When couples marry, they shouldn’t leave behind one important prenuptial practice.

Married couples who have frequent date nights say they’re happier with their relationship and have higher levels of sexual satisfaction, according to a new report, “The Date Night Opportunity,” from the National Marriage Project and the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University.

Despite the benefits of dating, a national survey of married couples found just 48% have regular date nights, even though those who do also rate their relationship higher in terms of stability.

Just over half of those surveyed said they “never” go on dates with their spouse or they do so just a few times a year. The authors categorize those who have date nights at least monthly in the “frequent category,” while anything less often is considered “infrequent.”

“Couples who devote time specifically to dating one another at least once or twice a month are markedly more likely to report better relationship quality compared to couples who do not go on dates as often,” said Jeffrey Dew, a Wheatley Institute fellow and report co-author, in background material for the report.

Couples should prioritize their relationship, said sociologist Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and report co-author. He noted an increase in so-called “gray divorce,” which refers to splits among older married couples, as well as empty-nest divorces — parents calling it quits when the kids grow up and leave home.

He thinks parents spend so much time and focus on their children’s interests and activities that they may not be making “an adequate effort to keep their romantic fires burning. This report illustrates the importance of making time for the couple — and date night is a great way to do that,” Wilcox told the Deseret News.

Why dating matters

For the report — now in its second edition — Wheatley Institute and the National Marriage Project used data from the State of Our Unions survey of 2,000 married U.S. men and women ages 18-55, conducted last fall by YouGov. 

The data showed date night strengthens marriages in five ways:

  • Communication. That includes sharing dreams and plans without outside distractions.
  • Novelty. While time together is important, it’s enhanced when activities are “exciting, active or unusual,” encouraging couples to seek adventure, shake up routines and try new things.
  • Eros. Romance can be kindled, drawing couples closer and fostering greater sexual satisfaction.
  • Commitment. That, too, can be strengthened by regularly dating.
  • De-stressing and emotional support. Those are deemed vital for healthy relationships.

Communities nationwide are increasingly recognizing that it’s important for married couples to continue to date. And some are promoting the practice through promoted activities. For instance, Palm Beach, Florida, has a Date Night Comedy Tour, the report says. And there’s a Chattanooga (Tennessee) Date Night.

Dew suggests that “grassroots efforts” to bolster date nights could lead to high-quality relationships while reducing the number of divorces.

Dating your spouse makes you happier, the report says. Among wives, 83% of those with frequent date nights are predicted to be very happy in the marriage, compared to 68% of those who infrequently date. The numbers were similar for husbands, at 84% and 70%, respectively.

On the question of marital stability, 63% of wives and half of the husbands who date frequently said divorce is “not at all likely,” compared to 49% of wives and 47% of husbands who have infrequent date nights.

The numbers were also higher in terms of being happy with the quality of communication in their marriage for the men (77%) and women (71%) who dated frequently, compared to 59% for men and 51% for women who don’t date often.

For both men and women, more than two-thirds of frequent daters were “highly satisfied” with the sex in their marriage, compared to just under half of those who date infrequently.

Confirmed by other research

That dating improves marriage quality does not surprise Cheryl Harasymchuk, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She was not involved in the report, but her own extensive research on marriage and dating shows clear benefits, she told the Deseret News. 

“Date nights or leisure activities with a partner fit in the larger context of relationship maintenance,” she said. “Maintaining a satisfying relationship extends beyond managing conflict and reducing negative effects; it also involves increasing positivity and promoting leisure. Date nights represent a way to be proactive with enhancing relationship quality.”

She said date night can increase familiarity and comfort in a relationship, and help the couple grow —  all important for high-quality relationships. 

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The 2022 American Family Survey asked married couples how often they go out together, just the two of them. The poll found that 13.5% do so once a year at most. Another 41% go out together a few times a year to monthly. But 45% say they go out together more often.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 2 percentage points, is conducted annually by YouGov for the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.

That survey also found that 81% of married couples say they do nice things for their spouse — put gas in the spouse’s car, make coffee, etc. — at least weekly.

A pinch of spice

According to Harasymchuk, not all types of dates are equally effective all the time. “Although spending relaxing time with your partner is beneficial for promoting feelings of security — which might be good when you are stressed — it might also contribute to feelings of tiredness or boredom within your relationship over time,” she said.

Couples can adopt dating routines like eating at the same favorite restaurant all the time, at the expense of trying new and exciting activities together, she added.

Wilcox notes the value of trying new things together to enhance marriage quality. Research suggests that doing novel activities with your spouse creates a more romantic view of the marriage, he said. It’s exciting to do something different and that helps couples see each other in a new light. So he suggests that couples look beyond routinely going to dinner and a movie. Couples could consider indoor rock climbing or line dancing or taking a cooking class.

The idea is to spice things up.

“Excitement does not usually spontaneously appear in an established relationship; most couples need to plan and coordinate these activities together to make them happen,” said Harasymchuk. “Planning for excitement might seem antithetical to spontaneity and adventure, but it can also facilitate fun by creating a seamless experience with more opportunities for discovery.”

She added, “Although there is more uncertainty with new and exciting dates, they can reenergize relationships and allow people to see themselves, their partners and their relationships in a new light.”

Wilcox and Harasymchuk both note that couples are not all alike and they have different preferences, so no set list of activities is likely to promote growth for all couples.

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“The date nights people plan only need to be exciting to them and their partners,” she said.

Since dating’s not cheap, especially for couples with young children, the broader community that benefits from healthy couples and families might want to lend a hand, Wilcox noted. 

“Given the expense of babysitters — it can go as high as $20 an hour — and the cost of an activity or meal, that’s a lot of money. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc., could maybe think about creating babysitting options. Or couples could form a babysitting co-op to minimize the expense,” he said. 

The report’s authors note that it’s a point-in-time study and that they can show links between dating and the various positives in a relationship, but not prove that dating is directly responsible for those positives. They hope future research will follow couples over time to see the longitudinal impact of date night on couples, Wilcox said.

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