It’s a jarring fact, the average dual-career couple only talks 35 minutes a week! And those precious minutes are usually spent discussing errands.
Dr. Liz Hale shares how to reinvent date night to connect more in our relationships.
Reinventing Date Night
Alarming research came out of UCLA. Dual-career couples with small children talk on average only 35 minutes a week, and mainly about errands; who is doing what, when! When we fail to take care of our relationships our curiosity in each other begins to fade and die. We grow distant and we stop sharing our dreams and values, as well as our thoughts about trust, commitment, money, sex, and intimacy.
For this very reason we’re sounding the alarm on reinventing Date Night – but it’s not just about going out without the kids. It’s about being together without ALL the distractions of life AND honing in on some very specific aspects of relationship building that can be transformative.
The Gottman’s founded the Gottman method, which is a scientifically-based approach designed to repair and deepen relationships. Their latest book, “Eight Dates,” is for guiding couples on eight dedicated dates, navigating eight specific conversations which came out of the Gottman’s 40-years of observing flashpoints in relationships, from commitment to conflict and sex to spirituality.
SUIT UP & SHOW UP
Even if it’s just for an hour, suit up and show up, no matter what. Date nights – or date mornings or date afternoons – make relationships. Small, positive things done often make a true difference in a relationship. A true love story isn’t a fairy tale. It takes vulnerability and effort. Successful long-term marriages are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts. A lifetime of love is created every single day you are together.
Too often date nights become a random, freak act of nature. Think of it as a sacred time you commit to and carve out to ensure a happy, secure relationship.
John & Julie Gottman speak honestly about how working together makes it especially tricky to separate out what is and what is not a date. And it’s tempting to talk about work when they go on dates. They’ve had to consciously separate out the professional from the personal.
They frequently dine at a local café in the northwest. They order the same thing every time. The waiters know them by name as well as their regular order of baked eggs, a baguette and homemade jam. Within this familiar ritual, they have made the conscious agreement to not discuss their work. It’s their time to get personal; to ask open-ended questions; and move away from their work life. They report that they hold hands across the table, flirt, and laugh. It’s this special time for communicating what’s in their hearts that makes going to this café a date.
And it takes practice, whether you work together or not, to leave work behind and focus on the relationship during a date. But do it. It makes all the difference in the world.
COMMIT TO BEING CURIOUS NOT CORRECT
It’s never too early or too late to have conversations that will deepen your understanding of one another and your histories and cultures that you bring to your relationship.
You can spend a lifetime being curious about the inner world of your partner, and being brave enough to share your inner world, and never be done discovering all there is to know about each other. It’s exciting. It’s daunting. And it’s one of the greatest adventures you can take.
DON’T BE DISCOURAGED BY DIFFERENCES
So, let’s say two people have already begun interacting together and then have these eight guided conversations. Based on their feelings about these conversations the research can suggest if this relationship will be fulfilling or a source of continual misery.
For those couples who are already committed and/or married, the eight conversations will reveal what work the couple needs to do to make their love last.
Most couples are more dissimilar than similar. That’s what makes life interesting – it would be boring to be married to yourself. In fact, that’s what’s called being “single.”
One of the greatest gifts of relationship and marriage – and there are many – is the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person. Intimately, deeply, profoundly, in a way we’re almost never able to do with another human being. If you approach the mystery that is your partner with curiosity, your relationship and your life will be immeasurably enriched.
PLAYFULNESS IS AS IMPORTANT AS FIDELITY
Happy couples are not all that different from unhappy couples: they are simply able to make repairs to their relationship easier and faster so they can get back to the joy of being together.
We all need humor, laughter, and play. Romance is play. Banter is play. Taking a walk is play. Bring play into whatever you are doing. The opposite of play is not work – it is depression.
When our lives are fused with play, we’re able to see the absurd in the serious and find excitement in the mundane.
Each couple Liz works with in marital therapy completes a Gottman Marital Questionnaire showing their strengths and opportunities. In over 40,000 of these questionnaires throughout the world, 80% of the couples reported that fun, play, and adventure had died!
Your happiness individually and as a couple doesn’t consist of not having bad experiences, it’s about generating good experiences. Anytime you take play out of the mix, a relationship becomes a survival endurance contest. Playfulness is as necessary a quality as fidelity to keep your relationship vital and thriving.
In the book, “Eight Dates,” there is some short reading before each date. And under the date Fun & Adventure, there is a long list of adventure suggestions. To this particular date, bring your list and the top three things you’d like to do first. Be prepared to discuss with each other the items you circled and the ways you’d like to play or the things you’d consider fun. Look for the items you both circled. If there is no overlay, which items are you both willing to try that the other circled?
Press against your comfort zone.
Don’t force your partner to do something they are uncomfortable with.
Take a leap of faith.
Don’t criticize your partner for playing differently than you.
Ask open-ended questions like:
- What does adventure/play mean to you?
- How did you like to play when you were a child?
- What’s the most fun you’ve had playing in the last few years?
- How do you think we could have more fun?
- Share with me an adventure from your past.
- What’s an adventure you could imagine us having?
- What adventure do you want to have before you die?
RELATIONSHIPS BECOME MORE REAL, TRANSPARENT, & VULNERABLE
Committing to one person can be terrifying. It means putting all your eggs in one basket. There will be no one waiting in the wings if this relationship doesn’t work out. There isn’t a safety net. If things aren’t going well, we go to no one else to complain. Instead we go directly to our partner to work things out. And if we’re committed, we have given this person everything we have to offer. There’s nothing left over for another. That’s a risky decision but essential. Without this level of commitment, love will not last.
Choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws. It means never threatening to leave, even if at times you might want to. It also means caring about your partner’s pain as much as- if not more than – your own. In a committed relationship, you stop the world to try to understand and ease each other’s pain. This is partly why we get married and partly why we love. We need each other and we need to be needed by each other. True commitment is choosing each other over and over and over again because ultimately what makes relationships work is the decision to make them work.
When you’re first dating consider asking, how did your parents show their commitment to each other? How did they show a lack of commitment to each other? What does trust mean to you? What do you feel you need from me in order for you to begin to trust me?
Each and every day we’re married or in a relationship, in every interaction, within every argument, lie these important questions: Do you cherish me? How important am I to you? Do I come first in your life? Will you take me for granted? Are you always looking around for someone better than me? Will you care when I’m upset with you and listen to my concerns?
Ask open-ended questions:
Can you describe a time where you didn’t feel you trusted me and what I could have done to fix the situation?
What do you need from me in order for you to trust me even more?
It’s only when you put all of your eggs in one basket that you’ll get all the benefits of a full and loving relationship.
BOTTOMLINE: The goal is to be able to ultimately love your partner more deeply each and every year you’re together.