WASHINGTON • For couples with no children, going on a bona fide date with your spouse can be as simple as making a reservation and taking a night off from the kitchen.
But for parents with young children, getting out of the door can be so difficult - including finding a babysitter and the sky-high expectations - that the evening often feels doomed to fail before it begins.
However, experts say married couples who go out monthly are less likely to split up. And those date nights are even more important once there are children on the scene.
For starters, couples who have regular date nights have better communication and fewer conflicts. Trying new things together can foster the sort of closeness that can weather even the sleepless nights of early parenting.
Here are some tips for parents with young children on how not to ruin date night.
RARELY MAKE RESERVATIONS
Reservations equal expectations and parents do not need any help conjuring up their next when-we-leave-the-house fantasy.
Factor in the children and other unforeseen circumstances and the odds are stacked against couples arriving on time for that reservation.
Instead, go somewhere you would not need one, at least most of the time.
DON'T GO TOO FANCY
Sure, you want to get dressed up. But the formality of a four-course dinner can feel a little jarring when you have only just brushed the spit up out of your hair (and not very well).
Wear what you want and you will blend right in.
CONSIDER THE DAY DATE
If you have semi-flexible work schedules or a long lunch break, this can be a great way to squeeze in a date with your spouse.
Meet your spouse at the picnic table behind the office with a takeaway lunch and do some catching up.
Or spend a rainy Saturday afternoon letting someone handle the stir-crazy kids while you explore an art museum.
WARM UP TO IT
Psychologist Les Parrott, the author who founded the website, DeepLove.com, with his wife Leslie, says date night can be like a mini vacation. "Part of the joy is looking forward to it."
But that does not mean it is easy to switch gears, particularly after a long day or a week of caring for clients and children.
If it is a work day, send a text message that you are looking forward to date night (romantic emoji and all).
On weekends, do not wait until someone has come to babysit the kids to connect with your spouse.
A can't-wait-for-tonight wink - even over a sink full of dishes - can go a long way.
FINDING FRIENDS WHO CAN HELP
Ms Nancy Bynum, who lives in Cary, North Carolina, says swopping nights out with other couples has helped her and her husband, Brad, keep dates on the calendar.
The key is finding friends who do not mind adding a child or children to their family for an evening (and whose kids you do not mind watching either).
"This is only feasible," she says, "if the level of effort is relatively equal. If you're a parent of five, maybe don't hit up your friend with one kid."
DON'T TALK ABOUT IT
Finances, schedules or disciplinary tactics - or any other subjects that raise your parental blood pressure - are off the table.
On these rare date nights, discuss your children sparingly too. Instead, talk about the highlight of your week and your plans for the future.
Even if you have been married for years, using an article you have both read or a fun personality quiz can spur new conversations.
After all, dating is still about getting to know someone. And there is no one more worthy of that effort than the one you loved before having children and, hopefully, still do.