written by Stephanie Schuster, LMSW, Avalon Psychotherapist
In my work with couples, I often mention the notion of dating your spouse. When first entering a relationship, it is filled with dates, getting to know one another, romance, and passion – all part of the limerence or “honeymoon” phase.
But what happens after the honeymoon phase has fizzled out? Or when life gets busy? Or after having children? I always ask couples how often they make time for dates or even just alone time together. For some, the answer is rarely.
There are many reasons that make it hard for couples to schedule dates or alone time:
having to hire a babysitter
financial reasons (and you know what’s expensive? Divorce. Divorce is expensive…)
differing work schedules
just always being busy
There are always reasons to push dates together to the backburner, but you don’t have to have a full date night in order to date your spouse. Just like any relationship, maintaining a bond and connectedness requires work. The exercises below do not require money, hiring a babysitter, or even taking hours of time. (Although, it always helps to keep monthly or biweekly dates in the mix!)
Here are 5 unusual (and effective) ways to keep dating your spouse:
1. Reminisce over the start of the relationship and/or other memorable moments. A fun and free way of dating your spouse is revisiting the moments that fostered your connection and love for one another. Spend some time with your partner going over in detail your recollection of your first date together, or when you got engaged, or even the day you both said, “I do”. Take turns discussing what it was like for you during that time. What were the feelings? Was it nerve-wracking, exciting, or did you feel the chemistry immediately? What were the thoughts? This exercise is light and easy and can help you both remember what drove you to one another in the first place.
2. Spend time together disconnected. In a time where we are constantly on our phones, watching tv, and worrying about the long to-do list that needs attention, take time away from it all. Set time aside where you both can disconnect from the social world and connect with one another. Remove focus from the daily tasks and spend time going over things that are central to you both. Talk about goals, or dreams, or places you would love to visit. This can be done at home, at night in bed, or when out on a date. Don’t get caught up in discussing the “business” of running the family. This is connection time!
3. Show appreciation. Sometimes couples think that this is an easy or silly exercise. However, the value of showing appreciation for one another is often overlooked. You may be thinking- why should I show appreciation for daily tasks that need to get done. Or- I already say thank you when my partner does something nice or helpful. And those are valid. But when we take the time to focus on the things we may take for granted, and even more, make it a point to recognize them, we foster love and connectedness because it meets a core need of our partner: to feel “seen.” This does not have to be done daily and can be done in a way that is fun. Take turns each week noticing things your partner does that you don’t always give them credit for. Do you appreciate when your partner makes you your morning cup of coffee? Or when they offer to pick up something from the store for you? Or maybe even the way they parent. There are always things we can appreciate in our partners; we just need to take the time to recognize them and, more importantly, verbalize them.
4. Take a moment to connect and sync up your breathing. This one may take a little practice but can be very rewarding once you get the hang of it. Sit down facing your partner, find a position that is comfortable for you both, close your eyes, and get ready to be extra close to one another. In this exercise, you and your partner will sit and lean in to touch foreheads together. You will then both focus on your breathing and work to sync up your breathing with one another. This may take a couple tries and can be done for time intervals that feel most comfortable for you both. For the first try, aim to sync your breathing for 30 seconds, inhaling and exhaling. If you feel comfortable and find you are both able to easily sync your breathing, try for longer time intervals. Remember to focus on your breathing and your body. To add another layer of connectedness, hold hands while doing this exercise. Side note: You may find it hard to keep focused on the breaths while a myriad of things are swirling around in your head, and that is okay! Just try to notice when other thoughts come in and then return your focus to your breathing. Mindfulness is a powerful thing and keeping the focus on one another can bring on feelings of closeness and connectedness.
5. Get in your six second kiss each day. Anyone who is familiar with the Gottman Institute may already know about the 6-second kiss. If not, I am here to tell you about this amazing way of staying connected with your partner. It really is as simple as kissing for 6 seconds. Yup, that’s it! Now for the science- Kissing releases oxytocin and dopamine and can help reduce cortisol. What are those chemicals you ask? Oxytocin helps with feeling comfort and bonding, often referred to as the love hormone. Dopamine is that fun chemical that activates the reward center of the brain, giving us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. And cortisol, the hormone that gives you fight or flight reflexes, a response to stress. This is a simple but powerful way to keep dating your spouse, and who doesn’t love a good kiss!
While setting time aside and scheduling date nights is important, it is not the only way to keep dating your spouse. Try any or all of these methods to help in reconnecting you to the one you love. Life is busy and hectic but that does not mean it has to get in the way of being close with your partner.