With all the emphasis on “date night,” you’d think the only way to get close to your honey is to huddle together alone. But a new study suggests that quality time with other couples might be important, too.
Boredom is all too common in long-term relationships, said Richard Slatcher, author of the new study and an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “Spending time with another couple can inject a little excitement into the relationship,” Slatcher said.
Slatcher studied 60 heterosexual couples who had been dating at least a year and were in committed relationships. At the beginning of the study, couples were asked to fill out questionnaires designed to illuminate the quality of their relationships.
Then each of the couples was sent off to spend some time with a couple they didn’t know. Slatcher gave half of the paired couples a set of probing questions to discuss. The other group of couples was given questions that he characterized as “small talk.”
The idea, Slatcher explains, is that the couples asking each other probing questions would become closer than the ones making small talk. That apparently worked — on their own, 10 sets of couples from the probing-question group made dates to get together again as soon as they left the lab.
After a month passed, Slatcher reconnected with the 60 couples and asked them once again to fill out questionnaires. The most interesting finding: couples from the probing question group felt closer to their partners than the couples in the small talk group.
The explanation, Slatcher says, is that the deeper conversations that were sparked by the probing questions drew people closer to their own partners.
The company of other couples can refresh a relationship, agreed Dr. Barbara Bartlik a psychiatrist and sex therapist in private practice in New York City.
“I think that people grow from having other friends who are couples,” she explained. “I think it deepens the relationship. It can give you a more multi-dimensional picture of your partner.”
That makes a lot of sense to Terra Seymour. She’s found a new appreciation for her husband during nights they’ve spent playing Trivial Pursuit with other couples. As she watched Jeramy Seymour nail every music trivia question, Terra was amazed and impressed at the depth and breadth of his knowledge.
“I thought he just liked hard rock,” said the 31-year-old from Stafford, Ariz. “Now I know he likes all kinds of music and we’ve started going to concerts together.”
The discovery didn’t end there, though. “I found out more about his past when I would ask how he knew these things,” Seymour said.
Another benefit from this kind of socializing is that you see your partner in a different light, said Helen Fisher, a bio-anthropologist at Rutgers University and author of the book, “Why Him? Why Her?”
“You see your partner’s social self — the person you first met,” Fisher said. “He’s dressed up, wearing nice clothes and is friendly, charming and amusing. You see him the way other people see him and that often reminds you of why you first fell in love with him.”
That rings true for Danielle Conlan. “When we’re out with another couple I’ll watch my husband, Rob, speaking about topics we don’t discuss and I’ll think, ‘Gosh, he’s really smart,’” said the 45-year-old from Morgan Hill, Calif. “It gives me that ‘Ah’ feeling again, like when I first met him 30 years ago.”
Beyond that, our brains are wired so that we get a rush of dopamine when we get excited or have a new experience — and that same brain chemical is what allows us to feel romantic love, Fisher said.
Ultimately, Conlan said she didn’t need a study to prove the value of couple’s night out. “We know some couples who have been married 50 years, she explained. “They have no social lives outside the relationship and it’s really sad. That’s probably why we do go out with other couples — we see what we could become if we didn’t.”