The other day a friend of mine was lamenting the temporary lull in her marriage.
“There’s no spark, no passion,” she said. “It’s just work, bills, kids and chores. I am so bored. He is so boring!”
I tried to think of something deep to say. “Maybe you guys should have a date night?”
She looked at me and made a face. We both laughed.
“Date night.” Relationship experts love to trot out the phrase as the go-to remedy for fixing a stagnant union, as if gussying up in your finest sundress while trying to maintain eye contact over sushi with the man who seems so boring lately, while talking about the same tired topics you discuss at home (“So….how was work? Did you remember to buy diapers?”), is going to re-ignite the flame of passion.
The truth: Few things in marriage are more excruciating than Date Night, touchy-feely fun at it’s most forced and tedious, right up there with mandatory company picnics, yoga retreats and making kids watch ballet.
Yet research suggests there could be a high price for opting out of date night. A 2012 report from the National Marriage Project shows that husbands and wives who spend time together at least once a week are 3.5 times happier in bed. Geez, who among us wouldn’t enjoy more than three times our current carnal jubilance? Sign me up for sushi for two!
The problem is that many married couples think they can recapture the hot-n-heavy early days of a romance by going out to dinner or to a cocktail party or even a dinner and a cocktail party followed by an outrageous jaunt to the ice cream shop!…status quo activities in a relationship that has already become mind numbingly status quo.
It doesn’t work like that.
If anything, rote attempts at bonding might even exacerbate the blahs because “couple time” isn’t delivering the googly eyes it’s supposed to. This might even make a spouse wonder if something more serious is going on, such as, why did I marry that empty sack of dreams in the first place?
For date nights to work, a growing body of research suggests that couples who do weird, physical, arousing, even risky stuff together — back packing, joining a poker league, braving a Flo Rida concert, kicking over public trash cans, stealing from family — are happier in their relationships. (I’m kidding about those last two.)
There are some valid-sounding reasons behind this.
At the most basic, playful/weird/physical activities are arousing, which a husband or wife may misattribute to re-attraction for the other (also known as, grasping at straws). Engaging in random acts of novelty also ward off feelings of advancing decrepitude, like maybe Spouse A is not as old, cranky and bitter as Spouse B suspects. And wacky experiences can make a couple feel closer. When they recall that insane 20 mile mountain bike ride that resulted in a harrowing inner thigh rash for both, they remember experiencing that special time together. Plus, novel and physical activities stimulate the body and brain to produce happier, more upbeat moods that — with enough alcohol — might extend to more positive feelings for one’s spouse. Maybe there is something to that cute, wobbling pile of flesh after all!
So the next time you feel the marital blahs coming on (it happens to the best of us), make a point of doing something totally wild, kooky and completely out of character. Just don’t call it “date night.” Call it “swing dancing.”
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