. Its pages were warped from humidity and it was clearly untouched, because the last time it had been opened was, I’m certain, when I leafed through the pages at a bookstore. “Remember I put this here, hoping you would use it for date night ideas? You win. I’m finally throwing it away.” “Oh. Yeah,” he smoothly replied, “I read it already. We’ve done everything in there.”
“What? No we haven’t!” I exclaimed, “Look, on page 97, ** ‘The Backwards Date—Put your clothes on backwards and visit your local outdoor track and race each other walking backwards for a lap.’” “Oh,” he continued, “I mean we have done everything in there that is not entirely stupid or just downright lame.” Well.
“OK honey, but remember the point was that YOU were going to plan what we do for date night.” My husband finally made eye contact, “Lori, let’s get real. Every time I make a suggestion for where we go, you change it and we go there, which is fine with me—I really don’t mind, but the truth is, you have strong opinions and I don’t.”
Oh. He was right. I hadn’t even realized that I set him up for failure. I thought back to the previous weekend when he suggested, “Do you want to go get sushi?” and I pondered, “We can, but I think chicken tikka masala sounds better, or I read that a new Peruvian restaurant opened recently,” and he said, “OK, which of those sounds better to you?” The more I thought, the more I realized that I was indeed the more particular of us. I was the one who set up a sailing lesson, scheduled a hot air balloon ride, bought him a rope so we could rappel down a local waterfall, rented snowshoes, registered for a Santa run, planned a rafting trip by moonlight, set up couples’ massage dates and consistently scanned the internet for new restaurant openings and obscure locales, adding to my date night bucket list. I thought of all the times he suggested something and I redirected him to something else. In fact, the last time I remembered my going along with his idea instead of mine was when he had planned a surprise without my knowing, so I had to go along.
I apologized and asked him if he cared, and he said he really didn’t, which I believed, but I wondered how many times my actions discouraged him from even trying to plan something. This is a big reason why couples give up on putting forth effort in their relationships. They feel as if their efforts don’t matter or are outright rejected. I think my husband experienced more relief about not having to plan date night than outright rejection, but I have seen discouraged spouses completely give up over less.
Recent research by The Marriage Foundation has confirmed that setting aside time to date your spouse for just one night a month can make a significant difference in marital stability. In reality, this is just one indicator and not a clear cause and effect (just like all research with human behavior), but people who take the time to set aside special time together even once a month probably care enough about their marriages to manifest commitment in other ways that strengthen relationships. The dates don’t need to be complex. It could be as simple as walking out the front door with a coin, and at every corner flip the coin to see if you walk left or right to see where you end up.
This sounds so simple, but I’m always surprised at the amount of married people who live week to week with no plan to get a babysitter and go out. I can’t remember a time in my marriage when I would not have moved heaven and earth to get a night alone with my husband. I think it has made a big difference for us.
Just going anywhere together sends a message that the marriage is important, but there is some research suggesting that trying something new together might even boost couple happiness. I suspect this might be related to the fact that we are attracted to novelty, but also that happiness is so tied to experiences instead of things. One of our most memorable dates was when my husband and I went to a new downtown restaurant. As we walked in past a film crew, we realized that the restaurant was currently being used for a scene in a movie. We were seated in the crowded restaurant for about ten minutes when we were approached by a waiter who said, “The film director saw you walk in and wants to know if you will come sit in a scene for his film.” When my husband found out the film had “peloton,” in the title, he was more than willing to sit in for them, being a fellow cyclist. Later, when the film was released, my husband and I bought it on DVD solely to have that scene from our date. Novel. Check. Experience. Check. Memories. Check. Happiness. Check.
So, the next time you go into the typical popular home accent store which could be aptly named, “A Bunch of Crap I Really Don’t Need,” consider spending that money on date night or a babysitter instead. If necessary, both. Comparatively speaking, you will get more bang for your buck.
Trust me, it’s cheaper than marriage therapy. Or a divorce.
*Credit to the band INXS for inspiring this title from their 1987 song, “Mediate,” which never gets old for me.
**Since I threw the book away, I just made that up, but it’s typical of some of the more…ahem…creative suggestions.
Photo credit: Copyright: oneinchpunch / 123RF Stock Photo