We may not be conscious of the role ritual plays in our lives, but we can actually use relationship rituals to create more meaningful partnerships. Couples therapy often explores the rituals we take for granted, as well as ways to deepen the connection. But beyond a yearly anniversary, how is this any different from our day-to-day schedules?
The Power of Intention
The power of ritual lies in the intent behind it, and all cultures have designated ways to elevate the ordinary moments of our lives. This is most obvious during times of transition or celebration. We come together to share food during the holidays, and we also create ceremonies around the common experience of birth or death. In India, brides are adorned with intricate henna designs to bless their journey into marriage.
But ritual also has a place in preserving our most intimate relationships. If routine provides a stabilizing function, we can think of ritual as weaving meaning and significance into our days. Of course, what this looks like will be different for each relationship, but couples therapy can be a useful tool when we’re trying to get beyond ingrained patterns that have us feeling stuck.
Where to Begin?
When you first began dating your partner, you probably naturally developed rituals that helped you bond. For example, maybe on Sundays you had brunch together at your favorite restaurant by the beach, but this stopped when your lives became busier and more fully integrated. These moments may seem simple, but they create space for us to be together beyond the demanding obligations of our everyday lives.
It’s easy to forget the rest of the world when you’re still getting to know someone. This is part of the excitement of falling in love. Maybe in those early days the togetherness made you feel like you were in a bubble, but somehow routine eventually found its way inside. People who seek couples therapy often feel like they’ve lost this specialness that was set aside from the rest of the world. A good place to begin is by considering your current relationship rituals as well as ones that fell by the wayside.
We Belong Together
Relationship rituals also give us a sense that we belong together and that our bond is still growing. It’s not that we deny the challenges we face, but we have ways of creating meaning in the relationship. Couples therapy will explore how we celebrate together, as well as how we grieve loss. Ritual helps care for our mental, physical and emotional well-being in the relationship. How do we affirm our togetherness? What do we do when one of us has a rough day or feels sick? Ritual goes beyond routine in that it honors our connection. It matters because it symbolizes that we matter.
Learning to Linger Longer
Have you been feeling a lack of meaning in your relationship lately? Maybe you’re experiencing more conflict than usual. This makes it easier for doubts to creep in about the partnership and we begin to lose sight of what makes our relationship special. One reason why conflict arises in interactions with each other stems from our reluctance to linger longer in the gray area with what someone is saying. But relationship rituals can also be used to improve our communication.
When someone talks about a moment with emotion, we often become uncomfortable. What do we do? Express condolences for their feeling state? Wait in awkward silence while we formulate a response that becomes more elusive the longer we pause? Offer a platitude that sounds trite and insincere? What if the conversation turns toward a limitation about our role in the relationship, or something they found lacking in us? Couples therapy can help us handle these moments with more grace by establishing relationship rituals.
If we’re like most people, we squirm, avoid, or retaliate to get out of the spotlight. We might become offended and defensive. But learning to linger longer in those gray emotional spaces can help us connect more deeply, even during conflict. We can become curious about our partner’s experience, instead, which opens us to vulnerability.
When we’re in this state, we have often lost the ability to soothe ourselves in the moment. If the urge to retaliate and respond in a protective manner arises, we must learn to set it aside. Let the wave surge and flow past us. We gather ourselves and realign our emotions. This is one of the many ways ritual can see us through challenging moments. We can learn to set aside the need to protect our viewpoint or delve into our survival response (fight, flight, freeze). We calm ourselves, instead, and stay put—overcoming our urge to escape. If there are emotions expressed, we make note of them, reflecting back what we heard our partner say, and continuing to linger. We can also ask for clarity when we want to understand something more completely.
Validating the Connection
If we learn to linger longer, we affirm the significance of the person before us. We let them know what they say and choose to share is important. This validates the connection. One relationship ritual option would be to set up a weekly check-in to discuss any issues or concerns rather than waiting for an argument to arise. This time could be used to talk about your needs as well as what your partner is doing that makes you feel seen and heard in the relationship.
Schedule Couples Therapy
As you can see, ritual plays an integral role in the health of all long-term relationships. Consciously setting intentions for our partnership can create more meaning in our lives, as well as reduce conflict. If you’re feeling stuck in your relationship, maybe it’s time to reevaluate what’s missing from your connection. For questions about couples therapy, reach the office of Brett Beaver, LMFT by using this quick contact form. You can also learn more about Brett and his approach to therapy by clicking this link.