We’ve all heard that regular date nights are important to keep a marriage healthy and strong. Yet these days, everyone is busy, tired, and overspent. Add kids to the mix, and it only gets harder to prioritize each other in the midst of the daily chaos that is raising a family.
Regardless, a solid marriage is the foundation of any family, and research shows that date nights can help strengthen that foundation. Plus, they’re fun and can be a great way to relax. Here’s why date nights should be a priority for married couples and how even busy parents can make date night part of their routine.
Why Date Night Matters
When you first met your spouse and started dating, it only seemed natural to take the time to indulge in romance and linger over getting to know each other. Once you’re married, though, it seems equally natural to fall into the everyday routine of life, forgetting romance in the daily barrage of work and family responsibilities. The result is that you too often take each other for granted.
Matthew Garrett of Relationships Australia tells HuffPost that it’s easy to take our partners for granted: “We assume they will always be there, when in actual fact that relationship is an important project in our life that needs focus and attention.” Further, he says, “feelings of being taken for granted can easily come up, and that is the death knell for any relationship.”
Garrett’s observation is similar to the finding of a 2016 U.K. report by Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation and Steve McKay of the University of Lincoln. The report specifically analyzed couples with children and found that couples who went on monthly date nights were significantly more likely to stay together than those who rarely went out. The report concluded that “[b]y going out every so often, married couples reinforce the importance of their relationship.”
Likewise, The Date Night Opportunity report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia analyzed data on “couple time” and discovered that couples who engaged in a high amount of couple time were significantly less likely – 2.5 times for husbands and 4 times for wives – to divorce.
It isn’t just about divorce rates, though. More time spent focusing on and connecting with each other also equates to greater marital happiness. The Date Night Opportunity report found that married couples who engaged in couple time at least once a week were 3.5 times more likely to report being “very happy” in their marriages than those who didn’t engage in as much couple time.
It’s even easier to take your partner for granted once little ones come into the picture, as their needs seem to occupy all your attention. In fact, The Date Night Opportunity report cites a survey that found spouses with children at home reported spending two hours less per day together than those without children at home.
Thus, couple time for married parents is even more crucial to building a solid marriage than it is for couples without children. The parents studied who continued to prioritize date night were two times less likely to report a decline in marital happiness than those who let couple time slip by the wayside.
What Keeps Date Night From Happening
Focused one-on-one time for parents is important, and most of us freely acknowledge that even without the statistics to back it up. Yet it’s also one of the first things to go on our list of priorities. So what keeps date night from happening?
First, parents already suffer from overloaded schedules. Between working full-time jobs and taking care of our kids, there often just isn’t time to plan and go out on dates. Even when we might be able to squeeze a few hours out of the day, there’s precious little energy left for planning, finding a babysitter, getting dressed up, and actually going somewhere.
Then there’s the cost. With kids to take care of, many parents’ budgets are already stretched tight. As of 2018, the estimated cost of raising a child to the age of 17 is $233,610, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a monthly average of $1,145 per child.
Now, let’s consider the cost of the average date night, which could include a nice dinner with wine and dessert plus tip ($60), movie tickets ($25), and babysitting for five hours at $15 per hour ($75). That adds up to a total of $160 for just one date. Even if you opt to skip dinner, you could still expect to spend close to $100 just to see a movie.
For parents of young children, the biggest cost of date night is easily babysitting alone. According to UrbanSitter’s 2018 survey, the average cost of babysitting is $16.43 per hour, and that’s just for one child. For two children, the average rate goes up to $18.86 per hour, and for three children, it’s $20.56.
Even if parents have the time and energy, the cost for an average date night makes them extremely prohibitive, no matter how much we may know they’re good for our relationships. There is, however, a solution that can help parents get in their one-on-one time without spending a whole lot of extra time, money, or energy: the at-home date night.
At-Home Date Nights
Date night doesn’t have to mean getting a babysitter and going out for a night on the town. The Date Night Opportunity report analyzed couple time, which can be anything at all that you do to carve out time for each other.
The important thing is to make time to focus on your relationship outside the normal everyday activities of managing kids and work. Setting aside time for the two of you sends the message that you’re creating a special space for one another and prioritizing each other. It also gives you time to reconnect, kindle the romance, and even unwind after a long day.
Creating a special date night at home can achieve all of the objectives of a date night, while also catering realistically to your time and energy levels and mitigating costs. Below are several ideas for at-home date nights to give you the inspiration to create your own special, at-home dates.
No matter what you choose to do, the most important things are to make your dates about connecting and to somehow make them special – a few hours away from your normal, everyday routines. So put the kids to bed and take some time to remember what it’s like to not just be parents, but a couple.
Ideas for Date Night at Home
1. Enjoy a Movie Night
Planning an at-home movie night is easy and low-cost; all you need is the movie and some snacks. The trick to this one, especially if your usual M.O. is to spend your free time in front of the TV, is to elevate it by making it special and different from the norm.
Here are some ideas for achieving that:
- Set the scene with lots of blankets and pillows or even a mattress on the floor.
- Have lots of fun snacks, like candy you normally wouldn’t eat but might find at the movie theater – think Twizzlers, M&Ms, or SweeTarts.
- Don’t forget the popcorn. You can keep it plain or try a gourmet popcorn recipe like these from Food Network.
- As for the choice of movie, watch something you wouldn’t when the kids are around. For example, my husband and I often watch superhero movies with our son because we all love them. But one like “Deadpool” is adults-only.
- Make it a themed movie, such as by watching a movie from the era you grew up in or the first movie you saw together.
2. Turn Your Dining Room or Patio Into a Dining Destination
In addition to babysitting, eating out – especially at a fine-dining restaurant – can be another big expense of date night. But you don’t have to go out to a restaurant to enjoy the feel of one. It can be just as special, and sometimes even more so, to enjoy a quiet and romantic dinner at home.
For example, early in our marriage, my husband and I were very broke and didn’t have the money to spend on a nice dinner out for Valentine’s Day. So I picked up some wine and a couple of steaks from the grocery store, made a decadent chocolate dessert, put a nice tablecloth on our dining table, sprinkled it with homemade heart-shaped confetti, and lit some candles. Though the food was still a splurge for us, it was less expensive than a restaurant and even more memorable. We’ve gone to many a restaurant on Valentine’s Day since then, but that first Valentine’s Day is the one I remember most fondly.
Here are some suggestions for setting up a “restaurant” at home:
- Set the mood by pulling out the good dishes, using a tablecloth, and lighting candles.
- Play soft background music.
- Plan the menu according to what works best for you:
- If you enjoy cooking, search Pinterest for some doable recipes that are different from your normal fare.
- If you want to cook but wouldn’t mind using a few shortcuts, try buying prepared food at your local grocery store or using a meal-prep service like HelloFresh or Plated.
- If you don’t want to have anything to do with meal prep, you can try a restaurant delivery service like Grubhub, DoorDash, or Amazon Restaurants. It might cost a bit more than making dinner yourself, but you’re still saving on babysitting and won’t have to use a lot of energy when you’re low on it.
- Don’t forget dessert. You can purchase something special and decadent from a store or bake something yourself. Try one of these desserts for two from Food Network.
A few other things to keep in mind: Though you may be very used to eating at home, remember this is a date. Relax and linger over your meal, hold hands, look into each other’s eyes, and even play footsie under the table. Most importantly, have a conversation. This is your time to relax and connect with each other. Avoid talking about family topics and instead focus on each other.
3. Enjoy Music & Drinks
A dinner date may be more than you want to commit to, especially if having dinner together as a family is important to you. But you can still enjoy drinks together reminiscent of that cool lounge bar you used to go to.
Search online for some fun cocktail recipes you’ve always wanted to try, like these from Food & Wine, and make a playlist together of some smooth and relaxing music. Then, turn the lights down low, put the music on, and kick back with your cocktail creations.
4. Have a Dessert Date
Again, if dinner is more than you want to do, your date could focus on dessert only. Dessert is easy to pick up to go from a restaurant while saving on the bill for an entrée. You could also pick up something from a local bakery you’ve meant to try or make ice cream sundaes with a bunch of different ice cream flavors and toppings. Go all out on your dessert since it will be the focus of your date.
Then, just enjoy it, either in a “dining destination,” on the patio, or curled up in bed.
5. Host a Wine & Chocolate (or Cheese) Tasting
My husband and I recently got into wine tasting and have been keeping a list of all our favorite wines so far. Many of these we keep on hand, so a great at-home date night for us might involve pulling out a couple of bottles and paring them with chocolate, cheese, or both.
If you don’t have any wine on hand, pick up a couple of bottles you’ve never tried before from the store. Get a little adventurous with your pairings and risk trying something new. Another option would be to use HelloFresh for their wine delivery. You can pick up six bottles each month, delivered to your doorstep. Plus, you can skip months it you have a generous supply.
While you’re at the store, don’t forget the cheese and chocolate. Be sure to pick up a good mix of different types and flavors; for example, dark, white, and milk chocolate and a combination of soft, semi-soft, and hard cheeses.
You can even get extra fancy and spread out a tablecloth, light some candles, and set up a charcuterie board for some more tasting options; Food Network has a guide on how to create one.
Here are some additional tips:
- Pairings can be tricky, so you might want to do some research on your choices or talk to your store’s wine expert or cheesemonger.
- Chocolate usually goes best with reds.
- Progress in your tastings from dry to sweet wines.
- Refresh your palate between tastings with water, pretzels, or even those Goldfish crackers your kids love.
6. Get Hot in the Kitchen
If cooking is your thing, here are a few other ways you can enjoy some couple time in the kitchen:
- Have a Cook-Off. Pick a recipe and see who can make it best. Then have fun trying each other’s creations.
- Do a Blind Taste Test. Choose some different foods – nothing too gross if you want to stay married – blindfold your spouse, and have them try to guess what they’re eating.
- Take an Online Cooking Class. If you’ve always wanted to learn to cook certain dishes, or you think it’s sexy to play with food together in the kitchen, try searching YouTube for cooking videos or try an online class platform like Udemy or Bluprint (formerly Craftsy).
7. Have a Game Night
Playing games together is one of my and my husband’s favorite activities, and it’s something we rarely get to do with our little one as he’s only 3. So for us, game night is couple time. It gives us the chance to spend one-on-one time together while doing something fun.
Sometimes it can be difficult to find two-player board games, so here’s a list to get you started. Note that some of these are traditionally kids’ games, but that can make them even more fun as it will feel like a guilty pleasure to play with just the two of you. And you might already have some of these games on hand, which makes the total cost for date night zero.
Other “games” that can be played by two include puzzles and card games. Check out The Dating Divas for a list of over 50 two-player card games.
8. Make Your Own Game
Board or card games can be fun, but for a real challenge – and possibly some deeper connections – try making your own game.
It could be a homemade version of Lovopoly, a customized-to-you version of Monopoly that’s unfortunately no longer available for retail sale.
It could also be a couple’s scavenger hunt. Try hiding “treasures” for your spouse to find around the house and give them clues for each, with one clue leading to the next. For extra points, make each item and clue have special meaning, such as things you love about your spouse or items that remind you of your relationship, first date, or honeymoon.
9. Play Video Games
For the overly competitive, video games can be an even better option than board games, which generally produce a winner and a loser. If you know it will be difficult to win or lose without conjuring bad feelings, try a two-player cooperative video game where you try to complete a game together.
10. Have a Couples Quiz Night
This idea is less about showing off your trivia skills than it is an opportunity to learn more about each other. You can make your own version of the Newlywed Game, play Truth or Dare, or make a set of “Would You Rather?” cards where you pick the “best” out of a set of options – for example, “Would you rather go skydiving or hang gliding?”
You can even make up your own quiz by writing down a set of 10 or more questions you’ve always wanted to ask your spouse, where nothing’s off limits.
11. Create a Spa Night
A spa night or couples massage is a worthwhile indulgence, but it’s also an expensive one. When you’re short on funds and still want that relaxing spa feel, try creating one at home.
You can be as ambitious as you want with this and include one spa service or many. Some ideas include facials, manicures, pedicures, massages, and a special bath with bubble bath, rose petals, or bath bombs (DIY Projects has recipes to make your own).
Make your spa night extra special with spa food, such as strawberries, chocolates, and cucumber or fruit-infused water.
Light some candles, lay out fresh towels, and play some relaxing spa music. Then take turns giving each other spa services. Or, to really create some relaxing vibes, make your spa night a gift one of you gives to the other, as few want to be relaxed by a massage only to turn around and have to massage their partner. One of you can be the recipient this time, and next week, it can be the other’s turn.
12. Cozy Up Around a Fire
Few things are more romantic than relaxing in front of a cozy fire. If it’s summer or fall and the weather’s nice, try a fire outside, and don’t forget the s’mores.
If it’s winter, try lighting a fire in the fireplace, laying blankets on the floor, and cozying up with a bottle of wine or an indoor picnic. If you don’t have a fireplace, you can light a group of candles, dim the lights, and snuggle up.
13. Go Stargazing
There’s something about a summer evening that sets it up for romance without you having to do much more. So grab the baby monitor and head outside for an evening under the stars.
You can simply enjoy the night, complete with candles and conversation, or turn it into a true stargazing event by setting up blankets and pillows in the backyard and using star charts to look up constellations. The card pack 100 Things to Spot in the Night Sky can help you with what to look for, and you can also take turns looking up and telling each other stories about the constellations.
Combine your stargazing with a picnic to give it a real date night feel without having to go further than your backyard.
14. Have an Indoor Campout
Remember how fun blanket forts were when you were a kid? Here’s your chance to relive the experience. “Camp out” in your living room by creating a fort with pillows and blankets. You can even roast some s’mores and tell each other scary stories.
15. Take a Virtual Vacation
You can approach this one in a couple of different ways. You can “plan” a dream vacation together by looking at travel sites, deciding on an itinerary, “buying” plane tickets, and “booking” hotels. The idea is to dream about your ultimate vacation and then pretend to actually plan it. Sometimes anticipation is half the fun, and since this is all imaginary and no real dollars are involved, there’s no limit to what you can dream up.
A second twist on this idea is to recreate some elements of your ideal vacation that you can enjoy on your date. For example, if you’ve always wanted to go to Paris, have some French food delivered, listen to some French music, and watch a French film. You could even practice speaking French to each other.
16. Create an At-Home Bookstore or Café
My husband and I met at a bookstore; he was one of the first members of a writing group I started with a friend that met at our local Barnes & Noble.
For years, before we had our son, we enjoyed spending time together scouring the stacks and then gathering our finds and perusing them in the café. Sometimes we’d also meet for writing dates and sit with our computers or notebooks either in the bookstore café or a local coffee shop. It was such a part of our life that my husband even proposed to me at the same Barnes & Noble where we met.
Although we still regularly visit the bookstore, it’s usually with our little one in tow, which doesn’t make for leisurely dates. It’s become a guilty pleasure now to sneak off on a rare afternoon while the kiddo is in school and linger over a latte and a magazine at the local bookstore café.
It may not be for everyone, but if trips to the bookstore or a coffee shop are something you also enjoy, it’s possible to recreate the experience at home.
First, if it’s a bookstore vibe you’re going for, you’ll want to have a bunch of magazines on hand or peruse your own bookshelves for some reading material. You can set up a “café table” to look at your books together or simply curl up on the couch.
Second, try searching online for some fancy coffee recipes, such as these from Allrecipes. Then, shop for your ingredients, if you don’t already have them on hand, set out your coffee mugs, make your drinks, and snuggle up with some good reading.
17. Have a Craft Party
This one is just like those wine and painting parties that have become so popular. You can buy some canvas, paint, and paintbrushes and have fun creating artistic masterpieces, even if you aren’t an artist.
Or you can decide on another type of craft project, such as painting coffee cups, etching glassware, or making a mosaic stepping stone. Regardless, couples who work together on a project can have fun and also walk away with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Whatever craft you decide on, though, remember that the object is to have fun and de-stress. I don’t recommend tackling a home improvement project; save those for non-date hours.
I don’t necessarily mean the sexy kind of role-playing, though that might be fun too. Here, the idea is more like playing a game where you slip into a character and improv an “event.” You can make it more”official” by sending your spouse an invitation complete with the name of the event, the time, the place, and your spouse’s character name, description, and role. Don’t forget to include a note to dress for the part.
- Event: The Grand Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Time: 8:30pm
- Place: 1980s, New York City
- Character: Katarina, a notorious art thief, dressed in disguise in a trench coat and fedora hat.
Then, get into character and have fun.
19. Have Breakfast in Bed
Unless you’re a very early riser, you’ll most likely be having your “breakfast” date at night after the kids are in bed. But breakfast for dinner can be a lot of fun, and if you bust out the tray tables and eat your breakfast in bed, you can even pretend you’re in a fancy hotel.
20. Make Love & Go All Out
Your date night might eventually end up in the bedroom, anyway, but the idea behind this date is to do something really special that’s different from your normal routine. Parents often lose most of their previous sex lives when kids enter the picture. They’re short on time, and even when there is time, they’re too tired to do much more than a “quickie” or even to have sex at all.
So, to plan a special night, try rekindling some of that old spark by going all out. Wear sexy lingerie, light candles, sprinkle rose petals on the bed, try some new positions, and even experiment with lotions and body paints – whatever you’d like to try but don’t usually give yourselves the time for.
21. Reminisce Together
Try creating a date night around reliving old memories. This kind of activity can help conjure feelings of nostalgia, which will contribute to shared good feelings and connection. Relationships are often built as much on shared history and experiences as they are on other things.
To reminisce together, you can set up a movie night and watch your wedding video or look through old photo albums. Make sure to swap memories and talk about your shared experiences.
You can even share old memories that your spouse may not have been a part of, such as flipping through photos from your childhood or high school yearbooks. Sharing stories from before you were together can help you learn new things about your spouse you may never have known. You can even make a game of it by creating your own version of “two truths and a lie.” Make up a fake story to go with your two truths and see if your spouse can guess which story is fake.
22. Pay Homage to the Year You Met
You can set up this date by choosing a popular movie, a hit song, outfits, and even a snack food that was popular in the year you met, or maybe something from the first meal or food you shared. Either way, the idea is to recreate that year in as many fun ways as you can imagine.
23. Take YouTube Dance Lessons
If you’ve always wanted to take dance lessons, but you didn’t want to spring for a babysitter, or if you’re just looking for an excuse to dance the night away with your spouse, YouTube is full of videos on how to do just about any kind of dancing. Bring up a video on the big screen, put on your dancing shoes, and have fun learning some new routines.
24. Take Up a New Hobby Together
If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ve put it off because of more “important” family matters, date night might be the time to try it. Whether it’s a cooking class, dancing lessons, painting, or photography, tackling something together as a couple can produce shared feelings of accomplishment that can strengthen your relationship. Just make sure it’s something you’ll both enjoy and something you might not do otherwise, as date night is all about busting out of your normal routine.
25. Just Talk
Parents can easily get stuck in a rut of talking about the kids, work, money, or other family business. Conversation more often consists of “Can you pick up the milk?” than “What are your hopes and dreams?”
So often our conversations are mundane and superficial rather than deep and meaningful, so to sit down and really talk can feel like a luxury for many a parent.
Date nights are all about connecting with each other, and there’s no better way to connect than simply to have a heartfelt conversation. People evolve and change, and there are always new things you can learn about your spouse to keep in touch with who you both are becoming. We all grow, but the last thing many of us want is to grow apart. Regular conversations can keep that from happening.
If you struggle with knowing what to talk about, you can get started with a book of questions for couples like “201 Relationship Questions: The Couple’s Guide to Building Trust and Emotional Intimacy.” Or you can try a card pack like TableTopics Couples.
This kind of date can easily be combined with another, like the bookstore or dining destination date, or you can simply cozy up on the back porch or curl up in bed, turn off your phones, and talk for hours, taking the time to get to know one another like you did when you were first dating.
26. Subscribe to a Date Night in a Box
When you’re fresh out of creative inspiration for ways to make a night in feel as special as a night out, try a ready-made subscription service. The DateBox from Happily includes everything you need for a romantic date, including supplies, a custom playlist, and conversation starters. Plus, each box is customized to you. After you fill out a short questionnaire, Happily curates a date you and your partner will both enjoy. And they’ll deliver you a new box every month, so you’ll always have a fresh take on date nights at home.
Past boxes have included experiences such as baking donuts, learning to tango, roasting s’mores at an indoor campout, churning homemade ice cream, painting cake pops, and mastering new card games. The longer you subscribe, the bigger the discount you get on each box. But if prices are still too steep for your budget, they also have a less expensive digital plan. Although you won’t get a box of date night supplies with the digital-only version, you will get unique, planned-for-you date night ideas delivered to your email inbox.
The most important thing to keep in mind about date nights is this: There is no connection between how much money you spend on a date and how good the date will be. You can have fun and connect without spending any money at all.
Although it can be fun and worthwhile to go out once in a while, it’s important to know that you can just as easily stay in and enjoy all the benefits of a regular date night. Research shows that marital happiness is cultivated through time spent connecting with each other, and that can be done curled up on the couch just as easily as at a fancy restaurant.
As long as you’re focusing on each other – connecting, communicating, and enjoying each other – that’s what really matters. And that’s good news for busy parents everywhere.
Have you tried doing date nights at home? Do you have any great ideas to add to this list?