February 14th used to be the perfect excuse to go out for a leisurely dinner with your better half and celebrate your love together. But once you became parents, those types of outings may have taken a backseat to baths, diaper duty and late-night feedings.
This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Wednesday, making it even less likely that you’ll be able to spend some undisturbed time out together. But just because you have a baby, doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy each other’s company. “Finding a doable balance between tending to your shared bundle of joy and carving out some special couple time is essential—to everyone’s health and happiness,” says Deborah Sandella, PhD, RN and author of Goodbye Hurt & Pain, 7 Simple Steps to Health, Love and Success (www.Riminstitute.com). To improve the quality of your relationship, not only for Valentine’s Day, but for the long haul, experts say that all it takes is a little creativity.
A Night Out—or In
If you’re lucky enough to have a reliable babysitter and can sneak out for a few hours, consider a novel twist on a date night staple. Robyn D’Angelo, a psychotherapist and founder of The Happy Couple Expert (www.TheHappyCoupleExpert.com), suggests checking out a local restaurant week offering and selecting three different places to go for drinks, followed by dinner and then coffee and dessert. “The novelty of doing something new will get the dopamine pumping, and you’ll find it hard to resist enjoying yourselves,” she says.
For those couples that can’t snag a sitter, staying home does not have to put a kibosh on your evening. “Surprises please the inner kid in each of us,” notes Sandella. “An easy way to whip up low-cost dates is to take turns planning and preparing dinner surprises for your spouse.” She recommends that one parent cooks while the other one puts the baby to sleep.
Then, over dinner, play a game like the one Sandella has created called My Baby. “Each of you gets to playfully build a story of how your child grows up to be just like you…only better,” she explains. Start by asking each other pointed, open-ended questions like, ‘when our son/daughter grows up, he/she becomes ____’ or ‘Our son/daughter becomes the best___ and looks like ___.’ “It’s not about agreement or truth,” cautions Sandella. “It’s about couples having fun!”
To make a mid-week holiday like Valentine’s Day extra special, D’Angelo encourages couples to create a romantic treasure hunt and invite your partner to participate. “Create fun clues, put then around the house and let them lead to memories of good times together: photos of vacations, a video of your wedding day, gifts from birthdays, your favorite foods, etc.,” she offers.
Love for Life
Once Valentine’s Day is over, experts believe it’s important to keep those home fires burning year-round. Sandella believes in being generous with gratitude for the little things your loved one does, and that communication is key. “Give frequent praise and hugs to your partner for the beautiful ways that he or she is being a parent,” she suggests. “Share with each other: what it’s like for me to transform from a couple into a family and what surprises me about being a parent.”
A big part of creating time for each other is realizing that it’s okay to mix things up a bit. “Dates don’t just happen once the sun goes down,” notes D’Angelo. “Daytime dates are actually more enjoyable than trying to connect at the end of a night, when both of your tanks are empty.” Enjoying a cup of coffee together in the morning or meeting up for lunch during the day are some alternative times to help stay connected.
However, whenever you can be together is the most important takeaway for sustaining your relationship. “Just remember, before you were parents, you were a couple with desires, dreams, restful nights and energy to devote to your relationship,” she says. “Find the energy to keep letting your partner know they matter. And continue to choose them over and over, every day.”