Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

When one member of the family lives with a chronic condition, everybody in the family lives with that chronic condition. It can affect diet, household routines, finances, vacations . . . just about anything you can think of that goes on at home.

This means a lot of conversations about how to help Mom or Dad, or a change that may need to be made—maybe not a welcome change—or expectations that may need to be reset. Conversations around living with a chronic condition can get pretty heavy at times, between couples and between parents and other members of the family. I talk about how to have these conversations with my clients, and I write a lot of articles about this topic as well.

All work and no play?

What I often notice with my clients is that while they have improved at having difficult conversations, I wonder if all of their conversations are serious. I mean, sure, there is a lot to discuss. But, at the same time, are most if not all conversations staying in the heavy zone? Not a lot of joy in that.

And so I ask, “Where is the fun? Do you ever take time to just goof around?” More often than not, I am met with a blank or puzzled look. And a response like, “Well, there hasn’t been much of that lately.” They may follow up by telling me how busy they are, or how they just don’t think about having fun together lately.

Here’s what I think: We need to have balance in our life, and that includes balance in the time we spend with the people we love. Time to work out the difficulties, time to plan for the future, but also time to laugh and enjoy each other. Having fun together promotes harmony at home and lowers stress, which is also good for your health.

Want more fun together? Get it on the schedule!

Like all the other activities you schedule into the average week, it’s important to also schedule time to have fun with the people you share a home with. Because if you don’t, chances are it may not happen.

Where do you start? Date night with your partner. Family night with the kids. And scheduled on a regular basis. It’s that simple. Ready to have a ball?

Here are some ideas for a successful date night:

Pick a night. Ideally, this should be one night a week. And maybe even the same night every week. You might choose a night when the kids can stay with friends, or with a relative. But if you can swing it, springing for a babysitter would be worth the money. Keep in mind that even taking a couple of hours to spend time only with each other can bring you closer.

Take turns choosing an activity. Choose an activity you both enjoy doing together. Or surprise each other with something new. It doesn’t have to be expensive. A walk in the park, a drive, a movie. You might also consider planning a date night some evening when the kids are away and you have the house to yourself for a few hours.

Be and do. And that’s all. Don’t spend the time worrying and planning. This isn’t a night for an offsite strategy session. It’s supposed to be fun. So make an agreement with each other to keep the conversation light, or just hold hands while you watch a movie. The idea is to hang out in each other’s presence, however you are most comfortable.

And here’s how to have a successful family night:

Pick a regular night. Kids also get busy. As much as possible, try to have one night that everybody can agree will be a time when all family members are in the same room at the same time. A minor miracle, I know. If you have teens, you may not be able to do this every week. But try to get it on the calendar at least a couple of times a month.

Get everybody’s input. The parents can choose a few options and take a family vote. Or let the kids take turns choosing: the activity, what you’re having for dinner, the movie, the snack. Kids will be a lot more eager to participate if they can take some ownership of how the evening goes.

Keep it light. Kids look to their parents to set the tone for a family evening, so do everything you can to make it fun. If a parent has been having some health challenges lately, the kids may be especially in need of a fun evening—whatever you are up to doing—to reassure them that things are still okay.

Date night, family night. Make time to enjoy the people you care about. Take a break from all the planning and responsibility to have a good goof together. Balance is everything.

Help spread the fun! Add a comment below and share your best tip for having more good times with your loved ones.