Date Night Drama?
You’ve probably heard a million times the importance of “date nights”—making a regular effort to go out and spend special time with your partner, where topics like the kids or the bills or the laundry are strictly off limits.
A couple we’ll call Tom and Brooke recently introduced me to a new rule to add to the list about date nights: don’t be a critic. Here’s what I mean. As an example, Tom described a string of dates the couple recently went on together where it seemed Brooke constantly found things to complain about. One night it was the service at the restaurant; another, it was a loud party at the table next to them. The last time they went to see a movie it was “the most predictable story line she’d ever seen.” On still another outing, she complained mightily about the traffic on the way to their destination.
It’s not that any of her complaints were directed at Tom, but it still bothered him. Often he felt personally criticized, even though she never overtly blamed him. Maybe if they’d chosen a different restaurant, or he’d suggested a different movie, she wouldn’t seem so dissatisfied. Or maybe, he wondered, was it possible she just wasn’t enjoying his company? He even wondered if something else entirely was bothering her, and she was just taking it out on the server, their fellow diners, and so forth.
Whatever it was, he knew this much for sure: he was having an awfully hard time enjoying himself, when he knew she wasn’t.
Almost everyone knows somebody who can’t seem to turn off their inner (or outer) critic.
But when it comes to spending what is supposed to be quality time with your partner, you need to think about how your negativity is perceived and how quickly it can spoil the mood.
When Tom finally confronted Brooke about the fact that she didn’t seem satisfied with anything they did together, she was genuinely surprised. After all, none of it was his fault. She didn’t blame him for choosing a restaurant or movie that turned out to be disappointing from her perspective; in fact, she felt terrible that the thought had even crossed his mind.
It turned out that in her case, her father had always been quick to criticize anything that wasn’t entirely to his liking—regularly sending food back to the kitchen in restaurants, demanding his family’s money back for movies he didn’t like, and so forth. She thought it was normal and simply picked up the habit, never thinking about how it affected Tom. Meanwhile, for his part, Tom mostly hated confrontation and never complained about bad service even when it was, in fact, pretty egregious. (One night when they were out at an expensive restaurant, they received their entrees a full 10 minutes apart from each other.)
Yet once they stopped to talk about it, Brooke came to understand that for Tom, her negativity was ruining their outings and making him miserable. Tom, for his part, learned that she really wasn’t blaming him—nor was she as upset as she seemed. She had just inherited a habit of voicing every criticism that popped into her head, as if she were writing restaurant or movie reviews instead of going on a date with her partner.
Together, they created a few ground rules that improved their date nights tremendously. First, Brooke promised that if she ever had doubts ahead of time about their plans for the evening, she would come out and say so. That was almost never the case, but it reassured Tom that if complaints later came out, he would know with certainty that he hadn’t talked her into something against her will.
More importantly, Brooke also agreed to pick her battles, which became their inside joke: she was allowed one critique per evening, so she had to choose carefully. Once she’d used it up, it was time to lighten up and focus on the bigger picture: that she and Tom had a quiet evening to enjoy one another’s company, which was all too rare in their hectic daily lives.
Interestingly, once Brooke made a point of cutting down her criticisms, Tom felt freer to make criticisms of his own, because he wasn’t so invested in trying to persuade Brooke that everything was perfect. If the sushi didn’t seem fresh that night or the tea was cold, it gave them something to laugh about—and even bond over, as silly as it might sound—without Tom worrying that Brooke was going to feel the evening had been a disaster.
If you recognize yourself in either Tom or Brooke’s personalities, it might be time to have a talk about how your contrasting behavior might be lowering the quality of your time together and leading to unnecessary misunderstandings. The good news is, as this couple demonstrated, it can be relatively easy to fix. You just have to acknowledge the problem, find a solution together, and put it into practice. Practice, as they say, makes perfect…but in the case of date nights, it can also be a lot of fun.
If you and your partner are struggling to establish healthy communication skills, please give us at a call at 949-220-3211 or schedule an appointment via our online calendar. We at the Orange County Relationship Center are here to help you.