Published on March 8, 2023
Read Time: Four Minutes
While there is no direct correlation between mental health and dating, research has shown that being in a healthy, happy relationship with your spouse is associated with a decrease in depression and an increase in overall life satisfaction, according to Forrest Rackham, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Phelps Health. Here, Dr. Rackham explains how dating one’s spouse can have a positive effect on mental health and the marriage, as well.
What role do human connection and affirmation play in mental health?
Therapeutic research tells us that when someone feels listened to and valued, and has experienced unconditional acceptance, they feel better about themselves. Therefore, if couples can meet these needs, they will engage in behaviors consistent to their values. Taking this one step forward: If people are able to engage in meaningful behaviors, they often will experience improved mental health.
How do regular dates benefit a marriage?
Research shows that dating improves marital relationships in five ways:
- Communication: Spouses have uninterrupted time where they can focus on each other and discuss interests, activities and/or difficulties.
- Novelty: When spouses do new things, it encourages excitement and can rejuvenate their connection with one another.
- Eros (passionate love): Date nights may repark romantic feelings with each other and in turn, improve sexual satisfaction in the marriage.
- Commitment: Regular dates may add to a sense of togetherness by signaling to each other and to others that the couple is taking their relationship seriously.
- De-stress: Dates may allow couples to let go of stress as they focus on each other and focus less on the current stressors of everyday life. (This is particularly true if couples spend date nights avoiding stressful topics like family finances, which can be handled later.)
How often should a married couple date?
Research has indicated that at least one time per month will benefit and strengthen a relationship. However, dates can be as frequent as weekly. Some couples, though, may find it stressful to work in a weekly date to their schedules. I suggest having low-pressure dates throughout the month and planning a purposeful date at least once a month.
With rising food and gas prices, a date night might feel like a financial burden. What are some inexpensive date night ideas?
- Taking a walk
- Having an indoor picnic
- Seeing a local landmark (For example, my wife and I drove to Frog Rock just to take a picture next to it.)
- Going for a hike
- Playing board games
- Cutting hearts out and writing what you love about each other
What are deal breakers on date nights? What topics should be off-limits?
If you are having a difficult time in the marriage, consider staying away from sensitive topics like money or problems with kids, each other or other people. Instead, focus on each other’s positive qualities. For example, you might tell your spouse you appreciate their sense of humor, their honesty or their strong work ethic.
In a post-COVID-19 world, where one or both spouse(s) may work from home, how can a couple separate their work lives from personal lives?
- Intentionally do something different that signifies time away from work. (For example: Have someone leave the house and pick the other person up for the date.)
- Turn off phone notifications.
- Put the phone down and possibly leave one phone at home.
- Make that time a priority without any interruptions.
Is laughter really the best medicine? How can laughter in a date setting positively affect mental well-being?
- Laughter, especially full belly laughter, acts as an antidepressant, decreasing depressive symptoms.
- Laughter helps release endorphins and oxytocin, chemicals that enhance social bonding. (Oxytocin is known as the “love drug.”)
When might marriage counseling be advised?
I would argue that anytime is a good time to start marriage counseling. Research shows that, on average, couples will endure 2 to 3 years of unhappiness before seeking counseling.
If you are experiencing either of these signs, seeking marriage counseling might be a good idea:
- When you are having less than a 5:1 ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions
- Or, when you find yourself “turning away” more often than “turning toward” your spouse
The Huffington Post gives examples of such signs, including:
- Not talking
- Talking, but with negativity
- Being afraid to talk
- Withholding affection, possibly as a punishment
- Seeing each other as enemies
- Keeping secrets
- Thinking about or having an affair
- Being financially unfaithful
- Thinking everything would be better if the other person changes
- Living separate lives (roommate syndrome)
- Noticing a significant shift in the sex life
- Arguing about the same thing over and over again
- Experiencing ongoing relationship issues
If mental health issues are putting a strain on one’s marriage, what resources does Phelps Health offer? Is it helpful to include the other spouse in therapy?
The Phelps Health Behavioral Health team offers individual counseling and therapy, in addition to marriage and family counseling. View a list of our providers here. Including the other spouse in therapy can be helpful, but not always. To come up with the best game plan, I would encourage the spouse(s) to talk it over with their therapist or mental health provider.