As far as I'm concerned, that key card they give you when you check into a nice hotel might as well say “Get out of jail free," because that’s how it feels when I slide it into the electronic slot and push the door open. "Woohoo! No kids for an entire night!"
Taking hotel getaways was a gradual process for my husband and me. Our first date night was a boobs-on-call situation a couple of weeks after our first child was born. Settled into a booth with spicy tuna rolls and glasses of sake, we were briefly reminded that we were still a couple. “Now what?” we joked as we looked at each other across the table.
We graduated from that hour and a half to a five-hour night on the town -- a leisurely dinner with another stop for a nightcap -- and finally the holy grail: an entire night away at a hotel, which might also be described as "the great relationship reset" since it gets you back to a place of abandon that you can’t get to when your environment is strewn with toys and your kid just pooped his pants.
Our hotel getaways require some doing -- including trust in a good sitter, detailed instructions and extra groceries in the fridge. But the minute we are holed up in a hotel room together, the next 24 hours becomes heaven.
What’s stopping you from checking in with your honey? Let’s combat your excuses one by one:
But... my kids have a really hard time when we leave. Then don’t overdo it at first. "Start with just an hour, and slowly increase the time each week," says Minneapolis-based marriage and family therapist Kara Collins. “Maybe let the sitter give the kids extra screen time and treats when you leave, so they see date night as a good thing for them, too.”
And it is. “Research supports that marital happiness is linked to the strength of a family,” says Pamela Haag, author of Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age. “Spending all of your time with your kids, in the long run, isn’t good for anyone.”
But... it's so much work to get everything organized. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. “You don’t need to plan a trip to Aruba to ‘get away,’” says Haag. “In fact, one of the benefits of being a parent with young children is that you’re easy to please socially -- any time away from routine and kids can be fulfilling, even if it’s a long walk or a trip to the local pub.” And if it’s a vacation you’re after, then the work leading up to it -- like that emergency contact list you need to put together -- will be useful again and again.
But... what will my partner and I talk about? Go back to the topics that fueled your conversations before you had kids: a shared love of indie bands; the latest news story that caught your eye; a funny update on in-laws. “One of the best ways to grow closer is to talk about emotion-fueled experiences around agreed-upon relationships such as family members or coworkers,” says Collins. “[It's] kind of like gossip. The conversation will be more interesting, and you’ll feel like a team.”
But... going out is costly! “This is probably the most common excuse I hear from couples,” says Collins. “Get creative. Pack a picnic or take a walk -- activities that don’t cost a thing. Drop the kids at a relative’s house for a few hours and make dinner and watch a movie.” Observes Haag, “Going out for an adult evening isn’t nearly as costly as the fallout from a failed or even semi-happy marriage.”
But... doesn’t hanging out at home after the kids’ bedtime count? Sort of, but it’s easy to fall prey to the distractions of dishes in the sink or restless kids popping in and out of their beds. “It will only work if you have several rules in place, like 'no screens' and 'no chores,'” says Collins. “Then again, if it’s your only option, give it a try.”
Getting away with girlfriends for a night out or a weekend away can also be restorative -- and helpful for gaining perspective on your current state of affairs. Don’t let this excuse stop you:
But... my partner won't be able to handle the kids without me. He’ll learn. “In all of my conversations with women about marriage, I have never, ever heard the sentence, ‘All the trouble began when my husband had to look after our children alone for two hours while I was with my friends,’” says Haag. Plus, having a glass of wine with people who can assuage your self-doubt and general concerns works wonders.
So grab your calendar, book a sitter and be a couple or a freewheeling friend again. Start with a short date night and see how it feels to be free of sippy cups and diapers for a stretch. Then let that hotel key card dangle in your mind as an opportunity that will soon be yours.