There's a reason date nights are recommended by every psychologist and marriage-family therapist. Positive interactions and time to connect one-on-one are among the most basic building blocks of a healthy marriage.

Couples who commit to spending such time together consistently exhibit greater levels of intimacy and trust, better communication, and higher marital satisfaction. The benefits of positive spousal interactions extend even further to include better sleep and greater effectiveness on the job.

But good date nights don't just happen on their own. And, sometimes, if a couple becomes really busy or overwhelmed, date nights don't happen at all.

If you want to keep a sense of authentic connection between you and your spouse, you'll need to prioritize date night. Even one hour a week of focused time can be invaluable.

Here are the essentials for making the most of date night with your significant other, especially when you both have limited time and energy:

1. Book it in your calendar.

For most entrepreneurs and other busy professionals, nothing happens unless it's scheduled. So make sure both of you put date night in your calendar and protect that time as you would a critical work meeting.

If possible, keep date night on a consistent day of the week so you can plan other activities around that. It doesn't even have to be at night. Schedule a breakfast, lunch, or mid-afternoon coffee break--whatever fits your schedules best.

2. Set ground rules.

Date night can easily morph into a family meeting to discuss home repairs and the kids' activities. It may also be tempting to use it as individual down time, when you're each watching your own Netflix accounts or texting friends.

To make sure you focus on your relationship and one another, agree to some ground rules. You may want to rule out any talk of jobs or kids. Perhaps you need to leave your phones at home.

Don't worry--you'll find other time to have those necessary discussions about life logistics.

3. Have some structure.

One of the biggest mistakes couples make is assuming that romance and meaningful connection will happen automatically. In reality, we need activities and conversations to facilitate intimacy.

Something as simple as sharing your highs and lows from the week or using the "36 questions that lead to love" can greatly improve the quality of your conversation. Date nights are also great times to intentionally discuss big-picture things like life goals and family priorities.

Activities that facilitate interaction--like hiking or taking a class together--can also work really well.

4. Mix it up.

In long-term relationships, excitement and novelty keep the spark alive.

According to the book For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed, one study found that "those who had undertaken the 'exciting' date nights showed a significantly greater increase in marital satisfaction than the 'pleasant' date night group."

Author and journalist Tara Parker-Pope suggests, "Protect your marriage by regularly trying new things and sharing new experiences with your spouse."

If you need ideas, the internet is full of them. There are also a growing number of services that will plan a date for you or even mail you all you need for a unique date.

Once you commit to making the most regular date nights with your spouse, you'll likely find that it's one of the most beneficial and enjoyable hours you spend all week.

Published on: Apr 28, 2018