Why do couples need rituals?

Couple rituals enable the couple to focus on each other and the relationship in a positive way on a regular basis.  They take the couple off of automatic pilot.  Rituals accomplish things beyond the physical realm to touch the mind, heart, and soul.  They are conscious and mindful.  We invent our rituals so that living together does not drift into ordinariness, but may be invested with a deeper meaning and vitality.  Couple rituals are also usually very playful, which adults need more of in general.

You need them because they are both the food and the fertilizer that help to maintain and grow your relationship.  On a conscious level, partners often have little awareness of the relationship maintenance function of their rituals.  However, people who have happy, long-term relationships are implicitly aware of their importance and infuse them into their everyday lives.  Couple rituals aren’t the only nourishing element in a healthy relationship, but they are absolutely vital and serve many purposes such as:

All of these elements pay huge dividends.  They promote the happiness and longevity of the relationship because they can deepen the friendship, develop intimacy, make the relationship more satisfying, strengthen cohesiveness, serve as support, enhance the romance, create time where there was little or none, and increase commitment and stability. 

Couple rituals are as prevalent as sex in committed, long-term relationships, and as vital as it.  They are another tool for intimacy and connection.  When sex is no longer possible or enjoyable for numerous medical reasons, couple rituals take on an even greater role in fanning the flames of intimacy.  On average, young partners have about a dozen couple rituals, but retired couples have about three to six more.

Many of these “dividends” will be self-explanatory as you read on, but let’s just take a minute to look at the first one – promote happiness and longevity.  There is evidence in my own and past studies that relationships with a lot of meaningful couple rituals are more likely to last and be happier.   

So, why should couple rituals have this effect?  Because, as people have found out, satisfying, healthy bonds take a lot of maintenance and must grow.  Couple rituals are all about maintenance and growth.  This relationship element is a wonderful tool that people come to naturally.  Sharpening this tool and adding some more facets to it is where this website can really make a difference.  I think you’ll become excited about them as you take a look at each of the above bulleted points.

 

Creating stable touchstones

A salve for the “Time famine”

Couple rituals work well because having ritualized times when you can connect helps your relationship to stay alive and well.  In addition to work and commuting, some of the things that compete for our time are hobbies, media (TV, the web, e-mail, movies, books and magazines, etc.), volunteer or community activities, exercise, cooking, children, family, and keeping up with friends.  If children are involved, 20 minutes of down time together can be a miracle!  Yet, a little ritual time spent has such potential to deepen an established couple’s bonding!  During that time, the hectic nature of normal reality can be suspended and the spirit of the relationship nurtured.  The daily grind can deteriorate the art that is the relationship, but mindful rituals are incredibly powerful repair tools. 

Couples will recite their weekly schedule to me and challenge me to find time in it for any couple rituals.  My answer is always the same.  First, there are lots of couple rituals that take very little time to do.  Second, I can’t find the time for them.  When people say they don’t have the time, what they are really saying is that they have put other tasks ahead of their relationship.  Often, those are things like earning enough money, more money, or dealing with the children.  Yet, with some effort and creativity, we can all find some hidden time pockets, and/or adjust our priorities.  Also, numerous rituals take only a few moments, literally.  We need to recommit to our relationships, because if they are not satisfying and even fail eventually, the money won’t warm our hearts and the children won’t be better off with divorced parents. 

Touchstones

Church services, your personal morning ritual, yoga, exercise, or _________ are stable, frequent points (touchstones) that you can rely on to help you relax, refocus, and/or play.  In a seemingly chaotic and random week, these are the things that restore a sense of calm, order, and happiness.  In the same manner, couple rituals serve as touchstones for your relationship.  They are usually both comforting and productive in that they help you to maintain and grow your relationship in the many ways noted above.  As I’ll discuss in this section, couple rituals harness and direct time, change the flow of the day, and can be relied on for support.

Harness and direct time

Couple rituals help people with time issues because they carve out a time and space where the focus is on the relationship.  In addition to spending time apart, it’s amazingly easy to spend time physically together without being mentally and emotionally together as well.  Many couples spend hours together each week without actually being focused on each other for almost any of that time.  Routines and logistical necessities can take up a lot of one’s life!  The infusion of time-conserving couple rituals can make the playful, regular “work” of maintaining and growing the relationship both fun and efficient.  Quite simply, they make life richer and easier.

Flow

Days, weeks, and months can pass unnoticed.  Try clearly remembering more than a few hours of your time together six or even two months ago.  We get into our routines and our lives flow along like rivers.  Couple rituals create little eddies along the way so that we can pause to change our focus and goals.  Rituals shift the focus from the mundane to the sublime.  They take the relationship off automatic pilot.  They create a conscious transition and provide a sense of organization in daily life. 

It’s like having on regular glasses and going through the day, and then, when the couple ritual begins, putting on rose-colored glasses.  You may be in the same kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, or desk where you’ve spent countless hours, but things take on a new light and look and feel different.  Your body and mind also reflect this change.

Support

In addition to being mental and sometimes physical havens, couple rituals can offer support.  Even though one of the categories of rituals on this website is support, most of the rituals offer some degree of it.  When someone is in need of a little support, couple rituals, due to their planned regular nature, make sure it happens.   Sometimes the rituals are done everyday, while other times they are done when needed.  For example, the signal that a support ritual needs to happen can be a puppy dog look, going for the nurture jar, erratic behavior, the time of day, or a direct request. 

Support might take the form of nurturing touch like a backrub, a hug, cuddling, or kissing.  The delivery might also be in a little note, an open ear, a special food treat, time to be quiet and bask in a safe place, or even a playful interlude.  The mechanism varies depending on the couple and the situation, but the point is to have set times and signals that will be headed and heard.  Having that emotional resource as a touchstone that can be counted on is the security blanket that we all need, whether we realize it or not.

 

Build the relationship culture and history

“'The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
Muriel Rukeyser

Culture is a fascinating thing!  What people eat, what rights people have, what people wear, what is okay, what is not okay, all that and MORE is determined by culture.  Culture is largely transferred by the stories that people share with one another . . . either by telling stories, or essentially reenacting them. 

A family, community, group, and couple all have their own unique culture.  The story of your relationship includes thousands of memorable events and ways of being, such as:

  • How you met
  • Your first few dates together
  • What you like to do for fun (and not)
  • Trips/vacations/travel
  • Special events
  • What meals are like
  • How getting up and going to bed look
  • Et cetera

Couple rituals build the culture of the relationship . . . they are the way you are together that brings a smile to your face . . . the kind of things that, if they were gone, you would miss. 

Certain couple rituals also help to deepen the knowing (and the joy of being known) of one another, such as Grumbles and Gratitudes, Recommitment, Whispering to the Heart, Journaling, Worth 1000 Words, and Date Night. 

Communicate values and beliefs

Some of the values and beliefs that could be communicated via couple rituals include:

Value / Belief CommunicatedExample Couple Rituals
We are committed
We enjoy playing together 
You are loved
I think about you when you’re not around
Our time together is important and special
You/we are known
I support you
Recommitment / All-powerful signal
Beat the dog / You wanna bet!?
Whispering to the heart / Noteworthy
Calling on love / Gone, but not forgotten 
Tea/coffee ritual  / Journals 
Worth 1000 words / Grumbles and gratitudes 
Soft and furry love / The nurture jar

While every ritual communicates a value, some do so more strongly than others.  For example, while the Toast ritual can be about knowing the other, or appreciating one another, it tends not to be particularly strong for such purposes.  Thus, not every ritual is indicated as being a strong exemplar for communicating values and beliefs.

 

Foster trust

firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

relations are wisely built on trust"

synonyms: confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, credence

While trust has an overarching, global sense to it for a couple, it also has nuances/domains that are interdependent of that broad trust color cast.  In the global realm, couple rituals add to the relationship trust bank by recurring events . . . and the trust is warmed by meaningful/enjoyable recurrences. 

More specifically, domain-level trust is built and strengthened by couple rituals.  Below are some examples:

 

Couple RitualSpecific Trust Fostered
Dream time
Grumbles and gratitudes 
Cuddling
Play time / Calling on love
Soft and furry love
Nurture jar
You wanna bet!?
Reciprocal romantic service acts
The believing and doubting game & The all-powerful signal
We won’t judge one another for our thoughts
We care to know one another, regularly 
Our physical and emotional connection is important
Consistency and play
We’re there for one another in sad/challenging times
I’ll pick you up when you’re down
We can surprise one another, and delight/not hurt one another
We think of and support one another
In conflict, we believe in a path out of the forest, and will work on finding it together
 

 

Manage conflict

Couple rituals work on conflict management in primarily two ways:

1.     Calming the seas before a full storm erupts

a.     Cleansing the mind / being heard / thinking things through

b.     Centering and relaxing

c.     Providing ease and comfort

2.     Finding shelter in the storm

 

One.  Cleansing the mind with one’s partner gets concerns and worries in the open, where they can be heard with empathy, and possibly problem solved as well.  Bottled up, they might blow up.  Rituals that aid in this process include the worry doll (putting problems to bed), morning and evening walks, and tea and coffee time.  When the seas are a bit rougher, the breathing ritual and massage ritual (or bath time) can help bring the waves down so that talking lands more readily.  Finally, couple rituals such as the thing, nurture jar, and reciprocal romantic service acts provide a pathway for smoothing life’s bumps and jostles.  Using the rituals only in times of conflict is unlikely to work, and may be counterproductive. 

Two.  The believing and doubting game creates the idea that a solution is possible, and that you’re working on it together, instead of against one another.  The couple ritual of the all-powerful signal helps to break the state of the fight/conflict, and cues a mental state of warmth and perhaps possibility. 

 

Provide regular opportunities for play

Play has numerous, numerous benefits for children that have been widely reported.  And, adults play a lot as well, and play for them likewise serves multiple purposes (such as fitness, mental flexibility, joy, community), including stoking the relationship fires, warming you both.  

Rather than being exhaustive, below are three categories of play-couple rituals that will help illuminate the spirit of play, as well as describe it. 

Meaningful (deeper)

  • Date night
  • King or Queen for a day
  • The fun box

Moments

  • Play time
  • The choosing ritualHalvsies
  • Hide and seek
  • Beat the dog

Memories

  • Photographic evidence
  • Noteworthy
  • Gone but definitely not forgotten

 

Help to accomplish tasks

Engaging with the normal, in both normal and unusual ways, in the spirit of a couple ritual (meaningful) allows the mundane to be special/connecting. 

Regular tasks, or somewhat regular, are particularly difficult to make into meaningful couple rituals, as the gravity of normality and mundane tasks pulls heavily away from more cherished time.  Nonetheless, most couples tend to find at least one or two ways to infuse connection, and benefit greatly as a result.  Examples of those couple rituals are:

  • Cooking and Cleaning
  • The Thing
  • Reciprocal romantic service acts

Less regular, and/or more unusual tasks, done in support of the other offer numerous benefits to the couple, including getting the actual task done.  For example, getting a shoulder rub from the Nurture jar ritual offers emotional connection and loving contact . . . planned, recurring, and meaningful . . . sweet.  Below are three couple rituals that fit this less regular time frame.

  • The nurture jar
  • You wanna bet!?
  • King or Queen for a day

 

Emotional money in the bank

Love has a funny accounting system . . . for every one negative event between you (a withdrawal), there needs to be five positive events to counteract it.  When that ratio drops below that level, the connection withers, especially under repeated assault.  Couple rituals are so powerful PRECISELY because they put emotional money in the bank on a RECURRING basis . . . couple rituals are planned, recurring, and meaningful. 

As is the case with all “rituals,” the emotional deposit requires the meaning to be present, which can vary from a little (or none) to a lot, depending on how it feels to each person.  A date night, for example, can occur in a pro forma manner, be a “nice time,” or be a warm memory that exists strongly a year into the future. 

Every ritual has the potential to put emotional money in the bank, and the existing category system arranges couple rituals by theme/kind.  Below are some rituals organized by the depth (amount), generally, of the emotional deposit – large, medium, small.

Large

  • Recommitment
  • Cuddling Rituals
  • The believing and doubting game
  • Date Night
  • Soft and furry love

Medium

  • Halvsies
  • Journals
  • Hug Greeting
  • Beat the dog
  • You wanna bet!?

Small

  • Lights out, warmed hearts
  • The risky pause of gratitude
  • Whispering to the heart
  • Toast
  • Kissing rituals

 

Foster nurturing, affectionate, loving contact

How about some ice cream?  Or, a fantastic movie?  Perhaps great sex?  Maybe a super delicious dinner?  As wonderful as all those things may be, they’re better with someone else you care about and whose company you enjoy. 

Couple rituals create, regulate, and repeat such delightful experiences, and in this case, around nurturing, affectionate, and loving contact.  Below are some rituals that highlight such connection in mind and body.

Body

  • Hug Greeting
  • Cuddling Rituals
  • Massage
  • Kissing rituals
  • Beat the dog
  • Bath / Showing

Mind

  • Whispering to the heart
  • The sweet sorrow
  • The risky pause of gratitude
  • Worth 1000 words
  • Lights out, warmed hearts
  • Breathing ritual
  • The nurture jar

 

Fulfill needs for predictability and novelty

These are two core, human needs . . . imagine your life on automatic pilot, repeating day after day with little variance.  Conversely, imagine your life without stable touchstones, where you know what will happen when, and that safety and comfort are assured as a foundation to experience other needs. 

Couple rituals by definition offer the sense of predictability in that they are planned and repeated.  Within that, there is a continuum amongst rituals that specifically play off the dynamic of enjoying a planned/predictable nature, with more or less novelty mixed in at the same time.

You wanna bet?  King or Queen for day  The Fun Box  Hide and Seek  The Nurture Jar  Gone but definitely not forgotten  The choosing ritual   Beat the dog  Photographic evidence  Noteworthy  Songs for the heart