There’s a reason that Valentine’s Day is the Super Bowl of babysitting: It’s the one day each year when everyone in a serious relationship finds the time to actually go out on a date.
According to some social scientists (and nearly all romantics), one night a year is not enough. Researchers at the University of Minnesota recently published a study showing a connection between the time spouses spent together and their reported happiness. The study subjects also found the activities they did with their partner to be more meaningful and less stressful than those they did alone.
But when exactly is that supposed to happen? If work, kids, or other factors are keeping you and your partner apart, take heart. These five ideas make it easier to find time together as a couple.
Define “Quality Time”
Some couples may avoid quality time together because they can’t agree on what that means. The truth is, not every activity that’s good for your relationship needs to be an expensive, romantic outing. And if your partner’s actively avoiding the activities you’re suggesting because he or she is just not that into them, that’s problem number one. One great fix for this problem: Each partner brainstorms a list of activities they’d like to do with the other. Then each partner picks three that appeal to them from the other’s list. Now you’ve got six things you know you’d both enjoy doing together.
Keep it Simple
To make the point again, grand romantic gestures are great. But the reality for most of us is: It’s not going to happen every week. Give yourselves permission to use the “easy button” when it comes to couple time: Cook together. Read together. Go for a walk together. Watch bad TV together. Or good TV. Whatever you’re doing—even if it seems quite ordinary and mundane—make a point of inviting your partner along. You might find the mundane can be quite extraordinary.
Build in Babysitting
Here’s the thing about babysitting: It can get expensive. Even a simple movie and popcorn can suddenly cost three times as much when it comes time to shell out for the sitting. Swapping babysitting with friends is a great idea, but it doesn’t always feel worth it when your turn to watch even more kids than usual comes around.
One great solution? Choose an activity where the babysitting is built into the experience. Many gyms offer no- or low-cost childcare that you can use while you and your partner work out. Your school or place of worship may hold “parents’ night out” events to raise money for its programs (money you may have been thinking of giving anyway). Some retail stores, IKEA for one, offer supervised play areas kids can hang out in while you shop. A meal overlooking a mall play area can offer you the chance to talk privately while your kids play safely.
Don’t Overvalue Spontaneity
It’s true that spontaneity is something many people value in a partner, and in a relationship. And if spontaneous gestures, big surprises, and romance are essential for you, it’s best to admit that and be clear with your partner.
But one could also argue that time with your partner is time with your partner. Even if every hour of that time must be written down in a planner or booked via email invite. Some may find this the opposite of romantic. But having that time blocked out on your calendar makes it that much less likely to be bumped by something else. And you can still build all the surprises you like into the details.
Celebrate the Time You Do Spend Together
When you do get time as a couple, don’t forget it. Commemorate it. It reminds you of the good times you’ve had together and will help get you through those inevitable periods when none of these other strategies are working.
At the same time, don’t spend your whole date on Snapchat or editing commemorative videos on your phone. In fact, you don’t need a phone for this at all. Some couples find that keeping a simple journal of appreciation—of one another’s gestures and the times you spend together—is a great way to keep track of the positive moments in their relationship.
It’s just one more way to keep any relationship healthy, even if you’ve got a babysitter on call 24/7.