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You know the drill: dig out a half-decent outfit, slap on some makeup and make a pact not to discuss work/kids/both for the next two hours.
Couples are often told that ‘date night’ is crucial to maintaining the spark in longterm relationships. And yes, sometimes we do need a gentle reminder to carve out time for one another when life feels hectic.
But Julia Goodall, a psychotherapist and host of the Grounded Families podcast, argues that “sometimes, the date night format can do more harm than good” – especially if you have a fixed idea of what ‘date night’ should look like.
“Something about sitting across a table from our partner will evoke our ideas of traditional romance, what love looks like in the movies. How we’re ‘supposed to’ stare lovingly into each other’s eyes, forgetting the world’s problems, and plunging into hours of deep, meaningful discussion,” she says.
“In reality, unless you’re in the first six months of your relationship, this is just not what date nights look and feel like – that is okay, nothing has necessarily gone wrong!”
Forget lovingly splitting a bowl of spaghetti Lady and the Tramp-style, most couples will be slumped over from sleep deprivation rather than gazing at each other dreamy-eyed, says Goodall. But when we’re “failing the impossible bar that is date night”, some big feelings and fears can arise. These include:
“How come we can only talk about bills and kids?”
“Omg, this is nothing like it was when we met…that holiday in Greece.”
“They’d rather be anywhere but here…they keep checking their phone for ffs.”
“How did I marry someone who thinks…!?”
And these thoughts should not be dismissed as trivial worries. “Feelings of actual panic, grief and loss can flood our nervous systems somewhere before the starter has even arrived,” Goodall adds.
If date night has left you feeling wobbly in your relationship instead of boosting it, rest assured you’re not alone. But if you do still want to prioritise spending some time together, Goodall recommends choosing activities that aren’t reminiscent of Hollywood love or “personally loaded to you both”.
Some ideas might include:
✨ A walk and a coffee
✨ Exploring somewhere you’ve wanted to for ages
✨ A swim
✨ Taking a class together where you can be lead by someone else
✨ Fish and chips on the beach, bringing a book and relaxing together
✨ Going to a gallery.
“Think low-decision making, moving your bodies, and without needing to sit across from each other,” says Goodall. “This can heighten expectations and even feel combative.”
And if all you want to do is crash in front of a good movie and fall asleep, that is absolutely okay too.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.