When you’re a parent, the luxury of “couple time” tends to disappear in the delivery room. Post-kids, it can become hard to remember what it felt like to be “the two of you.”
“The transition from two to three is one of the most profound challenges a couple will ever face,” writes couples therapist Esther Perel in “Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.” “For a while, there seems to be less for the couple: Less time, less communication, less sleep, less money, less privacy.”
We’ve already told you why it’s important to splurge on yourself, but spending quality alone time with your significant other matters equally as much—especially now that there’s more of you.
Getting enough couple time builds intimacy, opens communication and strengthens your bond, which in turn strengthens your marriage. Plus, it provides your kids with a good example for their own future relationships.
Of course, the obvious answer to spending more time together is to hire a babysitter and head out for date night. But even though that’s a great option, sitters and expensive dinners can bust any budget.
Here are some cheap and easy ways to build more couple time into your busy schedule:
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Recreate Your First Date
Schedule a “first date” and pretend this is the first time you’re going out together...ever. Since finding time without kids is half the battle, make it a lunch date to guarantee the time alone. Schedule it in your calendar and treat it with the same gravitas as a real work appointment—in other words, make a reservation and be sure to dress to impress. On that day, there’s no emailing back and forth about work (or life) obligations. And, at lunch, stick to date-friendly topics, like the fascinating book you just read, or the hobby you’re dying to try. You just might learn something new about each other.
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Have a Fancy Night In
If heading out to a fancy date just isn’t in the budget right now, bring the dinner-and-a-movie date to you. Resolve to feed, bathe and put the kids to bed early one Saturday, then get prepped for your fancy night in. Wear that Little Black Dress that’s been gathering dust in your closet. Make some gourmet popcorn ahead of time. Decide on the movie you’ll rent in advance (no getting dressed up just to flip through HBO channels!). Then, uncork your favorite bottle of wine and make the date night happen in your living room.
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Break a Sweat Together (at the Gym)
Join a gym with babysitting services, like a MySportsClub, 24-Hour Fitness or Lifetime Fitness facility, which charge as little as $2 per child per hour for sitter services. Playing a sport together, like racquetball or tennis, is the more romantic option, but if that’s not possible, a good side-by-side run on the treadmill or track can still be a bonding experience. Plus, exercise has been proven to have a positive effect on your sex life.
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Use Your Talents to Score Some Alone Time
You could do a babysitting swap with your friends, but that just means you’ll have to give up your Saturday at some point to watch your friends’ kids. Instead, try swapping your talents. For example, if photography’s your thing, offer to take a family portrait for your friend in exchange for a couple of hours of free babysitting, or help the new college graduate next door polish up her résumé in exchange for some of her coveted ‘sitting skills.
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Play Hooky on Your Chores
The next time you’re tempted to use the hour your kid is at swim practice to cross off some chores, blow off the K-Mart and have a secret rendezvous instead. Make where you’ll meet a secret (at least the first time—after that, it can be a tradition), and, leading up to the big day, leave cute Post-It notes around the house dropping hints about your illicit get-together.
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Steal Away on a Vacation (with Built-In Day Care)
When planning your next getaway, consider a place that offers kids’ clubs or babysitters so that you can grab a little alone time, in addition to having fun as a family. For tropical options, look for places with supervised children’s programs and free activities that both parents and young kids can enjoy. If winter’s more your thing, many family-friendly ski resorts offer ski school for the kids and child care services for the little ones not yet old enough for the slopes.
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Make It Count
You will obviously need to hire a babysitter at some point, so, when you do, make it payoff. In other words, go big and plan in advance: Buy those concert tickets, or stop by that gallery opening on the way to a nice dinner out, just like you used to. Aim to plan a “real date” once a month, if possible, and build up the excitement by deciding on your activity well ahead of time. The more you increase the suspense, the more momentous your night out will feel while you’re actually enjoying it.