Date Night

After the dating, courting, or honeymoon days have passed, we realize that life together takes on a different feel, especially if both work and/or kids are involved. Yet, do we really want to settle for working, renting movies, watching TV, or dealing with the necessary details of life together, routines we only occasionally interrupt with forays into something new, or maybe vacations?  Naturally, people do enjoy their separate playful activities, but how many of us have some of them in common with our partners?  How often do you do the ones you do have in common?

In the hectic pace of life, it can become all too easy to let our relationships slip from first place in our priorities.  Yet intuition as well as research tell us that having a meaningful, loving relationship is the single biggest factor contributing to our happiness.  Just look at book dedications, or read about people’s musings at the end of their lives; they almost always speak of their mates and the people in their lives.

If you’re one of those lucky couples who actually have a lot of time on their hands, you probably have plenty of couple rituals and do many date-night type things together.  However, even folks who have lots of time don’t necessarily spend it playing with their partners in a consistent and meaningful way.  If you’re in the first group, perhaps the following list will inspire a new twist.  By now, maybe I’ve also convinced people in the second group that using couple rituals are important.  Perhaps this list of ideas will spark some mutual interest?

Creating stable touchstones actually creates time.  Sure, date nights can be time consuming, but in a long-term relationship, that is time spent very economically. 

Surprise, surprise: date nights are among the most popular couple rituals.  They imply some excitement and romance, so who wouldn’t be interested?  Some people focus on sharing an activity, while others couldn’t care less what they’re doing as long as it is “quality time” together.  Time periods run the gamut from weekly, monthly, to when some special signal occurs.  More than perhaps any other couple ritual, this one has the most flavors.  While people have certainly shared their very quirky, personal date-night rituals, I believe a more general list will help you figure out what might work best in your situation.


There is a magic about combining creative efforts to make something that couldn’t be bought “off the shelf” anywhere.  In the end, there’s a finished product that is beautiful to its makers, no matter how wonderful or atrocious it might really be.  Perhaps it has something to do with the subtle metaphor that working together to create something beautiful is exactly what you are doing together.  The short-term nature of making something creates a tangible symbol of your efforts to create a beautiful partnership.  The most common examples are gardening, building something, crafting, home improvement, and taking lessons together (e.g., dancing, cooking, acting, pottery, etc.).

Healthy adults need and desire play as much as children.  Naturally, the form of play changes over time, just as it does in childhood.  Couple rituals are often playful and date nights are particularly so.  There are scores of games adults commonly play, but let’s focus on games that are played with just the two of you.  When more people are in the mix, couples often perceive the event as less meaningful and important than games involving only themselves.  The most common inside games reported were bowling, computer games, card, word, and board games.  Outside play included golf, mini-golf, croquet, tennis, boating, and bird watching.  Informal play is also important, such as pillow fights, wrestling, and hide and seek in the home or surrounds.  There were a lot of more idiosyncratic games reported as well, but they are so individual that they are more interesting than useful to mention.

Getting back to nature holds a special appeal for more people than I would have imagined.  I enjoy it quite a bit myself and have camped more than a month each year during the last decade or so.  Camping wasn’t a category I was going to bring up, but from executives to hippies, it was frequently mentioned as a particularly enjoyable couple activity.  Ideally, it lasts longer than a night, but lots of people reported an agreement to go camping for a night or two, so I decided to include it.  The peace and pleasure people find in natural surroundings combined with the absence of distractions make it an especially intimate bonding activity.

Couple rituals can be both predictable and spontaneous.  Planning something spontaneous may seem contradictory and not have the same appeal as simply letting an idea sweep you away, but you can have your cake and eat it too.  When circumstances allow, by all means be completely spontaneous.  Otherwise, try clearing your calendars for something random to do once a week or month.  Checking the paper for events and adventures is a great strategy, as well as local online sources.  Maybe you go bargain hunting or take a class or enjoy cleaning out part of the house or . . .  Also, instead of following a specific time, try using a special signal like a sunset or moonrise to be your cue to take some time together.  Finally, while not technically random, you can also use “The fun box” couple ritual to set off on an adventure that you’re both sure to enjoy.

The date “Date night
With the random category, you both don’t know what’s going to happen.  To slice the predictable – spontaneous continuum differently, one of you plans and knows everything that is going to happen, while the other simply knows that a span of time has been cleared for something.  The frequency can vary from every week, to every other week, to every month.  Each time, the roles shift, so both of you have a chance to be regularly “surprised.”  This couple ritual is the one most similar to a romantic act, but the planned and recurring nature put it in the domain of being a ritual.  Dates don’t have to be elaborate or expensive; do what fits your needs.  Remember, couple rituals lose their power when they become a burden, so don’t bite off more than you can chew or get into a “one-upmanship” competition.

Food is a central element in all cultures.  It has the potential to bring people together and put them in a good mood.  For a couple, eating together is usually a routine, but why not move it up to the level of a couple ritual?!  It can become one when it is a meaningful, enjoyable event that you both really look forward to.  In order to separate routine meals from couple-ritual meals, think about special menus and plans.  For example, once a week (other week, month), prepare a full meal with tablecloth, candles, and music.  Typically, one of you cooks for the other on a rotating basis, but you can also both cook the meal together as part of the ritual.  To give it an even more special feeling, you might choose to dress up.  A common, but dressed down variation is to have a picnic outside, or even on the living room floor.  If one of you chooses not to cook or time is short, try picking up some food for each other as a surprise and have the focus be on the time together instead of the effort involved in cooking.  You can still have that candlelight and flowers!  Of course, there is always dining out as well.

At home
The normal space, made abnormal in a good way.  If there are kids, they stay with a relative or friends . . . the home is solely yours.  Of the scores of options noted by couples, some of the more common ones include:  showering/bathing together, cooking a lovely meal together and eating it, watching something, playing a game, looking at photo albums and past letters/notes, pampering one another with spa-like treatments, grooming one another, massage, music, candles, and making love.

Doing together
Doing task-based things together certainly does NOT count as a couple ritual under normal circumstance, and yet there are a few mentions of errand/work-like tasks that couples class as meaningful (and planned and recurring).  One key distinction I appreciated here is that the task could be done by one person efficiently, and the other doesn’t really add much, and yet they chose to do it together anyway (like shopping).  That choice is because they find that time together connecting/meaningful.  This kind of ritual is challenging to keep from being mundane and thus unmeaningful, but it is possible . . . test your hearts’ warmth during and after to assess if this is ritual or routine. 

Service together for another
Once a week, a couple would cook in their homes for a local shelter.  The time cooking together was what they enjoyed as a couple, with the bonus of giving to others thrown in.  Another couple would work on a house with Habitat for Humanity together.  Yet another would do little service projects together for an elderly couple in their neighborhood. 

Church / Prayer / Spirituality
Whether it be going to a religious service/ceremony together, or prayer together, practicing some form of spirituality together is common.  Praying together had a reportedly higher meaning/connection for the COUPLE than did going to a service, as the latter time has attention spread amongst a larger group of people, rather than the couple itself. 

Monthly anniversary
I didn’t think enough people celebrated their anniversary (technically, it’s not an “anni”versary) every month to make it worthy of inclusion.  But, just like the camping flavor, it kept turning up over and over again.  Partners use any of the date-night flavors mentioned above, or something meaningful just to them.  For example, many couples go to the same restaurant where they met and eat at the same table every month.  Another is a game of who can say “happy anniversary” first whenever that date rolls onto the calendar.  If it doesn’t involve a repetition of something memorable from their past, it is usually something they particularly enjoy doing together, or it fits the random category.


Principal Purposes Served

  • Stable touchstone
  • Money in the emotional bank
  • Nurturing contact
  • Builds the relationship culture and history
  • Communicates values and beliefs
  • Provides regular opportunities for play
  • Fulfills the need for predictability and novelty