When I was engaged, a friend shared with me a small and simple ritual her parents always performed throughout her life. When her dad came home from work, her mom would pause whatever she was doing, and they would greet each other with a warm embrace. My friend explained that this wasn’t some big to-do, but she would always notice her mom stop a conversation or leave the room when her dad walked in.
Inspired by this sweet story of a couple who has been married for several decades, my then-fiancé and I wanted to implement this same ritual in our marriage. As soon as we were married and living under the same roof, we would have a joyful reunion when we finally saw each other at the end of the day. Sometimes my husband came home from work first, sometimes I did—and sometimes we nearly bumped into each other walking in the door! But regardless of the order, whenever the last person came home for the day, we dropped whatever we were doing and excitedly embraced each other.
At first, this ritual may sound like a no-brainer—of course you greet your spouse when you see each other at the end of the day. But this ritual does not simply mean saying, “Hi” with a peck on the cheek. This ritual is about taking a moment—maybe 30 seconds, maybe a few minutes—to mark and celebrate your reunion for the day. It certainly doesn’t have to be elaborate or overly romantic, but the key to this reunion ritual is giving each other your time and attention while showing genuine excitement about seeing your spouse.
What it looks like
Maybe you and your spouse are less demonstrative in showing affection. You don’t have to jump into your husband’s arms (though you certainly can!). For you, this ritual may include a kiss, a hug, or a heartfelt smile—or maybe your eyes simply light up when you see each other. Maybe your ritual includes no words, but your actions and gestures say it all. Maybe you always ask each other how your day was at this time. Rather than using prescribed actions or words, make this ritual fit your personalities. You just want whatever you do to intentionally convey to the other a sense that “I see you, I missed you, and I’m happy you are home,” regardless of what else you’re doing or feeling.
What gets in the way
This may not sound hard—and it’s not. But many couples don’t greet their spouse at the end of the day—not even with a “hello”—and it’s not usually out of contempt or frustration with their partner. As simple as this ritual is, life gets in the way if you let it.
Maybe you had a terrible day at work, or you just missed the train and your commute home took twice as long. Often, we walk in the door feeling anything but jovial—maybe you’re angry, sad, frustrated, or just plain exhausted. Or, your spouse walks in right after you trip over the shoes he left out again. Or you just opened an upsetting email from your boss. The emotions we experience—that may be related to your spouse or have absolutely nothing to do with him—can completely color our mood and our ability to carry out this daily ritual. Despite the seeming simplicity of this ritual, it takes intention to do it every day.
Whatever metaphorical baggage you’re carrying when you or your spouse walk through the door, you set it aside for a minute or two and welcome each other with love. If you did just trip over your husband’s shoes, imagine the difference between greeting him with a scowl and taking a moment to calm yourself and then greeting him with this ritual. This lays a foundation for a soft start-up and productive conflict if you do have a frustration to voice with your spouse.
Emotional baggage isn’t the only thing that gets in the way of this daily ritual, though. You or your spouse may simply be busy. Maybe you are in the middle of a conversation with someone as you walk in the door. Maybe you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and have chicken guts all over your hands when your spouse walks in. Maybe one of you is busy tending to the kids or in the middle of doing some work as the other one arrives. Whatever the case may be, often one or both partners are legitimately busy doing something when they both are finally home for the day. Without the conscious effort to make your reunion with your spouse a daily ritual, your “reunion” may end up being one of you shouting “Hey, Honey!” from upstairs.
Sure, once in a while something truly important is going on and the reunion has to wait a few minutes until someone gets off a conference call or is done feeding the baby. Committing to continue the ritual even after you’ve missed a day or two will keep the reunion alive, rather than letting it slowly fade into the background. As long as these situations remain the exception rather than the norm, the ritual will continue.
How it helps your marriage
Family or couple rituals—from annual traditions to daily practices—are not merely routines. Where a routine conveys a sense of what needs to be done, a ritual is steeped with meaning and conveys a sense of identity as a couple and family. This daily ritual is not just about going through the motions, but about really taking the time—however short it may be—to connect with your spouse. In fact, family and couple rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, among other family benefits. Part of the reason for this may be that after a ritual is completed there is an “emotional imprint” so that “the individual may replay it in memory to recapture some of the positive experience,” explains psychologist Dr. Barbara H. Fiese. Since this ritualistic reunion is a daily occurrence, you and your spouse will have innumerable positive memories of these small but joyful moments. While many of them will blend together in your memory because the greeting is so similar, some will stand out in your mind as particularly elated and memorable.
Further, this ritual in particular is a daily reminder that your spouse is excited to see you and be with you (and vice versa). Without it, it’s all too easy to fade into the background of each other’s lives. This may sound dramatic, but in my work as a marriage and family therapist, when I’ve asked couples how they greet each other at the end of the day, they often look at each other blankly or tell me they don’t know. Worse than no recognition of each other at the end of the day is greeting one another with nagging, anger, or frustration. Walking in the door hearing a passive-aggressive comment like, “About time you showed up,” being yelled at, or being told immediately to do something will make you associate coming home with negative feelings. If seeing your spouse at the end of the day becomes something you don’t look forward to—even implicitly—that begins to create a chasm between partners. This ritual does the opposite, creating positive associations with seeing your spouse so that you look forward to your reunion.
If this isn’t something you and your spouse regularly do, a simple conversation between the two of you can have it in place by tomorrow. If you are going through a rut in your marriage, this ritual can be an easy place to start reinvigorating the love and joy between you two. If starting this kind of a practice seems awkward or unnatural, try the “fake it until you make it” method: start this simple ritual, even if it seems strange at first, and before you know it, the feelings may follow. If this ritual sounds impossible or it would feel fake to greet your spouse with any excitement, consider seeing a couples therapist to work on any underlying issues or unhealed wounds.
Whatever the state of your marriage, employing this simple, daily ritual can enliven your marriage over time. You and your spouse will feel seen and appreciated by each other. Regardless of what your day holds, you will learn to look forward to this mini-reunion every day.