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A Parent's 5 Keys to Date Night Success

They say spontaneity is the key to romance, and that romance keeps a relationship alive. But when you become a parent, children force you to plan ahead. Yes, they often ruin those plans too—and that's okay. We know it comes with the territory. But even when we've strategically mapped out a date night (or dare I say, date weekend) without the kids, we parents know full well that it's not always so easy to separate.

In my experience, here's how most date nights go:

Right off the bat, the first date you select won't end up actually happening because you can't find a sitter, you realize the following day you're hosting a party, or one of your children decided to pick up a perfectly timed stomach bug just as you're walking out the door.

Then you reschedule, and the date finally arrives. None of your kids are throwing up or have explosive diarrhea, the babysitter is there, and the pajamas are laid out. It's finally happening. So you both slip out the door when the kids aren't looking, and you're off. Elated, you peer into the mirror and don't see a tiny face smiling back at you. You look back to the road, turn the music up a bit louder, smile broadly at your partner, and drive on. Then, you peer again in your mirror. And you discover something inevitable, but unfortunate. Despite your need to reconnect with your spouse and to re-establish any semblance of a social life, your brain is trained to keep your eyes glued on your children. And frankly, it doesn't feel quite right that they aren't there. Still, you press on. You should. You must.

When you arrive, the restaurant you've carefully selected tells you they've overbooked. So, despite your 7 p.m. reservation, you're crammed up in the waiting area against the other poor saps who booked a spot at the same time. But you don't leave. You've had your hearts set on this one night without the kids at that specific restaurant, and dammit, you're just going to have to wait for your fried calamari a little bit longer.

You finally arrive at the table. As you clutch a bottle of cabernet, you look at your partner and realize: now that you have plenty of time to talk, uninterrupted, you haven't the foggiest idea what to chat about besides your kids. It's as if you're a screaming fan at a concert who was just brought on stage and had a mic shoved in your face. "Wow, I hadn't prepared for this," you think. "I merely assumed I'd spend my life merely dreaming about it."

Then, suddenly, the conversation starts. And you're reminded why you fell in love with this beautiful creature. As if for the first time, you see each other laugh and get drawn in by their sexy stare. You might have waited three months to have an unfettered meal and table to yourselves, but it was worth the wait.

Then, just as the waiter comes around with two tempting dessert menus and you're both feeling loose from the bottle of wine you finished, you receive a text message from the babysitter. The kids want to Facetime with you before bed. So, there you are in the middle of an elegant Italian restaurant, squeezing your heads together and making goofy faces at a smartphone as your children return the favor on the other end. At first, the interruption of your rendezvous feels like an intrusion. But in another way, it feels altogether normal. Because that's your life. A few moments of romanticism or hurried socialization (if you're lucky) are usually followed by the incessant tugging at your jacket. It's part of the gig, but often the most challenging to overcome.

In my experience, romance can actually sneak back into the relationship when the following rules are applied:

1. Leave your obligations at home

The both of you share a truckload of responsibilities together—the welfare of living, breathing, human beings; a mortgage; a leaky roof; you name it. If you only get one night a month or every few months to connect one-on-one, that isn't the time to discuss your daughter's summer camp fees or wilting credit scores. Take a break from your stress together.

2. Listen

You haven't had a chance to interact this long in person without interruption in quite some time. And while you should certainly bring some topics of conversation to the table, be sure to give your partner a chance to speak uninterrupted. There's a good chance he or she has a backlog saved for this one night.

3. Set the stage

If you regularly take the family to a kid-friendly pizza joint, choose a different spot when it's just the two of you. The setting of a date night is significant. It sets the tone. I've found it useful to pick a setting that doesn't instantly remind you of your kids.

4. Look the part

There's no need to rent a tux or a ball gown, but putting some extra effort into your outfit for the date goes a long way in the eyes of a partner who might be feeling that romanticism is just a rumor they once heard.

5. Surprise each other

Being romantic is about the little things. Leave a note on the bathroom mirror, make a playlist for the car of all the songs you obsessed over when you first fell in love. I've never met a person who said, "You actually tried! What a jerk!"

By my calculations, if you're able to at least pull off two of these five rules, the both of you will go to bed much happier than if you spent the night side-by-side scrolling Facebook.