My husband and I recently ran an errand together, without the kids, to a local craft store to stock up on some school supplies. Driving with the windows down and the music up, we were both more relaxed and happier than we'd been in awhile. And then it hit us: This was the closest we've come to a date in months.
"It can be tough to find the sitter, make plans and just generally make the push to get out," says Lorilee Craker, author of "Date Night in a Minivan." "But it's probably the best thing you could do for your marriage."
Unfortunately, for date night to really work its marriage magic, it's not enough to just go out to your favorite restaurant or movie theater. According to recent studies on the longevity of romantic love, you need to do something novel -- such as take up tennis or go to an art opening -- to reignite passionate feelings. The key is experiencing something new together, which floods the brain with dopamine and norepinephrine, the same chemicals that are released when you first fall in love. Here are four great date night ideas from parents.
Take Dance Lessons
Craker's favorite date night with her husband of 19 years is her weekly ballroom dancing lessons, but date night doesn't need to cost a lot of money, or be hit-you-over-the-head romantic. It doesn't even need to be at night. "What's important is that you're engaging each other in an interesting, new activity without the kids around," says Craker.
Enjoy a Wine Tasting
Diane, a stay-at-home mother, shares a love of wine with her husband James. "First we took a wine tasting class together," she says. "It was so much fun that we then took a class where we actually got to make our own wine." Now the couple opens a bottle of their wine -- complete with their own label -- whenever they want a romantic night in.
For Kim, a fundraising consultant, date night is all about pampering. "We'll usually book a couples' massage, then relax afterwards over a glass of wine," she says. "It really mellows us out and put us in a better mood to deal with the kids when we're back on duty."
Get Cardio Creative
Sharon, an education writer, doesn't have it in her budget to hire a weekly sitter for a night out. So she and her husband Matt drop the kids off at their gym's babysitting room and take a cardio class together. "We don't spend the hour talking, but we do get to see each other in a different way and that's important," she explains. "And the next day someone is usually sore, so it's an excuse for massages after the kids go to sleep."
If you can get out without kids, check local listings for fun events in your town. You might not even know you're both interested in learning bridge or trying a craft beer tasting until you see an advertisement for it. Take a cooking class at a local restaurant, relive your teenage years at a local arcade or go ice skating. You can also use date night as an excuse to drop a few pounds by training for a marathon together. And if dinner and a movie still trumps all other activities, just try mixing it up a bit by checking out the hot spot in the next town, or going to an art house cinema for something different.
My husband and I are still struggling to make it out for a date night. Our regular sitter moved and we haven't found another -- but we're looking (thanks, Care.com!). When we do find a sitter, first on my list is hitting nighttime events at local museums -- one of my all-time favorite romantic activities. In the meantime, instead of hunkering down in front of "Dancing With the Stars," we're at least trying to re-connect at home, after the kids are asleep. We open a bottle of wine and I beat him -- I mean, we play -- Scrabble, or we try to tackle the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle together. And every few months, the kids take a "vacation" at their grandparents' house -- and we make it a priority to go somewhere new. It may not be perfect, but it's definitely a break in the routine.
Want more ideas for heading out on the town? Check out these 101 Cheap Date Ideas.