Take a minute to think about your spouse, your family, and the special little things you all do as a family to celebrate and stay connected. For instance, maybe you and your partner go for a run with each other in the mornings, have a glass of wine together at night, or just make a point of sitting and talking to catch up on your day. If you have children, perhaps you read with them before bed, or share something at the dinner table every night.
Most likely, you also have ritual traditions for certain special days. For instance, some couples try to return to a favorite spot or restaurant on their anniversary. And almost all of us have certain ways we traditionally celebrate holidays.
The Definition and Importance of Rituals
All of these behaviors are examples of relationship or family rituals. To be a ritual, an activity or behavior needs to be repeated and intentional. It also needs to have meaning and emotional significance for us—otherwise, it’s just a routine, like brushing teeth or taking out the trash.
Rituals matter, both for couples and families. These habits and practices:
- Remind us who we want to be with each other
- Help us connect emotionally
- Give us feelings of comfort and stability
- Pass on values to children
- Reinforce feelings of love and fondness
- Create an intimate shared “culture”
You probably remember family rituals from your own childhood, and you may have been aware of some of your parents’ “couple” rituals.
Would More Rituals Enrich Your Life?
Our lives are often so busy it can be hard to keep up with or maintain these little connections. But research shows that they’re important. Family rituals can ease stress, increase marriage satisfaction, and help teens develop a strong sense of who they are as they mature.
So…could you enrich your family life or love life by adding a few more rituals? For instance, maybe you feel a need to connect more with your spouse at the end or beginning of the day. Or it could be that anniversary or adult birthday celebrations have fallen by the wayside since having children…but you miss them.
Perhaps there has been change or upheaval in your family, and a new ritual that honors the changes could be put into place. I knew a family who created several new autumn traditions after a summer with a tragic loss. It represented the effort towards new beginnings.
Or Is It Time to Cut Back or Make a Change?
On the other hand, it can also be important to look at your rituals honestly, and to ask yourself: are these still working for us? Sometimes traditions become “too much,” especially for those who have to do the work involved. (The example that often comes to mind is a fancy holiday dinner with all the trimmings.) Other rituals may lose meaning or start to feel “rote.” Some may even become linked to negative memories.
If a ritual is feeling negative for you or your family, ask yourself: what was this ritual supposed to be for? What did it once mean? Can we now make that happen in another way that feels better or more doable for us? Pay attention to feedback from all members of the family.
Keep In Mind…
Don’t feel pressured to create rituals that reflect perfect images of what families or couples “should be” like. Instead, honor your own family’s unique culture. If conflict is currently high in the relationship or family, you may want to consider making rituals a “light” time when you don’t bring up current difficult topics. Keep in mind, too, that there may be times in a family’s life when some members need a bit more distance or a different style of being together. This is okay.
Ideas for New Rituals
Looking for ways to connect with your partner or family, but not sure where to start? Here are some ideas that others have used or suggested.
--Develop a whistle, hand gesture, or other secret signal that means “I love you” that you can use with your partner in public.
--Get up before the kids and have breakfast together by candlelight.
--Take turns bringing each other coffee in bed, and take a few minutes to talk.
--Develop ridiculous pet names for each other.
--Pick a “no interruptions” time every week to turn off phones, computers, and TV and just spend time together.
--Take a shower together every day, in the morning or before bed.
--Read aloud to each other every night before bed.
--Leave each other notes or drawings every day in a specific location.
--Pick an insignificant holiday to celebrate together and really go “all out.”
--Have an annual tradition of going someplace seasonal, such as a pumpkin patch, skating rink, etc., and taking family pictures there.
--Give each child a certain kind of gift, such as an inscribed book, at every birthday.
--Create something you do together when stuck in the house during bad weather days.
--Decide on a special recipe that is always made for a particular occasion.
--Find a way to celebrate the first and last day of school every year.
--Share a high point and a low point of your day at the dinner table (some people call this “rose and thorn”).
--Make Friday or Saturday nights “movie and pizza night” or “Chinese take-out and game night” at home, or whatever option works for your family as a stay-home together night.
Many more great ideas are available at these websites. Enjoy the joy, connection, and power of rituals.
By Carol Church, lead writer, SMART Couples, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida
American Psychological Association. (2002). Family routines and rituals may improve family relationships and health, according to 50-year research review. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2002/12/rituals.aspx
Doherty, W. (n.d.) Intentional marriage: Your rituals will set you free. Retrieved from http://www.smartmarriages.com/intentionalmarriage.html
Doherty, William J. (1999). Excerpts from Chapter One (“The intentional family”) and “Becoming a more intentional family” (Chapter Twelve). In The intentional family: Simple rituals to strengthen family ties. New York: Avon Books (Morrow), 10-14, 188-199.
Harris, V. W. (2010). Marriage Tips and Traps: 10 Secrets for Nurturing Your Marital Friendship. Plymouth, MI: Hayden McNeil.
Fiese, B. H., Tomcho, T. J., Douglas, M., Josephs, K.,Poltrock, S., & Baker, T. (2002). A review of 50 years of research on naturally occurring family routines and rituals: Cause for celebration? Journal of Family Psychology, 16(4), 381-390.
Lisitsa, E. (2013). Dr. John Gottman’s Tips for Creating Your Own Holiday Rituals. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/dr-john-gottmans-tips-for-creating-your-own-holiday-rituals/