As a therapist who works with families, I frequently find myself asking parents, “When was the last time you went out as a couple?” While many are able to tell me they’ve done so recently (or not so long ago), they have a harder time when I press a bit and emphasize, “as a couple, not as parents.”
Parents can all too easily lose touch with their sense of couple-ness. Having children is wonderful and life-changing, but it can also take its toll on parents’ adult-to-adult relationship. Remember that? Before you had kids, all the things you used to do and enjoy, and how much you liked spending time with one another? Becoming parents doesn’t have to mean losing your life as a couple. In fact, doing so is bad for your kids!
So if you want to be good parents, make sure you’re taking care of your life as a couple. A regular or at least semi-regular date night can help. Here are some simple guidelines for planning a date night (or afternoon, or morning—it doesn’t matter!)
1. DO Make it easy. You’re more likely to follow through if it’s not a big deal to plan. Sitters cost money and add considerably to the expense of a date. If a family member is elected to watch the kids, make sure it’s someone whose presence isn’t going to stir up tension or conflict between you.
2. DO Make it affordable. A date doesn’t have to be extravagant. In fact, if it’s within your budget you’ll be more likely to do it again.
3. DO make it something you both enjoy, or take turns selecting the activity. Don’t get caught up in ideas of what couples are “supposed to do”. Do what you like. Your relationships will benefit both from rekindling pre-kid interests as well as through trying new things together.
1. DON’T overdo it on the alcohol. There are many obvious reasons for this, but for the purposes of this set of tips, it makes it easier to follow the next two guidelines.
2. DON’T talk about the kids. For this date, you need to work at being a couple, not at being parents. Restrict yourself in this way and see what happens. For some couples this is a kind of diagnostic tool. If you find it difficult, it’s probably an indicator that your relationship needs more attention. It’s not necessarily a red flag, but it could be a yellow one. Left unattended, relationships are like gardens—the weeds start crowding out the flowers.
3. DON’T bring up topics that require a serious conversation. A date is not the time to bring up that thing your partner did last week that really bothered you, or that unresolved issue from when you were first dating. If such a conversation is needed, schedule a time to have it. A date night is protected time; its purpose is to get you together as a couple and provide a context for enjoying being a couple. Dialogue about important issues needs its own dedicated time and place, and of course, couples therapy can be such a place if needed.
(Now you can see why overdoing the drinking might present a problem. Too many drinks leads to disinhibition and decreased judgment, which leads to a higher probability of not following these guidelines, which may result in a not-so-great—or worse!—date.)
4. DON’T think of your time together in terms of success or failure. Each time you go out you’ll learn new information that will be useful for the next time. The primary goal is to take care of your relationship and to keep growing as a couple and as individuals.
Think of couple time as neither an indulgence nor a luxury—instead consider it an integral ingredient for cultivating a healthy family life.
Andrew Roffman, LCSW, has over two decades of experience in helping families, couples, and individuals with emotional and behavioral problems. He is a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center and also the director of the Child Study Center’s Family Studies Program, a training program in family and couples therapy. Mr. Roffman teaches family therapy and family systems theory to psychology interns, psychiatry residents, and NYU undergraduates.
Mr. Roffman is a Member of the National Association of Social Workers. He has published numerous peer-reviewed articles for professional journals as well as a book chapter in Therapeutic Hypnosis with Children and Adolescents. Mr. Roffman received “Teacher of the Year” award in 2008 and 2011 for his work with trainees at the Child Study Center and is a regular contributing editor to The Journal for Systemic Therapies.