Why “Date Night” Can Backfire

Most of us have read online about tips for couples struggling in their relationships. Those tips inevitably suggest that these disconnected couples should simply start going on “date nights.” The underlying rationale and assumption for this suggestion is that struggling couples only need to start prioritizing time together in order to get back on track. However, for some couples, this suggestion may not help at all and can even backfire, making the problem worse.

The Pros and Cons of Date Night

Some pros and cons of date night include:

  • Pros:  Date nights provide the opportunity to spend time with your partner without distractions and can allow you to reconnect. This can be especially true if work or personal schedules and responsibilities conflict, leaving little free time together.
  • Cons:  Unfortunately, date nights may reinforce negative patterns that already exist in your relationship. In addition, some distant couples end up avoiding any interaction with their partners, choosing to wait until date night. This can lead to lots of pressure and awkwardness or result in unleashed resentments as everything comes out once a week.

For couples who already have a solid foundation built into their relationship, a date night can be an opportunity to reconnect and get back on track quickly.

For those who have a strained or troubled relationship, date nights may simply be a “drop in the bucket,” ineffective, or actually make things worse.  

How Date Night Can Backfire

Some ways date night can backfire include:

  • Putting “all of their eggs in one basket’ by waiting once a week to talk.
  • Reinforcing already serious problems and dysfunctional patterns.
  • Increased pressure, and unrealistic expectations foster the idea that date night will be a magical experience, solving all of the couple’s problems in one evening, over dinner.

At best, the evening will likely be awkward. At worst, it will reinforce perpetual problems that already exist in the relationship and trigger more conflict.

So What Is the Answer?

The best solution for struggling couples without a strong foundation or connection, is to commit to prioritizing daily time together. It can be thought of as a couple’s “protected time.” It should be free from all distractions (including kids, television, cell phones, etc.). It is also critical that couples refrain from attacking one another while focusing on sharing events of their day.  

Creating a Structure for Protected Time

A framework for protected time could look like this:

1. Start slowly.  Allocate only 5-10 minutes per day to talk. You’ll be surprised how much ground you can cover in a short period of time.  

2. Keep the conversation fact-based and avoid discussing what you felt or experienced. Try this for 2-3 days.  At first, aim to take turns talking.

3. As trust starts to build, begin to discuss your own experiences of the day. If things are going well, you can always go beyond the 5-10 minute period. Just be sure to use it as a guideline for structuring the conversation.

4. Gradually extend the protected timeframe to 15-20 minutes. Eventually, couples can start to use their time to discuss any relationship concerns in a non-attacking manner.

5. Once the connection and trust has been established and couples can communicate relationship issues without a blowup, consider going on a date night. Couple should try to maintain daily protected time.

If a couple gets stuck on any step in this process, or any conflict ensues, they should not hesitate to seek professional support and go to couples counseling. A counselor can provide a safe setting for couples to talk about their issues and guide the discussion, as well as teach new communication skills, without communication going off the rails.

Overall, date nights are a double-edged sword. They can be very useful for couples who already have a strong relationship to get back on track. They can also backfire, creating more problems for other, more troubled couples. Creating some structure to the conversation and consulting with a therapist, may be helpful for couples who want to resolve their differences and strengthen their relationship.

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