When my husband and I were getting married we were interviewed by our then Stake President, Ed J. Pinegar. What a wise and wonderful man! He gave us very sound counsel for our marriage and told us to always have weekly dates and to go away overnight without any children once every 3 months. He told us that so long as we did that then we would be fine.
DH and I both grew up with parents who went on Friday night dates every week. It was the standard. It was expected. So we never really saw us doing anything any differently. What I think we didn't account for was how hard it can be to find a sitter, especially when you have a little one, or how much Satan tempts you to just let it slide. I understand anxiety about leaving a little baby with a sitter. I understand children who are attached to you or have special needs. However, I don't see these as excuses. If anything, I see them as reasons you should be more inclined to follow this advice because you need the break! I also understand not having money for dates (or so you think). I even understand difficult schedules...but nobody said you can only go out at night or on a Friday (for a while we did every Wednesday because that was DH's day off from his second job).
What I have learned in the 7 years we have been married is that what you make a priority is what you make happen. When we have set that Friday date night as a priority then it happens. Yes, there have been the occasional weekend where it just didn't happen, despite all our best efforts. Or there are the times when someone is sick and unable to be left. But you make it happen even if you have to be very creative about it.
Trouble finding a sitter? Think outside the box! Look to friends who don't have children but would like to spend time with them. Or friends who do have children and wouldn't mind getting away from them! Especially if you are willing to go out later, after kids are in bed, then that may be an option. I know I would be one to jump at the opportunity to sit in a quiet house that I don't have to think about cleaning and just read while a friend got to get out of the house and have some alone time with her husband. Swap sitting with a friend of neighbor. We have been blessed to have a neighbor who suggested this. It is easiest when you have someone with a similar number of kids or at least ones the same age. Set a time frame (we try to stick to around 6-10pm) and a day (we do Fridays and they do Saturdays or we'll swap weeks if it doesn't work). The kids have a great time playing together and you don't have to pay a sitter. We usually play and hang out until 8 or 8:30. At that time they put on their jammies and lie down on the floor for a movie- where they usually fall asleep and can just be carried back home to their beds when their parents get home. However, we have even had the kids at our house but then I have taken them to theirs to put them to bed and sat in their quite house until their parents returned. Another option is family members. This is usually a last resort for me because I know how busy they are and they don't usually let me pay them. However, DH has several younger cousins and we are blessed that some of them are willing to be our backup babysitters. Which is the last thing- find a regular sitter. When you go on a regular date then it is easier to plan and prepare for it. When you get a sitter that you like then it is easier to just have that person plan for watching your kids each and every Friday night unless you tell them otherwise. If you don't know who to ask then if you are LDS just ask your youth leaders to put together a list of willing babysitters in your ward. The youth can volunteer and even specify if they are unwilling to watch in certain circumstances (i.e. not comfortable with newborns). I have even had an instance where we had a youth in our ward who babysat regularly but whose mother would regularly watch our newborn. For her it was a chance to sit and enjoy some peace. K was the baby and needed special care and attention. She could get it and it made her happier to give him it. So we would drop of K at her house when picking up her kid to babysit W and P. When people tell me that they never go out because they can never find a sitter then I just don't always believe it. You need to be creative. You may even need to go out of your comfort zone by asking someone you wouldn't normally. I have recently asked a friend's younger sister who is single as well as a couple of friends whose husbands work nights (one of which has kids and one who just has a baby). Trying out a new sitter is hard and unnerving, especially with little ones who may need more specific care. But it can be quite rewarding...especially if you would not have gotten to go out otherwise.
The other thing I hear is that you don't have the money to go on a date. There's two parts to this- paying for the date and paying for the sitter. First of all, if you're concerned about paying a sitter then you need an adult or family member. If you can't swap sitting then find some other service you can swap. Or just don't go out as long. Going on an hour long date to grab some ice cream is still going on a date. There are so many ways to keep it cheap. Go to the gym together. Go on a walk or hike. Have a picnic at the park. Check out the bookstore or library. Visit friends. Have game or movie nights with them. Just because you're not in high school or college anymore doesn't mean you can't hang out at your friend's house with your date. Especially in the summertime in Vegas there are a lot of free films and outdoor concerts to take advantage of around town. If you are LDS and concerned about cost, then go to the temple every single week. You will be astounded at the blessings you will receive and the closeness you will feel with your spouse.
Some women complain to me that they never go on a date or have never left their children (who are sometimes older than mine). I just can't fathom this! I love my children. I love them dearly. But I love them more because I get breaks from them. My marriage comes first and because I feel fulfilled in my marriage and as an individual person, I am able to be a better mother. These women say "You're so lucky that you go on dates every week." Luck has nothing to do with it. It is simply a matter of saying it is going to happen, making it a priority, and working hard to make it happen. The payoff is always worth it.
I like this quote from Elder Joe Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy:
"Keep your courtship alive. Make time to do things together- just the two of you. As important as it is to be with the children as a family, you need regular weekly time alone together. Scheduling it will let your children know that you feel that your marriage is so important that you need to nurture it. That takes commitment planning, and scheduling. It doesn't need to be costly. The time together is the most important element." (Conference Report, April 1995)
If there are men out there reading this who don't really think a date is a big deal to your wife...I promise you, it is. I have told my husband that come Friday night I am going out. I would love for him to join me. By arranging a sitter and planning a date, he shows me that he wants to be with me. I know he wants to be with me but I like the show of effort to make it happen. I have been home with the children all week. It is my place of employment as a stay-at-home mom. I don't really get to be 'done' with work at the end of the week. However, I get to be done with it for an hour or two when I go out on a date with my husband. I get to be a teenager again and date and hold hands and talk about things other than children and their latest antics etc. I get to be a grown-up and have intelligent conversation. I get to get dressed up for something. It is good for my self-esteem and it is good for my husband to see me dressed up too. It is good for us to go places together, as a couple, and show the world that that is what we are.
I will tell you that the times that have been rockier in our marriage have been the times where we have discovered that we have slacked in our date nights. You might not go on dates and might have a good marriage. But what you might not realize is just how much better it will be when you do. And if you are struggling or things just have been a little 'off', then make a date a priority this week and see what it can do for you!