Dear Patti,

My wife, Charlotte, keeps saying she wants to “spice up” our relationship. She suggested that we go on a weekly date night. I guess I’ve been putting it off, but now Valentine’s Day is coming up and Charlotte expects it to be this big kick-start for new regularly scheduled dates.

I’ve never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day. To me, it feels unnatural, superficial and commercial. There’s too much pressure, and it seems like more of an obligation than something I look forward to. One day a year is bad enough, and now Charlotte wants to replicate it every week.

I love her, but it feels contrived to force romance onto a calendar.

How am I supposed to date my own wife?      

  — Jordan

Dear Jordan,

While going out on a romantic date is not the answer to all the problems that can arise in a marriage, it may be helpful in your situation, especially if your wife is responding so positively to the idea.

Jordan, imagine the scenario that a single man sees a beautiful woman, gets up the courage to ask her out, and she accepts. The combination of excitement, anticipation, and amorous, adoring attitude of that man is what your wife is looking for. These feelings are not “contrived” but rather allowed to flow because you have taken the time to make it feel special.

It’s important not to come across with a blasé attitude or treat these dates like chores or tasks. No matter how elaborate or creative you are in your planning, your wife won’t find the experience to be genuinely intimate if she senses you’re only doing this as a duty.

If it has been a while since the two of you have felt close, the idea of renewing your early courtship rituals may seem forced at first. In reality, though, those rituals are life-giving to the marriage.

Write down a list of activities you think would be naturally fun and enjoyable for both of you. And remember — creating memorable dates that make the two of you smile doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. When out on date night, never talk about anything you wouldn’t talk about on a first date. First-date couples, for instance, usually don’t talk about unpaid bills or their badly behaved children. You shouldn’t either.

Converse about issues of the moment, such as the meal you’re being served or the movie you just saw, your feelings about each other, and your goals and dreams. Dates don’t have to be weekly, but in order to be most effective they should be at least twice a month. This is an opportunity, not an obligation.  Enjoy it!

In addition to your romantic evenings, surprise her with a random gift every four to six weeks. Doing it more often may be viewed as a ritual and could lose impact; giving less frequently, however, might be perceived as less enthusiastic. Strive for variety: a handwritten poem, a new vacuum cleaner, a certificate to a spa.

Greeting cards that personally resonate with her are good, too, such as a photo card of horses if that’s her favorite animal, or maybe a card picturing a jazz musician after you’ve taken her to a jazz club. If your wife sees something she loves, like a piece of jewelry or a book, go back and get it when you’re alone and surprise her with it a month later.

Remember the romantic gestures you used to do when you were first together, like bringing her coffee in bed or holding hands while driving? Reinstate those actions and think up new ones.

Lastly, treat your wife’s self-esteem like a rare, fragile treasure. Be quick to support and believe in her, especially when she’s having trouble believing in herself. Even if you can get away with it, never put her down. That is like slashing a rare painting that you just bought for a million dollars. In truth, you have entrusted your life to her and that’s worth a whole lot more. Remember, her emotional health is crucial to yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has an office in Pasadena. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her website,