Many leading marriage counselors and relationship experts encourage couples to date their spouse at least once a week to promote healthy, strong marriages. When I first heard this recommendation, I shrugged and figured why not? At the time, I was young and unsuspecting, newly married with no children and plenty of time on my hands to prioritize special dates with my husband. But, then, our children arrived and soon after that, so too did their accompanying special needs and medically-complex diagnoses. Becoming a parent can really put your marriage on the back burner. Fewer opportunities exist for quality time together to recharge and disconnect from all the stress and daily life of raising children and managing the work/life balance. This challenge is then further exacerbated when you have children with special or medical needs.
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Very few people are trained and knowledgeable on how to care for particular medical or special conditions. Parents of kids with disabilities are not always in a position where they can just hire a high school or college student to watch their kids for a date out of the house. Many of these same parents do not have family or close friends they can call on to babysit. Personally, there are very few people who I trust with my kids. In cases like ours, these frequent weekly date nights are just not feasible. Therefore, when I was recently reminded of this marriage tip, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.
Regardless, I do believe in date nights. After getting some rare alone time with my husband, I am usually floating on cloud nine. This time allows us the chance to open up communication and recharge our batteries. Date nights remind us that we were best friends and companions long before we became co-managers of our childrens’ care and special/medical needs. Investing in one another is truly vital to supporting a healthy, long-term relationship.
If you are reading this and feel like laughing or crying yourself, I really hear you and I so relate! My husband and I may not date every week, but we try to at least enjoy some time together as often as we can. We are fortunate that we have family in town that does help us. But, what can one do if they don’t have the family support? Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Locate any local churches or special needs ministry programs that offer a parents’ night out.
- Look for any potential local nonprofit agencies or foundations that sponsor special needs family respite programs. (For example, we participate in a local foundation that provides parents’ days out for families of special/medical needs. Volunteers include social workers, therapists and nurses that are trained on caring for various conditions).
- Identify any potential local student nursing or therapy training programs in your area. These students might be better equipped to handle your child’s condition. (For example, we had a graduate student studying to become a speech therapist who often supported our family for a couple of years when our autistic son was younger. She was a godsend and such a part of our family that we cried when she graduated and moved away).
- Identify any local special needs support groups that might offer respite for your child’s particular condition.
- Start your own babysitting exchange with other parents or support group members who understand your child’s condition.
- Advertise for a recurring nanny or babysitter you can train for future sitting opportunities.
- Consider hiring from a home-services program, if you have insurance or disability services that feature this coverage.
- Research any local professional babysitting services that potentially employ staff with particular certifications trained for your child’s condition.
These are just a few ideas we tried on occasions when our family was out of town or unavailable, but we still needed a babysitter. One day, my husband and I sat down together and brainstormed ideas on how we could make our dates more of a habit for the sake of our marriage and family. We knew that in order to do that, we needed to somehow expand our list of people and resources we could call upon for sitting services.
But, what if you have tried all of these ideas and your options are depleted? You can still find ways to connect and spend special time with your spouse. Though I prefer a nice night out on the town with my hubby, sometimes there is nothing like snuggling up to watch our favorite shows together. Here are some fun at-home date ideas you can try with your spouse after the kids are in bed for the night:
At-Home Date Ideas:
- Enjoy a Candlelight Dinner-Cook or order takeout, eat light or prepare a 4-course special meal. Either way, you can set the mood for your special dining experience with candles and romantic music (and fingers crossed that the kids don’t come downstairs and wonder why you are eating in the dark).
- Enjoy a Movie Night- Who needs the crowded movie theatre and the annoying sound of strangers chomping on popcorn in your ear? You can snuggle up with your partner, turn on the surround sound (or closed captioning if it’s anything like our household, lol), grab some snacks and appreciate the movie experience from the comfort of your own couch or bedroom.
- Enjoy Star-Gazing- When I used to dream of my ideal date, I envisioned romantic walks on the beach with a cozy picnic under the stars. But, we really can recreate the picnic under the stars at any time. All you need is a back porch or a blanket to lie on. One of the most romantic ways to spend the evening, in my opinion!
- Enjoy a Cooking Night Together- Some couples pay money to attend a cooking class together, featuring fun and exotic meals. Why pay for this class when you can create the experience in your own kitchen together?
- Play a Couples’ Board Game Together-This sounds a little corny, I know. But, it really can be a lot of fun, if you find the right game. (And, might I suggest a trip to the sketchy adult bookstore ahead of time for some really fun games to spice things up a bit? Wink, wink. Obviously this might prove a little tricky to pull off if you have kids in tow while trying to shop.)
- Enjoy a Fondue Night-One of my favorite Valentines’ memories is from right after our daughter was born. Our daughter was not even a month old when Valentines Day approached that year. My husband and I had still not mastered the art of how to put a baby down in their crib without them waking up and screaming. We weren’t quite ready to attempt a date out, especially while I was still learning how to breastfeed and get the schedules figured out. We stayed in and prepared fondue using our own fondue pots, while taking turns holding the baby. We may not have celebrated “alone” for that particular date, but it still stands out as a very special Valentine’s memory for us. (If you like this idea and are interested in making your own fondue at home, how adorable is this heart-shaped fondue set below? Just perfect for Valentine’s or romantic-themed dinners!)
These are all just a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing. What truly matters at the end of the day is that you made time for your spouse and invested in intentional quality time together. Wishing you the best as you plan your own ideas for how to date your spouse. Let me know in the comments if you have any tips to add!