8 Ideas For A Truly Connective Date Night, From A Couples' Therapist
Let's face it: There are stages to any relationship—and the sooner we can acknowledge this and become aware of what we can do to make our long-term relationships fulfilling, the better.
These are the typical stages of a romantic partnership:
- The Honeymoon Phase (start–1 year)
- Back-to-Reality Phase (1–2 years)
- Decision-Making Phase (2–3 years)
- Settling Down Phase (3+ years)
Somewhere between Phase 2 and 4, we start to look at it as a long-term relationship. Of course, these are just guidelines, and every relationship is different. Plus, there are tons of smaller stages mixed into these that can be really important in terms of relationship milestones. Each phase may also look very different depending on the people involved, but the coding is similar.
During the honeymoon phase, our brains are flooded with chemicals—dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline increase, creating the feeling of lust and/or attraction toward someone. The combination of these can be intoxicating, making us ignore certain issues and potentially red flags. After some time, these neurotransmitters dissipate, allowing the "high" to wear off and the relationship to move into Phases 2–4.
The Back-to-Reality Phase is usually when folks break up if one person decides they don’t want something long term. If you continue to move into the longer-term territory, sometimes feelings of disconnection can happen. Now, are you actually disconnected? Maybe. Or maybe you're simply feeling a lack of the flooding of chemicals from the beginning.
So, how can we keep the yummy pleasure and happy, adrenalized feelings from the honeymoon phase throughout? Well, we stay connected. Whatever phase you're in, you can continue to create opportunities for the fun chemicals while really getting vulnerable, being honest, and deciding what you want for yourself and this partnership.
So in the interest of staying connected, here are a few things to do on your next date night to help you feel truly connected in your long-term relationship:
1. Make time for mental/emotional intimacy and physical intimacy.
Often on dates, we just think about spending time together—but what are you actually doing with that time? Try to make sure that you create a container for both mental/emotional intimacy (this could even be a chat over dinner) and physical intimacy (notice I didn't say sex—if sex is important, then name that too, separately).
The key here is having the and—getting all your relationship needs met during your time together. If you can make a schedule for your date, you can make sure you actually get to everything you want to do on your date.
2. Do something that brings out your inner child.
It's important not to get too caught up in being an adult all the time and make time for play. Having an inner-child-themed date is a great way to do this. When we play and bring out our inner child, we're in a state that allows us to feel playful and excited with our partner. Things like building blanket forts, taking a bath, playing on a playground, and playing truth-or-dare can all activate this part of our brain that feels nostalgic and yummy.
3. Try something brand-new together.
You've probably read somewhere that trying new things together "keeps the spark alive," and while it's not that black and white (what is?), there is truth to it. Get out of your usual routine, clothes, typical restaurant, and food, and take a night or day to do something new. A classic 1993 study found that couples who tried new things together felt way more satisfied in their relationships, and others have since shown the same thing. It's science. Do something new!
4. Have each partner take a turn planning a fun date with the same budget.
This is a bit of a riff on doing something new because we often get stuck in the dinner/show, dinner/movie, drinks/dinner date rut, and a fun way to try something new is to set a budget for your next two date nights and have each person be in charge of planning one of them. Creating fun new shared experiences within some sort of confine (in this case, the budget) makes you creative—and that's a fun muscle to flex when you've been in a relationship for a bit.
5. Try a new restaurant or cook a new cuisine at home.
Depending on your date night budget, this may look different, but the point is to change up the food you're eating. Again, we're working on creating new experiences together, and trying a new restaurant or cooking a new dish or cuisine at home counts! Do a Google search for a new restaurant near you with cuisine you both love—or go out on a limb and try a type of food you've never had before!
6. Play a game.
Similar to having a date that brings out your inner child, playing a game makes both of you present and playful. You can play a classic (think Monopoly, Sorry!, Settlers of Catan, Chess, or Checkers) or try a new board game like Paris: La Cite de la Lumiere or Tiny Towns. And if you prefer a card game, check out We're Not Really Strangers or Best Self Co.'s Intimacy After Dark Deck. (mbg also has a whole list of couples' games if you're looking for more inspo.)
Also, charades is always a fun go-to. Just. Have. Fun.
7. Watch each other's favorite movie.
When you first got to know your partner, you probably asked them what their favorite movies were—and then maybe they watched them. If it's been a little while, rewatch them! If it's their favorite movie, they probably will love sharing it with you—even if it's not the first time. Let it stimulate some conversation. Talk about the plot, the characters, and why it's their favorite movie.
8. Do a spa night, and pamper each other.
Pampering your partner? Getting hot and steamy? Touching your partner's body all over? I mean, how can this be bad? Get your gear and your partner and set up an at-home spa. Light some candles, make sure it smells yummy, and give each other massages, face masks, and anything else you want to do to pamper each other.
The bottom line.
Relationships are a living thing that need to be cared for. Without putting in effort, a relationship won't grow or flourish or become all it can be. Similar to a plant that needs water and sun, a relationship needs tending to, care, and support. To ensure you maintain connection over time, you can use the tools above or anything that helps you feel connected to the person you're wanting to feel connected to. You know what those things are—and if you don't, try something new. Connection doesn't just stay around; it needs your attention.