How to Use Couple Rituals

Starting Out Right

Couple rituals enhance intimacy and serve many other purposes in a relationship . . . enhance is a key word, as couple rituals build off of a foundation that already exists.  Having been through several dating rituals (which are different from these sustaining ones), knowing each other’s lives well, and having a shared history will prime the pump.  When the foundation is present and firm, slowly adding these rituals will strengthen and enhance your relationship.  Dating/getting-to-know-you often creates rituals through the way you are together; the pleasant romantic and inspired moments become too good to be one-off or rare events, and thus a couple ritual is born.

If the relationship is unhealthy, engaging in these rituals may do more harm than good.  The key is whether or not the rituals achieve their desired purpose.  If they don’t, they’ll be one more example of what is wrong and erode the connection that still exists.  Try thinking through the ritual that seems to fit your personalities and relationship and imagining your partner’s reaction.  If there are significant doubts that it will go well, more energy needs to go into healing the relationship than building it – see the “Education” section of the website for some help there.

Quite often, couple rituals need a lot of planning at the outset.  Who?  What?  When?  Where?  How?  How long?  How often?  “Natural” rituals that evolve have such details worked out fairly seamlessly.  And, if the ritual is an adopted one, the ritual might end in frustration because the “synch” and purpose were not achieved.  Have patience with the details.  They probably won’t all be worked out the first time or two; however, for most couple rituals, once the details are worked out, they become silky smooth and more comfortable with continual wear.

Don’t use them all – create meaning in your lives, not obligation.  Almost certainly, there are some rituals in your relationship already.  Focus on making those existing rituals stronger.  After that, if there is space, start small with one or two more rituals and then slowly add a few more.  A dozen rituals total seems to be a good number for most couples.  If there are too many rituals, or they are done too frequently, they can lose their significance and become a routine and/or an obligation to some degree.  If time is a concern, use the rituals noted as quick in practice.

Think of it like a buffet.. You want to foster a balanced set of choices.

Kaizen is the Japanese word from small, continuous improvements.  It’s the perfect approach for incorporating rituals into your life.  It also turns out, according to numerous university studies, that the small things that make us happy are worth far more than the big things that give us joy.  In other words, you’re better off with lots of little joys than a few big ones – you’ll be much happier.  Thus, small rituals incorporated into your life will be worth more to your relationship and happiness than a couple of vacations and a few weekends.

Rules to Play By

Take steps to make the connection time truly connecting.  Look into each other’s eyes, touch, and separate the ritual time from normal time through place (where), space (how the space looks), special items, or unique actions.  Pro-forma engagement in ritual is like eating McDonalds food – is that really full nourishment?

When a ritual is done, the decision is made by both people.  Rituals aren’t rules or conditions.  It is mutual and participatory.  If a ritual is changed or cancelled, it is also best (necessary) to have the decision made by both people.  When rituals fall by the wayside without note, the unwritten message is that the ritual and the relationship didn’t make the importance cutoff.  Rituals can’t always occur as planned, but when they don’t, it needs to be an exception and noted as such.

Conflict, problem solving, information dumps, and logistics are “normal space” items, and to be left out of ritual times.  They are all important, yet they take away from the purpose of the ritual.  If these areas mix, the power of the ritual experience overall may be diminished.  Rituals may even be avoided, or looked upon with suspicion, “What kind of ritual is this going to be. . .a nice one or a not so nice one?”

Don’t water down your rituals!

Enliven, Re-invigorate, Renew

Rituals can change and evolve so that they stay fresh and meaningful.  If the ritual begins to not achieve its purpose as well, change or adapt it, or create new rituals entirely.  Rituals are to be alive.  If the ritual becomes routine or oppressive, something needs to change.  Likewise, if the ritual becomes an obligation, or the purpose is not achieved a few times, something about it needs to change.  Many rituals will wane or disappear over time, so it’s important to recognize when that happens and either reinvigorate the ritual or replace it.

Customize and adapt these rituals.  People are unique and these ideas may come close to the mark, but not quite hit it.  Change them to make them your own.  In interviews, couples would frequently mention rituals that I had already roughly recorded, but that varied in some way that was important for them.  If you can adapt three rituals from this website into your life, your time will have been well worth the investment.  Also, it is hoped that these rituals will serve as a jumping off point and inspiration to create your own unique rituals.  If you do, I’d enjoy hearing about them!

Brainstorming Couple Rituals in Your Present and Past

Need Sought?

Humans have core needs, and every ritual is a strategy to meet one of them.  You might recall/recognize rituals you already have, as well as see a need that inspires you to create a ritual around it to enhance that need being met, regularly, and meaningfully.

Please visit our section on Compassionate Communication to see a list of human needs. This is an opportunity to review them to see if they create a spark.

Places

Without exception, every ritual takes place in a place. 🙂  Below is a short list of places to help you recognize/recall places where your rituals already occur.  Or, perhaps a place where you’d like to create one!  Again, if you come up with a new ritual not listed on this website, please let me know!

HOME

NEIGHBORHOOD

CITY PLACES

Bathroom Nearby houses Park
Kitchen Open space Pond / lake
Bedroom Friend’s house Fountain / water feature
Living room Garden Public building
Garage Park/landscaped area Government/municipal space
Yard Corner / transit stop Any repeated location

FOOD

NATURE

ENTERTAINMENT

Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner City/Town park Movies
Tea / coffee National/State park Amusement park
Snacks Hiking Theater / Ballet
Waking up / going to bed Walking Sporting event
Particular eateries Biking / skating Concert
Going out to a meal River/Lake/Pond/Stream Storytelling
Fast food Garden Pub / Bar

SHOPPING

WORK

SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS

Grocery store Office / cubicle space Services
Big box store Meeting area / room Frequent rituals/holidays
Craft / Hobby store Seating area / Windowed area Part of religious center
Automobile/engine store Break space Altar
Electronics Food area Meeting room
Convenience store Presentation space Time of day
Gas/Fuel station Entrance / Exits Time of week / month

Times

Meal times
Days of the week
Days of the month
Holidays (although unlikely to serve as a couple ritual if infrequent, like once a year)
Bed time
Waking up
Bathing time

Preparing food
Cleaning
Friday after work (assuming your weekends are free)
Monday when work starts
Weekend
Getting in a vehicle
Moving

Talking time – time where that is regular/common
Crossing a threshold
Sunrise / Sunset / stars coming out
Catching one another’s gaze in a crowd
Pouring/serving a drink/food
Animal acts
Embracing

Time of absence / reunion
Communicating when not together (phone/text/IM/video/voicemail/messaging)
Great happiness
Great sadness
Loss / Gain
Exercise

Rituals and Variations

This section has well over 100 rituals with variations.  Reading through them will likely spark your memory/awareness around rituals you already have, as well as some you may wish to adopt.

Symbols

A symbol is something that represents something else.  By reviewing some symbols, your memory may be triggered into a ritual you already do, or one you would like to incorporate.

Air:

Incense

Smoke

Perfume

Fan

Wind

Guided breathing

Silence

Whisper

Screaming

Singing

Poetry

Readings

Speeches

Meditations

Nature sounds

Chants

Drumming

Sounds with body

Guitar

Flutes

Bell

Water:

Drops

Drink

Immerse

Touch

 

Flowing around – hearing and/or seeing it

Body of water near

Reflecting pool

Surrounding sacred space – man made moat

Washing

Anoint with oil

Earth:

  • Food – nourish mind/spirit/heart or body?  Nature of presentation?  Quantity?  Main or peripheral symbol?  Methods of consumption?  Preparation?
  • Burying
  • Painting object or body painting
  • Nature – mountains, trees, stone, cave, etc.  Sometimes nature is decorated to communicate something.
  • Giving away things – shedding of earth
  • Conscious use of space – proximity to people and things.  Structure of sacred space.  What space is made of.  Size of space.
  • Sculpture
  • Being made heavy and then light or vice versa
  • Symbols – e.g. conch shell, fimo clay, ornate stick or wand, hand crafted anything, masks, hay spirit, mirror, crystals, feather, image of a person or thing, scroll, ribbons, stone circle, wreath of flowers, cake baked in the shape of something, chalice, cauldron, ceremonial knife or sword, silk flags, robes, special clothing, ashes

Fire:

  • Campfire
  • Bonfire
  • Torch
  • Lanterns
  • Matches
  • Ashes
  • Absence of fire or light.  Conscious use of light.
  • Candles (with an inscription, words, near pictures, stark in plainness, flame is given meaning, etc.)

Scents:

  • Angelica – blessings, protection, purification
  • Basil – love, fidelity, wealth, protection
  • Cinnamon – happy, safety, healing, protection, warm
  • Lavender – love, friendship, peace, happiness
  • Rosemary – cleansing, protection, clear thinking
  • Sage – purification, wisdom
  • Jasmine – euphoric, antidepressant
  • Lemon – refreshes, increases awareness
  • Pine – strength, stability
  • Spearmint – invigorates, refreshes

Evaluating Rituals You Currently Have

Socrates said:  “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Couple Rituals are usually evaluated in a very informal manner, which certainly can work wonderfully.

  • “Hey, how are you feeling about this (specific ritual)?”
  • “I’m struggling with this being a meaningful time, and I’m wondering what your experience is?”
  • “How is this working for you?”
  • “I wonder what little thing we could do that would make this time more enjoyable for both of us?”
  • “What do you think about shaking things up a little with what we do around _____?”

If a more number-oriented method works for you, below are some questions to consider.  There isn’t data/research specifically around these questions and their results yet, and if you’d like to support that kind of work, please see the donation page! 🙂

For now, the questions and ratings, and comparing them with your partner, will offer wonderful conversation starters.  Not every question will apply to every ritual . . . pick ones that fit.

  • Brings us closer together / greater sense of connection
  • We appreciate one another more during/after the ritual/experience
  • Are fun
  • Remind us that we are bird of a feather / have commonalities
  • Create greater ease in our relationship
  • Demonstrate our care for one another
  • Improves our communication
  • Relaxation and stress relief opportunity
  • Provides time for/facilitates sex
  • Offers a comfort/knowingness to one another
  • Provides intimacy/closeness
  • Our relationship is special
  • Creates time for us to be a couple
  • Offers novelty/surprise/special times in our relationship

Overcoming Resistance (Theirs or Yours)

Top 5 Reasons (and some considerations)

REASON

REACH

I/we don’t have time Top 7 that are quick
What are you making more important? (without judging the other!)
Create meaning, not obligation
This is silly/it feels awkward All 100+ are likely not the same level of silliness/awkwardness.  Choose three that feel less awkward, and initiate them and see how you both feel.
And, you may have a feeling of awkwardness/silliness, and check to see if there is ALSO a hint of another feeling – perhaps joy or warmth.
We’re doing fine as it is As the old joke goes, “Fine” is a four-letter word. 🙂
What would more than fine look like?
What would very warm and deeply loving look like?
We tried and it didn’t work Indeed, and, you might fail several times.  There are many endeavors that may have been awkward at first, or taken time to gain comfort around, that are wonderful in your life now.
What, specifically, about it didn’t work?  How might a different ritual, or tweak to the existing ritual, offer a better chance for success?
I don’t feel like it/don’t want to; I’m mad Guess, more specifically and broadly, what they feelings are behind the strategy to not like it or want to.  Perhaps frustration, anger, sadness, awkwardness, nervous, embarrassed, . . .
And, then, what need is the strategy of not wanting to point toward?  See the list of needs above.  Perhaps there are needs for comfort, ease, competence, choice, dignity, clarity, and, acknowledging those without working to fix them can create more space to see how those needs can be met, if they even need to be – once fully acknowledged, the needs often relax, and strategies become more plentiful.

Compassionate Communication (also known as Nonviolent Communication) is a excellent resource here. Check out that section and you’ll transform how you speak and listen to others.  Remember, there is always a beautiful “Yes!” behind every “No!” . . .   For example, when someone offers a “No” to doing the Beat the Dog ritual, they might be saying “Yes” to comfort and/or cleanliness and/or safety.