This article will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, September 21.

In a few weeks I will be getting married to Mr. W. The last year of our engagement has passed rapidly, but the last few months have been a whirlwind as we’ve crossed things off our list of things to do before the big day. I’ve had to shut down my social calendar in favor of freeing up my time, and have learned the fine art of saying “no” to obligations that might take me away from all I need to do. It’s been a very busy season for both Mr. W and me!

One of our to-dos was to attend pre-marital counseling with our pastor before he performs our ceremony. During our final session, the pastor asked us a very pointed question.

“What do you two like to do together?”

Here we were, planning our wedding and a lifetime together, and I was totally stumped for an answer. Needless to say, I was pretty embarrassed. Eventually I was able to think of a few things we’d enjoyed over the years we’d been dating. But in the last year we’d been so consumed with conserving money (weddings are expensive!) and utilizing free time to plan the celebration that we had forgotten to schedule in time to reconnect and build our relationship – just the two of us away from the kids and all wedding commitments.

Remember the beginning of your own relationship? If you’re like Mr. W and me, you spent the majority of your time with this other person, discovering new things about each other while finding out all the interests you shared together. You made time for each other, moving things aside to make your other half your highest priority. It’s probably safe to say that you focused on little else than each other in those early days.

Of course, relationships can’t continue in this red-hot, passionate, can’t-get-enough-of-each-other phase forever. There’s a career to tend to, friends you don’t want to lose, and interests you both have that are separate from each other.

And then there are kids who enter the picture and have this tendency to make everything about them. Am I right?

As life adds many chapters to your already busy life, it’s so easy to take your spouse for granted. After all, it’s not like you don’t see them every day. But, as my pastor reminded us in our counseling session, it’s just as important now to date your spouse as it was when everything was fresh and new. It helps to build that connection the two of you have, the one you started way back when you signed up for this life together. Getting to know each other again can even help to repair any of the broken steps you may have swept aside along the way.

However, money and time aren’t exactly falling out of thin air these days. So here are some inexpensive, no-excuses tips for enjoying some one-on-one time with your spouse.

Swap or share babysitting with a friend. One of the main reasons couples don’t go out after kids is the high cost of babysitting. Some date nights can cost an extra $40 on top of going out to dinner and a movie. But if you share a babysitter with another couple before heading out on a double date, the cost can be cut in half. Another option is for your friends to watch your children in exchange for babysitting their children on a different night out.  Third option, and my all-time favorite standby is to package watching your kids to your own parents as some all-important bonding time with their grandkids.  For added measure, point out they can undo all the ways you’ve screwed them up in your failed parenting skills.

Go on a cheap date. Going out doesn’t mean you have to spend tons of money to have a great time. Eat dinner at home before checking out what’s playing in the movie theaters. Enjoy a play at one of our local theaters. Consider a lunch time date when prices for food are usually a bit lower than they are at night. Even simply going out to coffee sans kids can be a great way to catch up. Free dates can include perusing the bookstore together or enjoying a hike in your favorite state park.  And don’t underestimate the date that includes a little community service.  Bagging groceries at the food bank or participating in a beach clean-up day is not only time well spent together, but doubles your warmed heart efforts as you do good for others.

Enjoy a night in. One of my favorite suggestions I’ve some across for dating while the kids are young is to date after they go to bed. Once they’re tucked in, enjoy a candlelit dinner with your sweetheart followed by a cozy evening of movies under a blanket on the couch. A tip for timing is to prepare most of the dinner ahead of time. Prep it to go in the oven while you’re tucking the kids in, or have it already cooked and ready to reheat once their heads hit the pillow.  Share a glass of wine or your favorite sparkling cider over unhurried conversation.  And before you start the movie and snuggle up, you may want to ensure they’re really asleep.  After all,  you never know what might happen during all this free time together (wink wink).

Most important – make sure your time together allows for communication. Uninterrupted talking time without kids and other concerns barging in can be rare. So take advantage of this prime time of conversation by turning off the cell phone in favor of talking, listening, and staying connected with your partner in crime.