It's a date: Couples reclaim 'us' time to bolster ties

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Dozens if not hundreds of blogs chronicle real date-night experiences. Two years ago, Chattanooga, Tenn., garnered national attention for the growing phenomenon with a free couples event that included speakers and entertainment. Focus on the Family jumped in last year with a challenge to strengthen relationships with date nights throughout November 2011. Cities including Palm Beach, Chicago and Houston have hosted date-night events, local businesses happy to participate with enhancements, like a discounted couples' dinner.

But what makes it work, said Bill Hulterstrom, president and CEO of United Way of Utah County and a strong advocate of date night, is the commitment of a couple themselves.

"In many respects, community problems and family problems are still solved around solid relationships," he said. "...A relationship circle starts with you, then your spouse, then family, then your neighbor."

Getting it right from the very heart of the circle is worth the effort, he said.

Finding a way

The Birds, Tiffany and Nate, instituted date night at their Georgia home while their kids slept, because at the time he was working all day and earning a master's degree at night and they seldom saw each other. They were on a tight budget, so they approached date night like other projects and commitments. They agreed they'd have a date every Friday night for a year and then she wrote about each on her blog, simplymodernmom.com, to keep them accountable.

They took turns coming up with ideas for a month's worth of dates, and stretching themselves to be creative was half the fun. Over the year, they had a mini book club meeting and discussed a book by Seth Godin over hot chocolate. They invited another couple in for late-evening fondue. They placed toothpick markers on a map to show where they'd been together, while dreaming of where they wanted to go. One night, they shared favorite music from their MP3s. When she looks back at the end-of-the-year blog where she listed everything they'd done, Tiffany Bird said it amazed her.

It's possible, she said, to nurture love and date your spouse without breaking the bank.

Karen and Randall Sjoblom of San Diego, have been married 14 years and have four kids, 4 to 11. "We do it because we just would go insane if we didn't spend some time together," she said. "It's nice to be out of the house, not with the kids. As much as I love my kids, sometimes we need time by ourselves."

Sometimes they swap child care with another couple to keep expenses down. Occasionally, they hire a young woman from church to babysit. They usually manage at least two dates a month. The other weeks, they try to spend at least one evening together after the kids are in bed, neither one working or cleaning. Going out is typically dessert or dinner and sometimes a movie or a play. She watches for Groupons that would make a good evening out. A recent favorite was bowling, something she said they do not do particularly well, but they do it with a touch of competitiveness and great humor. After, they went to a book store and tried to sell each other on reading their own favorite books.

They talk about work — he's a contract city attorney, she works 10 hours a week in an office — and current events and how they feel about things.

"We knew going in we needed to make sure to make time for each other," she said. "We make sure we spend that time together."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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