We fell in love with couples therapist Dr. Abby Medcalf after reading her blog post, No More Date Nights. In it, she describes the pressures of date night and offers suggestions on how to build small connections and better intimacies.
So, it seems only appropriate that we sit down and chat with her as we near the most-hyped date night of the year: Valentine’s Day.
We’re not love-scrooges. We just want the real thing — not obligatory chocolates, flowers, or dinner out. In order to rediscover that connection, we asked Abby many couples’ most burning questions to help them rekindle that fire.
Apiari: Regularly scheduled date nights sometimes feel like a dentist visit. Why aren’t they working for most couples?
AM: Great relationships aren’t built in a day; they’re built daily. It’s not the date night — it’s what you’re doing the rest of the time.
I invite people to think about not going out on February 14th and instead make that a time to set goals as a couple. Seriously, stay home and ask each other, “On a scale from 1-10, how am I as a partner?”
They’ll give you a number (you’ll probably have to swallow through it), and then you ask, “What would it take to make it a 10? What are the three things you’d like to see more of in the relationship?” It has to be answered in the positive.
The last time I did this, my partner said, “I want you to greet me first before the kids, I want you to think of what my favorite meals are, and I’d like a foot rub.” Those three things told me that he was feeling neglected. But if he had come to me and said, “I’m feeling neglected,” I would have said, “How could you be feeling neglected? I do this and this and this.”
That’s why this exercise is so good. You focus on what you do want, not what you don’t want. It also gives you a target.
Apiari: You suggest going out on a Monday or Tuesday instead of the weekend, but sometimes, this can be just as bad as the big Friday date night. What should couples with many responsibilities do?
AM: Love is a new concept. Historically, marriage came from practicality. It was a 50/50 situation — the “You do this, I do this” idea. But you don’t marry someone because they can fold towels great. Get things that don’t really matter off both your plates.
Or, add resources. We look to our partner to pick up the slack. It’s draining, even for stay-at-home parents. They, too, are exhausted and need help. If you want your partner to have the bandwidth for other things, you need to let him or her have some room. Bring in outside help and make sure you are delegating as much as you can. For instance, if you get or already have a cleaning person, ask them to do your laundry, too.
If you can’t add resources, think about bartering — such as trading off pickups from school with another parent.
Apiari: You recently gave a TEDx talk on “The Real Reason Relationships Fail.” How did we get into scorekeeping in the first place?
AM: We have epic battles about small things, because at the end of the day, you have your side, and your partner has theirs. When we take sides, we start examining all the things they’re doing and not doing and comparing them to what we’re doing — which of course are always more and better.
If you’re taking turns in your relationship, you’re in big trouble. We take turns in games. If you’re treating your relationship like a game, it’s not good. When we do this, we’re keeping score, and we’re setting ourselves and our partners up on opposite teams. That means someone’s going to win, and someone’s going to lose. You can’t have an intimate, emotionally-close relationship based on competition, and this is the reason relationships fail. Instead, you and your partner need to be one shared resource.
Apiari: “Date night” is such a catchy phrase. Maybe that’s why it’s an easy answer to all relationships. How would you sum up your recommendations in three words or less so our overstretched minds can remember your great tips?
AM: “Mini Love Connections.” Think about how you can make these throughout your day.
It can be a greeting at the door. Whenever your partner gets home, stop what you’re doing, and go to the door to greet them. It only takes a minute, and then you can go back to what you were doing.
You should also have some sort of bedtime ritual. Go to bed at the same time — you can get back up to finish work after if you need to. But at least you got a few minutes of cuddling and goodnight kisses in.
Don’t count on these big events to connect. The big ones won’t happen if the little ones aren’t there. They’ll make you feel like a team. You’re not out there alone.
Apiari: Seriously. Is there hope for a real date night ever again when you have kids?
AM: (Laughing) It gets easier when the kids are older, but there’s still hope if you have very young children, too. Forgo date night and create “special times” instead. I have a couple with a young kid, and they have a nanny. Once a week, they come home through the back door so their kid doesn’t know. For an hour, they have happy hour on their deck with special drinks and nibbles. And they just hang out together and connect.
Apiari: What’s the first step toward making these changes?
AM: Set intentions. This is a game-changer. Our conscious brains process information at a rate of 50 bits per second while our unconscious minds do it at 11 million bits per second!
You need to align what you say and your intentions. Because your partner won’t hear what you say, they’ll hear what you mean. Setting an intention (to be loving, kind, and patient with your partner) will line up your words with your unconscious thoughts and your partner will react in kind without even realizing it. Couples are shocked by how well this works.
Can’t get enough of Abby?
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