When preparing for marriage, the thing that stuck with me the most was the importance of making rituals a part of our everyday married life.
Don't get me wrong, all that other stuff about dealing with conflict and talking about money was important too, but the most important thing to me was to learn how to keep a deep romance alive and our love for each other growing. Strong rituals, I came to learn, are an essential component to keeping the romance burning for a lifetime.
As marriage counselor and cofounder of the online marriage course ForBetter, Zach Brittle explains, the idea of rituals was championed by William Doherty, author of the book The Intentional Family. In his book, Zach explains, Doherty urges married couples to protect their family from the ever increasing distractions of modern life by creating simple rituals to prioritize time together. As a marriage counselor, Brittle says that the power of rituals to prioritize one another works the same for marriage relationships as well. In fact, pre-marriage prep counselor and Verily contributor, Peter McFadden found that enacting just three daily rituals in his marriage was transformative and set his struggling marriage on a path of lasting romance and devotion.
Even for a true ritual believer like me, however, establishing and sticking to rituals isn't as easy as it looks. Like any significant lifestyle change, making rituals a part of your every day life requires perseverance and patience as you use rituals to resist the natural pull of distraction. If, like me, you are struggling to stick with—or even come up with—three good daily rituals, first relax and know that your relationship isn't doomed, and then consider these three R's to help you build strong romance rituals that stand the test of time.
01. Routine: something rituals are not.
There is a big difference between ritual and routine, and when establishing a ritual in your relationship it's important that you not get them confused!
As Brittle explains, rituals and routines are both predictable and can bring stability to your relationship, but rituals have the added bonus of bringing meaning to the relationship. To help identify the difference, think of something you always do at Christmas—maybe it's preparing a special meal or singing a certain song—and then compare it to something you always do before bed—maybe it's brushing your teeth or turning the lights off around the house. It's possible that brushing your teeth is meaningful, but more likely than not it's something you do pretty mechanically and doesn't really mean much (unless you are thinking about your next dentist visit). Your Christmas preparations, however, are full of meaning and always add to a sense of fulfillment and joy during that time of year. That's the difference between rituals and routines.
Be careful not to confuse the two and find ways to safeguard your rituals from becoming meaningless routine. Remember, this isn't about checking something off your list, it's about connecting with your partner and creating moments of intimacy every day.
02. Reunion: a great place to start.
So how do go about making a routine into a ritual? Examining your moment of reunion is a great place to start. Peter McFadden explains that how you greet each other sets the tone for your relationship. "If you consistently greet each other well, you will look forward to seeing each other," McFadden says. "If you are inconsistent about how you greet each other, you can lose that sense of excitement. If you criticize each other at the moment of reunion, you can become fearful of seeing each other."
Maybe your "Honey, I'm home!" routine can be made to be more meaningful. McFadden and his wife chose to create the ritual of dancing together whenever they greeted one another—no matter who was around. You can also be more intentional with passing greetings to each other. Maybe a mindless kiss on the cheek could become a moment of connection and intimacy.
03. Resilience: your reward for strong rituals.
McFadden explains that, in his experience, resilience is one of three characteristics of a happy marriage. McFadden explains that resilient couples build each other up during the good days. And, work twice as hard to build each other up during the bad days. For couples who have strong rituals in place, building each other up on the bad days comes more naturally.
This stock pile of intimacy created from rituals protects you from the full impact of the really hard times in marriage. Zach Brittle describes this stock pile of intimacy and love as maintaining a Happy–Stable status. Marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, was the first to discover the power of the Happy–Stable status. Gottman found that happy couples tend to maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive feeling. That is, for every one negative in their marriage, there were five positives. Daily rituals rack up the positive feelings and make turning toward one another in difficult times much easier. McFadden put it well when he said, "To love in good times makes the good times a little bit better. To love in bad times makes the bad times a lot better."
Can you think of three moments of routine in your day that you can transform into a marriage-strengthening ritual? What about sharing a six-second kiss first thing every morning? (I didn't make that up; Dr. Gottman says that a six-second kiss shared daily in a moment of transition can strengthen your marriage!) Or maybe you commit to a cocktail together at the end of the day? Or maybe you can take a page out of McFadden’s book and twirl each other around each time you meet (even when everyone’s watching). Whatever it is, keep it simple so that you can stick to it, even when plans change. Give your rituals time to become a natural part of your life together, and watch your love grow stronger and deeper.
Photo Credit: Nirav Patel