By Lavanya Ramanathan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 1:54 AM
Valentine's Day has its detractors, and for good reason: It's a holiday that seems designed to guilt us, to coerce us into pricey flowers and exorbitant dinners and gushy proclamations.
But let's not dismiss Valentine's Day outright. What other holiday reminds us that love is a fire that needs stoking? The date nights that come easily at 20 are minor miracles at 40, when kids, jobs and lives can bump them to the bottom of the to-do list. But there's a very good reason to make the effort.
Couples with healthy, happy relationships are the ones who "create a culture of appreciation," says Renay P. Cleary Bradley, a family psychologist and director of research with the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, which has studied more than 3,000 successful and failing couples. "They express fondness and admiration. Unless you're spending time together, you really don't have time for that."
Date nights, Bradley says, can be crucial as your family grows and priorities shift. "It's really making time to be in that relationship for yourselves."
Here, we offer date ideas that aren't intended just to get you through Valentine's Day but to inspire you to spend time together year-round. Spend mornings hiking together, splurge on a day at a spa, go to brunch - and don't wait until Valentine's to start.