When did you and your partner last go on a date night? Was it last week, last month, or so long ago you’re not quite sure anymore?
We’ve probably all seen the common advice to take time out from our everyday lives to reconnect with our partners. After all, it only seems to make sense, especially since most of us have got a lot on our plates in other ways (jobs, kids, home…and maybe you’re caring for an aging parent, or dealing with a health condition, or a child with special needs). We need to remind ourselves of why we fell in love with this person in the first place, right?
Okay, But…How Many Babysitters Do We Need to Pay?
But how often is “often enough” for these date nights together? And does this special time actually help couples stay together? Researchers at the Marriage Foundation and the University of Lincoln recently followed almost 10,000 married and cohabiting moms over a period of eleven years to find out more about these questions. What they learned might surprise you.
When the data was analyzed, couples who had a “date night” about once a month were the least likely to split up, staying together more often than couples who went out less frequently AND those who went out once per week! In fact, they were 14% less likely to end their marriages.
This interesting finding, however, only applied to married couples. When it came to men and women who were cohabiting, date nights, whether common or rare, seemed to make no difference at all.
What Do These Findings Mean?
What should we make of these findings? The researchers aren’t quite sure, but note that women who reported higher relationship quality were also more likely to be in the “once a month date” group. These women felt more joy and excitement in their relationships, felt more heard by their partners, and were more likely to say that their partners were sensitive and engaged.
As for the lack of effects for people who were cohabiting, it’s possible that date nights mean something different or less serious for couples who are not formally committed. But it’s hard to say.
Other Factors Matter More
Although this study did find that date nights had an effect on relationships, the reality is that how often we go to “dinner and a movie” definitely isn’t the most important thing when it comes to couple longevity. In fact, over the eleven years of the study, the strongest factor predicting whether couples would stay together was simple: it was whether or not they were married. Age, education, and the quality of their relationship also played a big part. (Older people, those with more education, and those who felt their relationship was stronger were least likely to end their relationships.)
However, all of us who plan, pay for, schedule and hopefully enjoy these outings with our partners might be both relieved and happy to know that yes, you should go on date night! But once a month will probably be just fine.
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
Benson, H., & McKay, S. (2016). Date nights strengthen marriages. Retrieved from http://www.marriagefoundation.org.uk/publication_doc/publications-date-nights-strengthen-marriages/