Support and Forgiveness

Writing

The Nurture Jar

Using cut-up pieces of special paper…

Breathing Ritual

Yes, we’re all masters at breathing, but perhaps not gurus to the extent that Eastern philosophies have developed the art…

The Thing

Once a week (or month), each person picks an item they would like some help with…

Soft and Furry Love

“Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where the women are strong, the men are good looking…

Forgiveness

The All-Powerful Signal

Every moment won’t be roses and cherries…

The Believing and Doubting Game

The ritual here is to take a disagreement/perspective/stalemate/frustration and work it through…

The Nurture Jar

Using cut-up pieces of special paper (e.g., hand-made paper, fine stationary, or a color copy of an “old” love letter), each person writes down about 15 things that would make that person feel really nurtured.  Different colored paper can be used to help distinguish which items belong to whom.  The time each nurture task takes can vary, but a good guideline is somewhere between 5 and 20 minutes.  These 30 or so items are placed in a cookie jar and usually placed in the kitchen or bedroom.  When things get hectic or one person simply really needs it, s/he can call “The Nurture Jar!” or use some other signal.  The signals vary from a long puppy dog look, a playful whimper, a long blank stare, being a little too quick tempered, or the more popular no signal because the person doesn’t even realize how much they need it.  The other person willingly goes to the jar and picks out a nurture request of his or her mate and does it as soon as possible.  For this ritual to work, it’s best not to stretch the rules by making requests at near impossible times (physically or emotionally).

Variations

  • Time (doing errands/tasks for your mate)
  • Space (creating a space, usually of silence/repose)
  • Physical touch (massage, hug, caress, brushing hair, back scratching)
  • Food (tea, coffee, sandwich, soda,
  • Listening (the other provides their full attention, without problem-solving, consoling, or other actions that tend to cut off connection; instead, heart open, and words, sparingly, reflect the emotion, validate what is happening, or reframe the content to something position when phrased in the negative).

Principal Purposes Served

  • Create stable touchstones
  • Foster trust
  • Manage conflict
  • Provide regular opportunities for play
  • Help to accomplish tasks
  • Emotional money in the bank
  • Foster nurturing, affectionate, loving contact
  • Fulfill needs for predictability and novelty

Breathing Ritual

Yes, we’re all masters at breathing, but perhaps not gurus to the extent that Eastern philosophies have developed the art.  Tai Chi, Yoga, Tantra, and Buddhist meditation involve the very purposeful use of breath.

Variations

  • Cuddling and breathing in synchrony – you both breathe in and out at the same time.
  • Asynchronous breathing – after one exhales completely, you inhale.
  • The couple sits facing each other while holding each other’s hands and looking into each other’s eyes.
  • Saying a short phrase after the inhalation and exhalation a couple times and that’s it.  The format is usually along the lines of “As we breathe in, we are connected,” or “Breathing out, we release.”
  • Simply gazing into one another’s eyes.  In silence, or with music.  Without speaking.  Without touching.

Principal Purposes Served

  • Create stable touchstones
  • Foster trust
  • Manage conflict
  • Emotional money in the bank
  • Foster nurturing, affectionate, loving contact

The Thing

Once a week (or month), each person picks an item they would like some help with, which they usually don’t receive.  Without question or debate (or grumbling), each person agrees to help the other with that task.  Below are a variety of helpful considerations and options.

  • The spirit of the help is with joy, giving, energy, and play
  • Can be done together for the company, or separately (usually at the same time)
  • A time limit on the task, such as 30 minutes, an hour, or two
  • If the task involves something that has a base objection to it, like a fear or gut-level disgust, that is to be negotiated/discussed and agreed upon ahead of time.  Remember, this is a couple ritual, and a hallmark of such is that it is meaningful and enjoyable!
  • Some couples ritualize the notifying of the task by writing it on a sealed card (and having the card lying around for a while), by writing a clue a day on a piece of paper, or by conducting a fanfare celebration with music and pomp and circumstance.

Principal Purposes Served

  • Create stable touchstones
  • Manage conflict
  • Help to accomplish tasks
  • Emotional money in the bank

Soft and Furry Love

“Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”  In Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, life’s pretty good.  For those of us who don’t live there, life has a few more ups and downs.  At the end of one of those days, this couple ritual can take the edge off the downers and soothe ruffled feathers. You may find it a little silly at first, but give it a chance and you might always want something like it in your life.  Also, remember that customizing couple rituals is highly recommended!  Treat these as inspiration for creating a piece of art that adds beauty and joy to your relationship.  For this ritual, I’ve heard many different flavors, but let me tell you about one of my favorites.

Jack’s wife Shannon loves stuffed animals.  She has a modest collection that tastefully decorates one side of the bedroom. One day Jack was on his way to pick up his favorite sandwich down the block from his office building and passed one of those rows of cart merchants that sell everything from eyeglasses to vitamins.  That day, on a new cart selling mugs and miscellaneous trinkets, a small, stuffed, fuzzy gecko lizard covered with paisley fabric caught his eye.  Six bucks seemed reasonable enough, so he picked it up for his wife, stuffing it in his pocket and heading back to work.

That same afternoon, Jack was forced to summarily fire an employee for stealing company software.  As if that wasn’t stressful enough, he also had to give a presentation to his superiors about cost overruns.  But Jack found that having a hand in his pocket and feeling that gecko reminded him of his wife, which reminded him of her love and of what really mattered.  His stress went down and he was able to perform better.

When Jack got home, his wife was already back from work.  After a warm hug and kiss she asked the usual question about his day.  Jack put his hands in his pockets and smiled broadly until Shannon finally said, “What?”  He whipped out the gecko and she excitedly went to grab it.  But Jack dodged her and demanded that Shannon ask the gecko how his day had been.  After a moment when she begrudgingly complied, Jack had the gecko relate the day’s events, like the proverbial fly on the wall.  You see, when Jack was little, he loved it when his mother told him stories from his stuffed tiger’s perspective, so this was natural and fun for him.  That’s how this couple ritual was born.

Jack and Shannon kept Zydeco, the gecko, by the keys.  When they were leaving for work in the morning, they would check in to see who was going to take it that day.  Whoever might have the more difficult day would keep Zydeco in a pocket or purse.  Whenever that person felt stressed, s/he would secretly rub it and remember that someone loved them to death, no matter what happened.  After returning from work, the one who didn’t have Zydeco asked if it wanted to talk.  The day’s stresses could then be relayed from the gecko’s perspective, in its voice and with its personality.  Substituting a stuffed animal helped them to not relive the stressful situation, since it was sort of coming from outside the self.  And sometimes, a funny story would sound even more hilarious.

Variations

  • Objects for this ritual vary from a ball of wax from the wedding candle, to a rock, to a piece of fabric that was meaningful to both partners.
  • Have a stuffed animal (object) for each person.
  • If there is no story to tell at the end of the day, put the object back in its place. Don’t use it for the more trivial events of the day.
  • Although I really like the idea of using the stuffed animal and its personality and perspective to tell the story, of course you can talk about the day’s events in a more normal manner.  The idea is to make a special time for really listening.

Principal Purposes Served

  • Create stable touchstones
  • Build the relationship culture and history
  • Communicate values and beliefs
  • Foster trust
  • Emotional money in the bank
  • Fosters nurturing, affectionate, loving contact

The All-Powerful Signal

Every moment won’t be roses and cherries.  When strife, criticism, contempt, stonewalling, or defensiveness rear their head, and negative feelings heat, or bake, the air around you, successful couples often have a release valve.  Some of these special emergency breaks can be used in the moment, while others require some space and a moment of reflection.

One of you needs the presence of mind and courage to use the signal to create that break in what is happening, and allow a more positive future to unfold.  For successful strategies on how to manage conflict afterwards, see the Education section.

Signaling Peace:

  • Quote from an early or poignant love letter or phrase your both remember well
  • Leaving old love notes/e-mails/letters for the other, and that positive state of mind cue will hopefully be triggered/remembered, and invite that space into the present.
  • Return to the beginning . . . where met / coffee shop / restaurant / pictures of when were first together / see movie special to both of you / etc.
  • A hug that is both firm and warm
  • Rock left on the bedroom pillow (or car seat), which is a signal that a talk is necessary.  Another cue shared was a piece of 2×4 wood, which related to a story of how it feels to be in this space for both of them – like getting hit with a 2×4.
  • An accident or highly stressful/dangerous event that you were both there for.  Cueing that time can also cue what is really important – one another.  For one couple, the signal was “Are you okay?”  They were in a car crash, and the airbags had gone off, with both of them holding their broken noses and looking at their bloody faces.  Much later, if one of them held their nose and said “Are you okay?”, it was an invitation to remember that their relationship and health are what are important.
  • An argument around whether it was a sweet potato or yam turned unnecessarily heated and fell apart.  Later, they both realized they had overreacted, and it wasn’t as important as they made it out to be in the moment.  The signal, later, was simply to ask the question, “Is it a sweet potato or a yam?”, which broke the state and allowed a moment to take a different approach.

Principal Purposes Served

  • Communicate values and beliefs
  • Manage conflict
  • Emotional money in the bank

The Believing and Doubting Game

The ritual here is to take a disagreement/perspective/stalemate/frustration and work it through, hopefully with a bit more levity than is likely present.  It is a particularly tricky ritual, and perhaps the MOST tricky of them all, as a couple ritual has the flavor of being meaningful and enjoyable, and disagreements are rarely so.

Suspending the idea that someone is right and someone is wrong, and remembering that at the core, everyone is right . . . each person is seeking something positive and wonderful in the need they’re hoping to meet.  From that place, there is a same-sidedness that makes movement more likely, even if only in the feelings around the issue.  For more, see Non-Violent Communication (NVC).

“I can’t believe that,” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone.  “Try again; draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed.  “There’s no use in trying.” She said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.  “When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast . . .”
-Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

  • When faced with an idea, especially a controversial or threatening one, people are quick to pick camps – the believing camp or the doubting camp.  Whichever one they are in, folks tend to get real comfortable and even go so far as to completely forget that there is another game/camp. If faced with an adversary, people will remain in their camp most or all of the time.  The two games are interdependent; they are only halves of a full cycle of thinking.  They are yin and yang.  Every player playing both games on the same issue yields a better result.
  • One of the most important fruits of playing the Believing and Doubting Game is the heightened realization that one is playing the game – that one is currently playing only one of two sides and that the game isn’t finished until both sides are played.
  • “Truth” is often appropriated by those with power, those who are getting paid, those who can shout louder or who can think a little faster, or by the master of instilling guilt, shame, and fear.  Playing the game helps level the playing field.
  • The main hindrance to the search for truth is probably the unwillingness to abandon a present belief and adopt a better one when it comes along.  We may recognize it as a better idea, but it may be harder to believe, or may involve admitting we were wrong, or may come from someone we don’t want to agree with, or may involve one of the scariest things ever – change.  We all fear, to a greater or lesser extent, being taken over, infected, or controlled by a bad or wrong idea.
  • Everyone present needs to play both games in turn.  At one moment, everyone is believing, and when that is exhausted, everyone begins to play the doubting game.  There is no division or sides while the game is being played.

The Rules

Doubting game

  • Truth by seeking error
  • Question every overt and hidden assumption and assertion
  • To play this game is to be rigorous, rational, and tough minded
  • Detach oneself; gain perspective
  • Take things literally
  • Be aggressive
  • Be stubborn
  • Be adversarial
  • Discover all the problems and pitfalls

Believing game

  • Believe all the assertions – even if they contradict each other.  Get inside the ideas – experience what they are as much as possible.
  • Do not toss the baby out with the bathwater – sometimes when one starts doubting, one becomes so preoccupied with finding the many holes in the tapestry that one fails to ever see the picture that is there.
  • Settle for truth mixed with error.
  • Never argue, believe everything, walk in others’  moccasins, make metaphorical transformations of assertions so you can enter them.  Get other people to join you and for a long time.
  • Make the idea work – find ways to make it happen.

In practice, playing either side to the hilt can often grind forward movement to a halt, because the game degenerates into childish antics and assertions.  The point is simply to take both sides of an issue TOGETHER (each in turn) and try and fully appreciate both perspectives.  Easily said, briefly written, but difficult to do.  Keep this in front of you as you play the game.

Principal Purposes Served

  • Foster trust
  • Manage conflict