Just how important is it for couples to go out on routine date nights?
That's a question that researchers in the United Kingdom recently explored, finding that married couples who go out on a date once per month are much less likely to split up than those who rarely do so.
Harry Benson of the Marriage Foundation and Steve McKay of the University of Lincoln in Lincoln, U.K., produced a report released this week titled, "'Date Nights' Strengthen Marriages," analyzing 9,969 couples with children.
Among the couples — who were part of the longitudinal Millennium Cohort Study — Benson and McKay found that 11 percent had date nights at least once per week, 30 percent did so monthly and 23 percent went out less often. An additional 36 percent either hardly or never went out together.
"Overall, the odds of splitting up among couples who went out monthly or less often were 14 percent lower over the next 10 years compared to couples who went out either weekly or rarely," the study read.
Interestingly, researchers did not find this to be true for cohabiting couples, with married parents having much lower odds — 57 percent lower, in fact — of breaking up compared to parents who were simply cohabiting.
"As far as we know, this is the first ever empirical test of the effectiveness of date nights," the report reads. "It shows that occasional date nights reinforce and strengthen stability, but only if you’re married."
In assessing the results, the Marriage Foundation took into account age, education, relationship quality and marital status, exploring the role of each in couples staying together.
The study first explored data among mothers who had babies in 2000 and 2001. Researchers were able to see data from the pool of respondents collected when their babies were 9 months old — and again when the kids were three, five, seven and 11 years of age.
The study model focused on moms who answered in both the first and the last wave, yielding some intriguing findings. While those who went out monthly fared better than couples who never went out, simply going out on date nights more often didn't necessarily help.
For instance, couples who reported going out weekly didn't fare better than those who hardly ever went out, with odds of splitting up 14 percent lower among couples who went out monthly or more often — and 12 percent lower for those who went out less often.
Again there's the cohabiting gap.
"So why do married couples seem to benefit additionally from the occasional date night out whereas cohabiting couples don't?" the study reads. "Perhaps it boils down to the original assumption behind date nights. By going out every so often, married couples reinforce the importance of their relationship."
Authors speculated that a night out for married couples "makes a statement about the nature of the relationship," while cohabiting couples are simply going out together, with the future nature of their relationship sometimes in question.
The Guardian asked some couples about their views on date nights, finding that simple nights out have some anecdotal benefits.
"I think date nights are important because you can get too complacent in the home routine and take the other person for granted, so it’s important to take a step back and look at each other; get some perspective," said a woman named Laura who has been married for four years.
A man named Ashish Bhatnagar added, "(Date nights are) definitely important – a break from our Monday-to-Friday routine. Before our kid was born, we went more regularly."