It's been a decade since my wedding, but my husband and I are still as affectionate and demonstrative as we were on our honeymoon - talking on the phone throughout the day and calling each other "Sweets."

It's been a decade since my wedding, but my husband and I are still as affectionate and demonstrative as we were on our honeymoon - talking on the phone throughout the day and calling each other "Sweets."

My friends often ask me for the secret of our connectivity. My answer is simple: date night. We are passionately committed to our Saturday night escapes from our household tasks to have fun together, just like before we became "Mommy" and "Daddy."

Usually when the babysitter arrives, the house is a mess, the kids are climbing the walls, and we are exhausted and cranky. Grabbing my purse to walk out the door is the last thing I want to do, but a few hours later, after a quiet dinner with uninterrupted conversation followed by a fun, light movie, we return home, reconnected and relaxed.

The dates that leave us the most satisfied are our marathon date nights, when we begin with a spirited game of tennis or squash before heading out to dinner and a movie. On the court, we can really let loose, letting go of all the stress of the week, talking trash to each other before each serve.

Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress: a Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life, explains why these tennis nights give us such great release. "There is nothing better than an exercise date. Nothing sheds stress as efficiently as moving your body. And it increases your libido."

Rachel Tayse, a work-at-home-mom in Columbus, is committed to having a date night with her husband every other week. Before becoming parents, she and her husband loved going to the movies.
Now they focus on doing things together so they can really talk and make the most of their kid-free time.

This typically involves going out to dinner, often appetizer-hopping between two or three restaurants in the Short North or other fun neighborhoods. They also occasionally go to a bar or theater to see live music after dining out.

Dr. Terri Orbuch, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take your Marriage from Good to Great, applauds the Tayses' commitment to fun. Her studies of 373 couples over 22 years have shown her that spouses can easily become distant roommates under the stress of household duties and childrearing.

The most successful marriages continued the honeymoon aura of the beginning of the relationship by maintaining a sense of newness together. Experiencing fun and laughter together at concerts, comedy clubs, or movies is a great way to keep things novel.

Corinne Rogers, a mother of three in Dublin, even found a way to have fun with her husband without leaving the house. She organized kid-free game nights with like-minded friends. Once a month, they get together to play games like poker or Twister. They've even gone beyond indoor games to hold outdoor Olympics (think Slip-n-Slide and blindfolded badminton) and organized murder mystery parties.

Date nights don't need to be elaborate (or expensive) affairs. Liz Thompson, mother of four and author of the blog, This Full House, will take any time alone with her husband. They recently had a great date night at Home Depot and Lowe's, hunting for a new water heater together. What could have been a stressful and dreary night was transformed into a special evening goofing around at home improvement stores together, asking store employees whether they offered free martinis.

If the challenge of turning a trip down the aisles of your local supermarket into a fun outing seems too daunting, there are plenty of other inexpensive activities to choose from. Literary couples can attend author readings at their local libraries or bookstores. Many museums offer a free admission night regularly. Couples can pore over the local newspaper together, hunting for fun free events to attend.

Some parents report having their most memorable date nights without even leaving the house. Date nights don't have to be expensive; the important thing is to have atmosphere and focus on your spouse. Robin Gorman Newman, founder of the Love Coach and Motherhood Later websites, recommends creating a boudoir evening at home, with the caveat that this is not a family affair - so the kids either need to be at another house or deeply asleep. Begin by sending an invitation to your spouse at work, setting the tone by spraying it with perfume and kissing it with lipstick. Then greet your spouse at the door in a special outfit, with dinner all prepared. Having taken such care to set the ambiance will guarantee a special evening that will make your partner feel valued.

Many couples complain that they don't have enough time in their busy schedules to have a date night, but there is no rule that dates need to take place at night. Anytime that couples can make time to be with each other qualifies. There is a different energy to interrupting the workday to take an hour to be together. Events like restaurant week are a great excuse to meet your spouse for lunch (for more info, go to restaurantweekcolumbus.com). You can even make a pact to rise early once a month to greet the dawn together with a long walk or a brisk bike ride.

Experts and happy couples agree: the trick to making marriage work is to commit to spend time together regularly and to be sure that time together is focused on each other and full of fun. How you choose to make that happen is up to you. Once you've made the pact to make date nights a part of your marriage, you can begin to create your dazzling date night list and surprise each other with exciting outings.

During those special dates, you'll be doing more than having fun. You'll also be making your marriage stronger and better equipped to handle laundry, sick kids, and discipline issues together as a team.

Five totally different date ideas
Rock climbing at Lifetime Fitness (Easton and Dublin, (614) 428-6000) Cooking class at the North Market (59 Spruce St., Columbus, (614) 463-9664) Tubing at Mad River Mountain (Zanesfield, OH, (937) 599-1015) Get lost in the 32 rooms of books at the Book Loft (631 S. Third St., Columbus, (614) 464-1774) Gallery hopping in the Short North (first Saturday of the month)

Five romantic restaurants you don't want to miss
Share fresh fruit cocktails dressed as movie stars under the dazzling lighting at M Restaurant (2 Miranova Place, Columbus, (614) 629-0000) Take your shoes off and play footsies while trying exotic Japanese dishes at Kihachi Restaurant (2667 Federated Blvd., Dublin, (614) 764-9040) Cuddle up by the fireplace while reading the paper and enjoying one of the best brunches in the city at Banana Bean Cafe (340 Greenlawn Ave., Columbus, (614) 443-2262) Feed each other tapas at Barcelona (263 E. Whittier St., Columbus, (614) 443-3699) Talk politics and eat inventive organic dishes amid the funky art on the walls at Alana's (2333 N. High St., Columbus, (614) 294-6783)


Vanessa Druckman is a freelance writer, mother of three, and author of the food and parenting blog, Chefdruck Musings.