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Date Nights: They Make Your Marriage Work

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A recent report from the National Marriage Project, "Date Night Opportunity," found that couples who spend time together at least once a week were 3.5 times happier in bed. Time invested in being alone -- together, without the kids or the chores -- meant that couples were happier in their marriages.

So we know regular date nights are important for marriages. Making your partnership a priority can be difficult when you have children, careers and a busy lifestyle. But dates don't have to be complicated; in fact, some of my suggestions for dates may surprise you.

My number one suggestion for a date night, and something I suggest for all couples, is to have a Sex Date once a week. This is a night that you choose that is the same night (or day) every week. Regardless of your schedules, your obligations or whether you "feel" like it that night, setting up a date for sex does several things: It creates "erotic anticipation." You will both start to look forward to your Sex Date and almost unconsciously start to plan for it. You may shave your legs; buy new lingerie or new massage oil before the big day. A regular time for sex means you also reduce the stress from the rest of the week. Many couples wonder if they will have time for sex during the week or if they will be too tired, or if their partner will want it. Many times men won't approach their wives if they're worried they'll be rejected. And sometimes women want to have sex but by the end of the day they just want to get that much needed rest instead. A regular Sex Date creates a sacred time that you both carve out of your schedule to meet once a week and make it special. Whether you are tired, cranky or in the mood, when that night comes you put on some music, light the candles and meet for your date. Is it spontaneous? You can be as spontaneous as you want if you plan it! On Sex Date night you can try all those things you have been fantasizing about or you can just lie naked in each others' arms. The important thing about having a Sex Date once a week is that it is time for the two of you to remember that you are more than just roommates.

Another great date that doesn't cost a lot is a Nature date. Take turns choosing where to go and find a place outside that interests you. You may have to take these dates during the day, on weekends, or on a lunch break during the week. But find an outdoor location that you have always wanted to explore. It might be a park in the center of the city for a leisurely stroll or ice skating on a neighborhood pond. You might be great athletic types and need something more challenging; a hike up a mountain or a mountain biking trail. Being outdoors has a way of refreshing your relationship. Nature absorbs intense emotions and lets us see clearly. When you have difficult or intense things to talk about, a Nature date is always the best choice.

Another date that all couples should integrate into their "great date" plans is to take a "Creative Date." That might mean for some couples going to a museum or browsing an art show. Check local listings for new artists that may have smaller shows of more contemporary work. Many couples discover they have similar tastes and even make purchases together on Creative Date outings. Or a Creative Date can be going to a Ceramic Paint Your Own store, where you paint a shared piggy bank or a set of dishes for your dining room. You might walk through an art supply store and get inspired to buy paints and share a new hobby. Talk about what a creative date would mean for you. One idea might be to take a camera and go out with one purpose; to take great candid shots of each other. Make the goal of the date to come home with at least one great photo of each other and maybe one of the two of you. It's a creative way to have fun together and get the creative juices flowing.

There are low energy dates and high energy dates. One idea for a date is to decide beforehand; which kind of date do we want tonight? This is important to meet both of your expectations. If you are looking forward to going out dancing and your partner is thinking about a candlelight dinner, one of you will be sure to feel disappointed. Decide what feels high energy to each of you; roller skating, kick boxing, a square dance class? And then come up with some low energy dates that you agree might be fun; a movie, window shopping, strolling through the zoo. Then before you go out decide together if you are into a low energy or high energy date night. Both can be important to keep things fresh and rejuvenating. Deciding before the date which you are in the mood for can help both of you to be sure that your expectations will be met and you might even find something new to interest you both.

Last, but definitely not least, is the "Date Jar." When you don't feel like just going to dinner and a movie and you can't decide what to do, you use the raffle system that I call the "Date Jar." A Date Jar is something you both make in advance. Take some time to write down suggestions for some fun, silly, or serious date nights on scraps of paper, fold them up and put them in a jar or box. On nights when you want to throw caution to the wind and take a risk, before you head out, one of you gets to pick from the Date jar. You are both obligated to do whatever the suggestion is for that date night. The beauty of this idea is that you might not feel like "Karaoke' or "Playing Pool" that particular evening, but the rule is there are NO throwbacks. If you honor your "Date jar" system, you both will go along with the suggestion and do it anyway. Most couples find that once they are on the move and in the moment they have a great time doing whatever the Date Jar suggestion turned out to be. You might find you end up laughing and joking the evening away. Make sure when you are stocking the Date Jar initially that you add things you both like to do.

Maybe, if you're lucky, one of the suggestions might be "Go back to Sex Date Night" and you will have to both take off your coats and stay home.

Dr. Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship expert and the author of Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together. She can be found at www.drtammynelson.com.