Date night makes a comeback. Here are tips for a great time

Couples are venturing out for adventurous dates like road trips and wine tastings.

Ian Kerner is a licensed marriage and family therapist, writer and contributor on the topic of relationships for CNN. His most recent book is a guide for couples, "So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex."

(CNN)On the surface, the Covid-19 pandemic seems like it would have been great for relationships: unlimited access to your partner, nonstop togetherness and plenty of time for intimacy.

But, as most of us are now all too aware, lockdowns have largely had the opposite effect on romance. We were living on top of each other, not changing out of our pajamas and sometimes not showering -- not sexy.
"Covid has incinerated sexual desire," said Madelyn Esposito-Smith, a Wisconsin-based sex therapist. "Couples that live together lost any intrigue and mystery working remotely side by side, and alone time to recharge became a precious commodity."
    With summer around the corner, it's time to bring back something we've been missing, maybe without even realizing it: date night.

      Why you should date your partner

        As its name suggests, a date night is simply planned time that allows couples to focus on each other. "It can be code for scheduled sex, but it can also be playing cards, cooking a meal together, going out, seeing friends or taking a hike," said New Jersey-based sexuality counselor Melanie Davis. "Maybe it should be renamed 'date time,' since it doesn't matter when you do it -- as long as you do it."
        Even if you've been together for decades, there is something to be said for spending intentional, quality time with your partner.
          "Many folks who have been together for a long time forget that they still have to date," said sex therapist Rosara Torrisi of the Long Island Institute of Sex Therapy in New York. "Relationships are like savings accounts, not checking accounts -- you want to make sure you always have more in this account than any anticipated withdrawals."
          In fact, date nights may have benefits that last longer than just the morning after. "Date nights have been found to have a positive impact on relationships, including increased relationship satisfaction, care for your partner, mutual fun, better communication and increased commitment," said Rachel Needle, a psychologist and codirector of Florida-based Modern Sex Therapy Institutes.

          A fresh look at date night

          Say the words "date night," and the stereotypical romantic candlelight dinner probably comes to mind. But the truth is, you can go as fancy or low-key -- and as pricey or affordable -- as you like. Whether you're still staying close to home or starting to venture back out in the world, are juggling child care or are just starting to date, you have plenty of options.
          "Date night is a concept with one purpose: to foster feelings of connection with an important person in your life," said Rebecca Sokoll, a Brooklyn, New York-based psychotherapist. "Some core ingredients to add into any good date night include: novelty, screen-free time together, eye contact and shared experience. The more ingredients you have, the more likely you are to surpass the goal of fostering connection and move into a greater feeling of potential for growth in the relationship."

          Here are some more suggestions from my colleagues:

          Set the stage. Date nights can be challenging when you're a parent, but they aren't impossible. "Perhaps you can do a date night trade where you find another family with children, and you can switch off one day each week; you can have consistent time together," Needle said. "Or plan something for when the children are going to bed or a date day or few hours and take off a day at work or leave a few hours early if that's possible."
          Be nostalgic. "I encourage clients to describe their favorite past dates to learn more about what was exciting, fun, playful or intriguing about these times," said sex therapist Sari Cooper, director of New York's Center for Love and Sex. "Then we brainstorm how to bring those qualities of past special times into new types of dates that may have to be different due to Covid."
          When dining at a restaurant, turn off your phone so you can give your partner your undivided attention.
          Turn off your phones. "This can be as simple as intentionally having dinner and hanging out at home without distraction," Oregon-based sex therapist Paula Leech said. "I encourage my clients to continue to date their partners, putting as much effort into the relationship now as they did in the beginning. For most of us, being on our phones for anything outside of something urgent on a date was considered rude. Undivided attention was a sign of respect, interest and care -- and it still is."
          Get back out there. If you feel comfortable, try taking date night public. "When we leave the confines of our homes, we are able to see our partners in different lights," said Hanna Basel, a psychotherapist who practices in Minnesota and Oregon. "When my husband and I went on our first date night months after Covid began, I was reminded of how charismatic he is as he interacted with our servers and chatted with people at a neighboring table. It was a part of him I hadn't gotten to see in months, and I was reminded of who he is other than a husband and a father."
          Or stay in. "When staying home fits your budget, put the kids to bed a bit early, put on that outfit that's been decaying in the closet, pop the cork and eat by candlelight," said Deborah J. Fox, a couples therapist in Washington, DC. "Do you worry that you have nothing to say to each other after two years of house arrest? The Web is full of card games for couples, some that include conversation starters on topics that just don't occur to you."
          Go on an adventure. This can be as simple as taking a hike, trying a new restaurant or driving to another town -- anything outside your comfort zone. "New experiences are a fantastic opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our partner," Leech said. "Particularly adventurous dates can bring up feelings of vulnerability, which can engender closeness."
          Rethink intimacy.