published Sunday, February 12th, 2012

First Things First: Date night helps build relationships

By Julie Baumgardner

With Valentine's Day right around the corner, a lot of spouses are trying to figure out how to romance their mate on this special day. But some couples have a head start on the celebration because they have figured out that making time for each other on a regular basis is linked to lots of relationship benefits.

According to The Date Night Opportunity, a report released by the National Marriage Project, couples who devote time specifically to one another at least once a week are markedly more likely to enjoy high-quality relationships and lower divorce rates, compared to couples who do not.

Specifically, the report found that couples who spend time together at least once a week:

* Are about three times more likely to report that they are "very happy" in their marriages.

* Report higher levels of communication and commitment.

* State that they are highly satisfied with their sexual relationship.

The report found that weekly couple time offers married and unmarried cohabiting couples a chance to de-stress and engage in novel activities that are fun, active or otherwise arousing -- from hiking or dancing to cooking or playing cards.

Couples who are the most likely to benefit from a regular date night are the ones who use it as an opportunity to do more than just go to dinner and a movie. Doing fun things together feels good. When you do this with your partner, your brain associates these times with pleasure.

Report co-author W. Bradford Wilcox said that the couples who find date night particularly valuable are those who are less integrated into the civic or religious fabric of their communities and those who are less committed to one another.

"Couples with a more fragile foundation for their marriage need to devote more time to one another to keep their marriage strong," said Wilcox

Feb. 7-14 is National Marriage Week. This is a time to celebrate your marriage and/or the marriages of those around you. Marriage is like anything else in life ... if you don't do preventive maintenance, a major overhaul could be on the horizon.

Most marriages begin with romantic love that is linked to passion, excitement and an overwhelming sense of attraction to the one you love. Over time, the passion often fades. Date nights have the potential to take your ho-hum marriage and make it spicy and meaningful again.

If couple time hasn't been a part of your routine, here's a challenge: Start with Valentine's Day and make a commitment to set aside an hour or two each week for the next six weeks for a date night. Agree that you won't talk about the kids, your job or the in-laws. You don't have to spend a ton of money. Just play together.

At the end of the six weeks, take time to discuss any changes you have experienced. Who knows, you might be surprised at the difference "couple time" makes in your relationship.

Email Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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