My aunt and uncle had a weekly Friday lunch date they never missed throughout their long years of their marriage. They’re now in their late seventies and ill health has intruded, but for decades, they chose a beautiful restaurant every Friday and enjoyed lunch and a glass of wine together.
Just the two of them. The ritual saw them through the raising of four children close in age and ensured they never forgot to prioritise their relationship and remember what it was they both fell in love with when they first met.
They didn’t call it a ‘date’ – that’s a relatively modern term and one that has crept into the Australian vernacular from the US. But the idea was this: if you don’t take time out from work, friends, raising children, hobbies and everything else that creeps up and demands your time and attention, it’s all too easy to begin taking your relationship for granted.
To think it will just always be there. But relationships don’t work like that. They need tending, like a garden, if they are to stay healthy – to blossom, grow and become even more beautiful.
Sunshine Coast identities Allan and Barbara Pease have been married for 27 years. They have six children and eight grandchildren. Allan travels every month, either around Australia or overseas, and Barbara accompanies him three to four times a year.
A regular date night simply doesn’t work for them. Instead, they have date ‘times’, which could be anything from sitting on the bed chatting and laughing, to going for a walk or out for lunch.
“When we first got together we had date nights,” Barbara says. “Alan organised one date night, then it was mine the next week. It got to be so complicated.
“I thought, all it’s doing is putting pressure on us. It’s about having that time to connect and be a loving couple again, with no phones, no computers, no kids, no people interrupting you.
“I feel like having to come up with something really special for a date night each week can be really detrimental to a relationship, so we don’t plan dates, but every Sunday when Allan’s around, we walk to Buderim. That’s our time.
“We don’t take the kids, grandkids or friends. We take the back path to Buderim. We laugh, we talk, we have a coffee in peace and we walk back. We will never change that, unless we’re going somewhere.”
The key, according to Barbara, is to talk about each other, not the kids.
“We talk about our goals and our dreams,” she says. “It’s all about us. If there’s something relevant about the kids, like something fun we want to do with them when we visit Paris, then we do. But it’s not about the day-to-day grind. It’s our special time to remember we’re a couple.
“We’re business partners as well as parents and this is the one time we can be a couple. If you don’t put yourself first, you keep putting yourself last, then the relationship doesn’t last.”
When we talk about date night, we’re not talking first dates. We’re referring to long-term couples who can all too easily let the romance drift out of their relationships when work demands and kids enter the picture.
In 2016, the Institute for Family Studies in the US conducted a Millennium Cohort Study, surveying 9969 couples to compare how often they went out together as a couple when their child was nine months old, with when they were still together as a couple when their child was aged 11. They found couples who went out monthly were significantly less likely to split up.
Sunshine Coast psychologist and relationships counsellor Suzanne Loubris says there are as many ways to have a successful date night as there are couples – the key is how well it allows you to reconnect as a couple.
“Is it date night or is it connection time?” she asks. “What is appropriately connecting for you as a couple? If you’re just passing each other in the corridor or feeling like your love cup isn’t full, it might need some thinking about what to do to reconnect.
“A lot of couples go fishing, some people go camping, some people go dancing, some go out for dinner. Some couples find it’s extremely connecting to stay home and look after the children – they don’t need date night.
“That’s what their values are about. We assume that our way of connecting is the only way, but it’s about who are the two individuals in the relationship and they have to work out what’s connecting and disconnecting for them.”
While connection time looks different for everyone, one truth remains – relationships require attention on a regular basis and date nights are one way to check in with your partner.
“People do not understand how fragile a relationship is,” says Ms Loubris. “They don’t realise a relationship can be broken. They assume I’m going to love and honour you forever, through sickness and health for 60 years. It’s completely unrealistic for many people.
“Once you get into the relationship, people start burping and farting and being messy and flirting with other people. They think, this is just me being myself and I should be able to be myself.
“They don’t understand a relationship can be destroyed slowly. There’s all these things we do that may be a turn-off and we think our partners should keep loving us through all that stuff.
“Why do we make the assumption the passion will stay through all of that? It’s naïve of us. We need to minimise the behaviours that discourage passion. Be that person your partner fell for and show you are interested in your partner.”
For those couples who do like the idea of a regular date night, Ms Loubris suggests establishing ground rules together.
“The rules for the man would be to treat your wife like a princess. Tell her she looks beautiful. Ask her questions about herself. Pretend it’s a first date and get to know her. Ask her, ‘how do you feel about being a mother?
“What parts of being a mother do you like and dislike? Is this how you thought life was going to go? If you could change something, what would you change?’ Think about what you have never asked them before and prepare one or two questions.
“For the woman, know what turns your husband on. If you know he loves it when you wear a pretty dress and have your nails painted, do those things for him. Men are oriented towards the physical appearance.
“Just because we think it shouldn’t be so, doesn’t mean it’s not. Work out what’s important to your man and let him open the door for you, if that’s what you both enjoy.”
Ultimately, date night is about understanding and appreciating your partner on a deeper level – and them doing the same for you. Barbara and Allan Pease keep a journal where they record all the positive things the other has done for them during the week, and often re-read it before they go on a date.
“We write things like, ‘I just felt so special when you made me breakfast this morning. Thanks for the flower you bought me.’ On the other side of the page there could be a negative, just so things don’t fester in your relationship.
“You always have to frame it in terms of your own feelings. You could say, ‘there’s just something I knew you didn’t notice but I’d like to tell you I felt left out when you didn’t include me in your conversation at the conference.’ We need to have a solution so it doesn’t come up again.”
On the surface it seems like Allan and Barbara Pease have the perfect relationship, but Barbara is quick to point out they also have their challenges and sometimes fall into the trap of neglecting the relationship.
“It’s mainly me,” Barbara says. “Allan is really good; he always makes me number one and puts me above anyone else. He’s fantastic in that way. For me, I’m the organiser of our whole world – our business and personal world.
“He does have to remind me and say, ‘listen, our relationship is number one. I need some Barbara time.’
“It’s gentle, it’s not finger-pointing, it’s not being aggressive. It’s just saying, ‘you’re working too hard, we need to chill and relax’. I think in a relationship if you have someone who is the accelerator, you need someone who is the brake.”
Do’s & dont’s for a successful date night
Do go somewhere new. It’s comforting to go to the same restaurant you always go to so be adventurous and spontaneous.
Don’t look at your phone constantly. This is your time together to connect – put your phones away.
Do try to get out of the house. It’s okay to have a date night at home, but only if you know you won’t be interrupted.
Do get dressed up. It’s easy to become complacent with your appearance when you’re in a long-term relationship. Make
a bit of effort!
Do set some ground rules – are you okay with talking about the kids on your date night or would you prefer to focus on each other?
Don’t break your budget – a fancy restaurant occasionally is nice, but if you’re on a budget, go for a coffee date or a sunset beach walk instead.
Don’t invite friends! This goes without saying.
Date night ideas
• Make your regular date night a weeknight when it’s easier to get restaurant bookings and there are fewer competing social demands.
• If you’re on a budget, look around for mid-week specials at local restaurants
• The Sunshine Coast has plenty of great restaurants and bars. Go to one you’ve never been to and surprise your partner
by keeping it a secret.
• Pack a picnic basket and head to a local beach or park.
• Take a walk at dusk and watch the sunset together.
• Have a dessert date – the cost of dinner out regularly can really add up so switch it up for cake and coffee only.
• Go for a drive to the hinterland and explore some local art galleries.
• Visit some of our excellent local bookstores together and choose a book you think your partner would love.
• See some live music or a movie – you don’t always have to be talking to feel you’re connecting.