As a general rule, we are working more and more hours than ever before. Given that there are only 24 hours on the day, that means that when push comes to shove, our family lives and relationships are likely to get less time and attention. One of the ways to protect the sacredness of our intimate relationships, without necessarily adding additional time-related stress, is to implement rituals.

Rituals serve many purposes. 

  • They anchor people's emotions to a particular act
  • They provide structure to your interactions
  • They improve emotional connection within an interaction
  • They facilitate the entrance into a desired emotional state
  • They create a strong shared social identity (that is, they create a feeling of being a "we")

So, what are rituals?

Although the term "rituals" often has religious overtones, rituals, at their simplest refer to any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner. Examples of rituals include tipping a hat to a stranger, washing one's hands before dinner, or checking email before bed. They can be anything, as long as they are performed in a regular and set pattern.

So how do you incorporate rituals into your coupledom?

One way to establish a ritual is simply to do it; eventually it will become a ritual, because your partner will expect that type of behavior from you. They, in turn, may either pick up the same ritual or develop a complementary response.  So, for example, whenever I come home, I tend to say, "Hey babe," and husband tends to respond, "Hey darlin'." 

We didn't decide on that, but it is something that, in retrospect, has developed and persisted between us. Even though it may seem mundane, it serves to call forth an emotional reaction in us both—providing us with a sense of familiarity and connection.

Another way is to establish rituals is to borrow someone else's. One of my husband's friends told him that he and his wife always have a candlelit breakfast. That's their special time, where they connect and share their plans for the day to come. They do breakfast, instead of dinner, because of their respective work schedules. Although we both liked that idea, we also liked having our mornings free. So, instead of breakfasting together, we have our candlelight dinner at night - every night.

Finally, another way to establish rituals is to simply stumble across them. The first weekend that my husband spent together, we were both so nervous that we bumped noses when we kissed! Through much laughter, we both admitted our nerves (as if it wasn't obvious!) and we tried again, yielding much better results. Then and there the “two kiss minimum” was born. Now, whenever I kiss my husband (or whenever he kisses me) there are always two kisses, well, at least two. Not only are two kisses always better than one, every time we kiss we remember - or at least I do - the butterflies that we had in our stomachs and the anticipation we felt all those years ago.

If you currently aren't observing rituals in your relationship, I would highly recommend trying them on for size. Again, it doesn't have to involve incense or even candles - though it most certainly could! In fact, they could be quite simple (like the ones I shared with you, here). But they will add a texture to your days and, simultaneously, increase your feelings of connection not only to your partner, but also to the couple. Start small, but don't underestimate the results!

Now, if you are not in a couple, then start rituals with yourself.

Self-rituals can become the cornerstone of self-connection, self-discipline, self-acceptance, and self-love. One of the things that make us human is our ability to see and to treat ourselves as others see us. In other words, almost anything that we can do with or to another in order to deepen our relationship with another person can easily be done with or to ourselves in order to deepen our relationship with ourselves.

Whether you’re in a couple or not, what are some of your daily rituals and what do they add to your life?

About the Author

Kathryn J. Lively

Kathryn Lively, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Dartmouth College and is co-author of Selves, Symbols, and Social Reality.

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