Do it like the Obamas

Originally posted Aug. 1, 2009

Your friends do it, your neighbors are doing it and even the Obamas do it.

What’s all the rage? The latest craze? So novel that editors the world over pay big bucks to get a shot of America’s first-couple in action?

Date night. Date night? Yes indeed. What a concept.

Last month I wrote about how to talk to kids about divorce. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if you could avoid having this talk with your kids in the first place? Try talking with your spouse, instead. Not the passive chat about the ‘honey-do’ list or about who picks up the kids and the dry-cleaning, have a real conversation on an actual date. You’re busy, interesting people. You grow, you change, and if you don’t keep in touch with each other you’ll quickly grow apart.

People often doubt the simple cure. How many times have you popped a pill to cure a headache you’ve had a mere five minutes instead of just drinking a glass of water, taking a few deep breaths and closing your eyes for another five? Perhaps you’re just dehydrated and overwhelmed.

Marriages also need to be watered on a regular basis, but unless they earn bunions standing in line for some new relationship guru’s best-seller or sank hundreds on the latest boutique couple’s therapy, many couples won’t give simple strategies a second thought. Date-night is an old concept, but it can still work wonders. Rather than wait until the engine light comes on in your marriage, remember that marriages are like cars: they also need regular tune-ups – especially when children are in the mix – so pick a day every week or every other to have a date with your mate.

Perhaps payday is a good day for your dates, but they don’t have to cost a thing. You don’t have to jet off to Manhattan’s theater district like the Obamas did on their last outing. I did a quick Google search of ‘free things to do in Chicago’ and found several cool ideas that you and your hubby could try, and don’t forget how easily you can swap babysitting duties with a friend: your kids will be doubly happy and you’ll both save a bundle on childcare. If going out doesn’t always appeal, pull the curtains, light the candles and have a picnic in your living room.

It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you do it together.

You’d be surprised by how invigorating it can be to simply ‘change the scenery’ around your relationship. Do you and your mate tend to always do the same stuff whenever you do actually get around to going out? Work-related events don’t necessarily count, by the way. Are these the only times you get dolled-up? These can be stimulating, but take a second look: if one of you is busy talking shop while the other is stuck engaging in inane chatter with other spouses, reconsider.

Think you’re too busy to try killing two birds with two stones instead of one? Think again. If the country’s first couple can find couple-time, separate from any official engagements (aside from their date, the couple’s day trip to NYC included absolutely no official functions), what’s stopping you?

With time and money non-issues after all, what if you still find the idea of purposefully planning time to be with your mate unappealing? Are you feeling bitter about some unresolved issue? Have your positive feelings for your spouse simply dried up from the cumulative effect of years of dirty diapers, mounting debt and the basic facts of a life filled with multiple demands? Something’s got to give. What’s it gonna be? Your marriage?

Making it work is an act of will. The spark may be out for now but like any good cook knows, the best result occurs when the flame is low and slow. Stir the pot and take your relationship out for a test-drive on a date or two and see if anything comes back to you about why you married this person in the first place. You’re intelligent and have good taste, right? You must have had pretty good reasons for getting hitched.

My husband and I have been married fifteen years this month. Even though we experienced some very rough waters and came quite close to calling it quits several years ago I am often pleasantly surprised by how much fun we manage to have whenever we make couple-time a priority. On a date we aren’t forced to arbitrate how many mozzarella sticks each kid gets and actually get to relax and enjoy adult conversation. It’s when we finally end up having a good laugh that the thought occurs to me about just how nice it is to still be married to this person.

What startles me is how simple it can be to reclaim this feeling, and how easily we can let couple-time slide. Without it a marriage will die from neglect, so get out on that date with your mate. It might actually feel good and besides, your kids will thank you for not having to have that other talk with them, instead.

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