We all know how important date night is to a marriage. Taking the time to be with your spouse, without the kids, to remember who you guys were before you were mommy and daddy? That’s an investment in the success of your relationship.
When your spouse is a first responder, date night can get complicated. Not only can your time together be a lot more limited in general, they can also be called out at a moment’s notice, cutting the date short unexpectedly. It’s hard to find dates that are fun but also flexible.
As most first responders don’t get paid nearly what they’re worth, the expense of having a date night can be another challenge. I’m not sure about you guys, but babysitters in my area usually go for about $8-10 per hour. So a 4-hour date is $32-40 in baby-sitting alone, plus let’s say $40-50 for dinner out, and another $20-30 if you go to a movie. $90+ isn’t chump change. In fact, it’s about a quarter of our monthly food budget.
Being a first responder makes date night harder to coordinate, but also makes it even more important. The collective divorce rate for first responder marriages is somewhere around 80%. A relationship at such a high risk for divorce needs you to invest your time (and a little money) into staying connected.
How are you supposed to have a regular date night between long shifts and crappy pay? It just takes a little creativity.
This is a classic! Get the kids to bed, get a movie you’ve wanted to see from Redbox, or pick one on Netflix. Then make some snacks, dim the lights, and enjoy a movie while you snuggle.
If your spouse gets called out, you can pause the movie and come back to it later without skipping a beat.
This may not work depending on where you live. When we lived in a rural town, it was much easier than it is now, but it’s still wonderful to get out in the fresh night air together.
Set up a blanket or some lawn chairs in your backyard, bring the baby monitor out with you, cozy up in some blankets if it’s cold, and relax with some tea or hot chocolate.
If your spouse is on night shifts, this might be more up your alley. If you can swing this during nap time, you can do the same thing: bring the baby monitor out to the back yard with you and enjoy a meal.
It doesn’t really matter what you enjoy at the picnic. Make a fancy meal if you want. Grab take-out or fast food. Make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and enjoy them with milk. Heck, bring out last night’s leftovers to enjoy. What really matters is the time the two of you are spending time together.
Even if you’re not necessarily “artistically inclined”, there are a lot of fun art projects you can do as a couple. Some examples:
This is one of my favorite dates because, hello, cookies! I know I’m not the only mom who’s had a salad for dinner so she could enjoy cookies once her child went to bed.
If you want something quicker and less labor-intensive, you can make drop cookies, or if you’d like to make the date longer, you could make cut-out sugar cookies and decorate them together.
I’ve been on an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie kick lately, and I really love the basic recipe that comes on the back of Tollhouse chocolate chips, which I found online here. Yum.
Don’t like cookies? First, you’re crazy. But you can always make bread instead, or cinnamon rolls, or cake, or brownies. Whatever you’d like to make together!
J and I both love to read, so this is a great “date night”. It takes a little more preparation than the others, but it’s a fun way to stay connected throughout the day.
All you have to do is go to the library and check out two copies of the same book. It’s fun to read a book knowing your spouse is reading it too. It’s so irritating when there’s a book I want to talk about and nobody around me has read it!
This is also a really flexible date. Whenever you have the time, you can discuss the book, which keeps you engaged with each other more often. Or, you can limit the time you talk about the book to one specific date night and run it like a “couple’s book club.”
Some ideas if you’d like to do this long-term:
Every year since we’ve been a couple, we’ve said we should go camping in the summer. I don’t know how it’s never happened, but who knows? Maybe this will be the year. In the meantime, we may try camping in our backyard for date night.
If you have space outdoors and it’s feasible, set up a tent in the backyard with sleeping bags, pillows, and flashlights, or set up in your living room instead. If you can, make a small fire to roast marshmallows and make s’mores. If you don’t have the space or inclination to make a bonfire, you can always roast marshmallows over a gas stove, or here’s a recipe for a s’mores dip made in a cast iron skillet.
If your spouse is on night shifts, you could always set the tent up during the day and hang out in your grown-up “fort”. I like the idea of setting it up when rain clouds start to gather and enjoying the storm.
I love playing board games. We have a lot of two player games specifically for date night, like Rack-O and Uno. There are also games that can be adapted to two players, like Settlers of Catan (our favorite!)
Whatever game you choose, this is a great, inexpensive way to spend date night.
I love cooking, but since having a child, it’s not exactly the soothing ritual it once was. It’s now a dance of how much chopping I can get done before the little one has enough of me not paying attention to him and either throws a fit or gets into something he shouldn’t. Sometimes he’ll be entertained by snacks, sometimes he won’t.
For this date, serve your kiddos something easy to prepare for dinner and enjoy something light with them. After they go to bed, get the real cooking started.
While you can definitely cook an old favorite together, why not try something new? Have you always wanted to learn to make Indian food or sushi? This is the night to try it.
Whether you do a workout video or have a basketball hoop in the backyard, spend some time getting active together. The endorphins will help breed positive feelings toward one another, which is great for particularly rough patches in marriage.
We know how hard being married to a first responder can be. The statistics prove that. Investing time to be a couple together and enjoy each other’s company out of the normal doldrums of life is essential to a strong, divorce-proof marriage.
What’s your favorite stay-in date night?
I’m a twenty-something LEO wife and stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old little boy. I enjoy writing, reading, taking my son for walks and runs in the stroller, and crafting. My goal is for Love and Blues to be a resource for first responders and their families. I write about marriage and family topics, as well as about the quirks that come with being married to a man in law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services.
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