(n) 1. Adult play.
2. A planned, recurring exchange between two people in a loving relationship that is truly meaningful and powerful.
3. Nourishing, sustaining relationship nectar.
Please skip around and read five couple rituals and then come back to read the details.
Starting with the “end” here is going to help all of this make much more sense to you. My suggestions are “Grumbles and gratitudes,” “Date night,” “The hug greeting,” “Toast the day,” and “Soft and furry love.”
After you’ve examined a few rituals, come back and read about what a couple ritual is and why couples need rituals. Skip around and read a few more rituals and then examine how to best use a couple ritual.
You already use rituals in your life all the time. For example, you have family rituals (Birthdays, religious services), personal rituals (morning pattern, opening mail), cultural rituals (Thanksgiving, 4th of July), and perhaps religious rituals (church service, meditation, Easter, Ramadan). Rituals inundate our lives all the time. Human beings are naturally drawn to ritual. From marriage, slumber parties, Halloween, baby showers, funerals, graduation, new year’s eve, to the super bowl, people have lots of rituals in their lives. Being ritualistic is in our nature. It seems to be a genetic predisposition.
Couple rituals are done by virtually everyone, but you likely never really thought of those things you do as “rituals.” Couple rituals are present in over 20 countries where I checked, and likely in every country, with every couple in some manner. Couple rituals are a part of every significant, intimate relationship. While only some people celebrate Easter, couple rituals are universal. I believe the reason is that they provide a vital element to relationships.
A shower, brushing teeth, or a morning pattern can be a valuable form of ritual.
It almost never fails. Whether I am at a coffee shop, bookstore, party, bar, nursing home, or sporting event, the initial response to my questioning folks about their couple rituals is, “Oh, I don’t really have anything like that – sorry.” Or, “We have a couple I guess.” After I help them to fully understand what a couple ritual is and use some of the techniques in the brainstorm section, the examples of rituals in their own lives flowed freely.
You’re probably thinking you’ve got a couple, or maybe even a few rituals, but I’ll bet you have at least a dozen, which is the average. Maybe you call them something like routines, traditions, special times, rites, customs, sharing time, ceremonies, or maybe you’ve never created a box for all the “little” things you do together.
What is it and why call it that?
There are so many definitions and popular conceptions of what a ritual is, that the word has lost any singular meaning. Often ritual conjures up images of something formal, ceremonial, religious, or even the occult. It can be most or none of those things. However, using the word ritual is helpful, because, technically, it means that certain things are present. In the context of this book, a “couple ritual” is a planned, recurring interaction between two people that is truly meaningful and powerful for both of them.
Other descriptors/names for “Couple Rituals” include:
Things we do
Let’s look at the differences and similarities between a ritual and a routine, romantic act, spontaneous act, and tradition in order to get a better handle on the term couple rituals.
Routine or Ritual?
When a couple enters into a ritual, they both know that it is going to be enjoyable and that it will strengthen their relationship a little bit. This is what separates couple rituals from routines. Routines are the necessary, everyday, even boring actions we take to accomplish something. They can be shared and personally comforting, but it is the meaningful, enjoyable connection between the partners that distinguishes a ritual from a routine. Having dinner together, watching a movie, exercising, washing dishes, going to an event, or shopping can either be a routine or a ritual depending on the emotional significance and purpose. As you’ll see in the evaluating your rituals section, couple rituals are at least moderately meaningful to both people. When that is the case, rituals accomplish things beyond the physical realm to touch the mind, heart, and soul. They are conscious and mindful. We invent our rituals so that living together does not drift into ordinariness, but may be invested with a deeper meaning and vitality.
Romantic or Ritual?
Thankfully, couple rituals are romantic, but they aren’t romantic acts as commonly thought of. Typically, a romantic act is something like buying flowers, washing the other’s car, going out to a fabulous dinner with limousine transportation, or having pizza delivered with the pepperoni in a heart-shaped design. There are loads of books that catalog and philosophize about romance, such as 1001 Ways to be Romantic and The RoMANtics Guide. Romantic gestures are fabulous and we all love making and receiving them, but the specific romantic act often happens only once, or maybe a handful of times in a given year. Couple rituals may involve similar gestures, but they are consciously repeated over and over again. Instead of flowers as a surprise, a couple might take a little time out of every week to garden together. Instead of breakfast in bed as a surprise, the partners take turns preparing a wonderful treat every Sunday (or once a month, etc.), or cook the meal together. Instead of greeting your mate at the door covered in Saran Wrap once, you do it all the time. Well, okay – not a good couple ritual!
Let me clarify here that couple rituals, like anniversaries, birthdays, vacations, or simply something done very infrequently, can technically take place once or twice a year. I know that you plan and repeat these events and that they may be among your most cherished couple rituals, yet I focus on those that happen at least every month or two. Why? You already know about the big ones and practice them; while here, you want to be inspired to expand your repertoire of couple rituals.
Spontaneous or Planned?
Couple rituals are planned. Whether done implicitly or explicitly, the when, what, where, and how are known to both people ahead of time. A romantic act, on the contrary, is almost always known by only one person before it happens. The agreed schedule for couple rituals can be a time of day, every Sunday, or when some trigger occurs, such as a rainy day, an uttered phrase, or even a certain look. The trigger aspect is what can give couple rituals a delightful, spontaneous feel as well. This point is taken up more fully in how section, or it is evident in most of the rituals themselves.
Tradition or Ritual?
Although commonly interchanged, the term “ritual” and “tradition” aren’t exactly the same. At first glance, they may appear to be identical, but traditions do not have to involve heartfelt practices. In that sense, they could be called routines. Yet routines are usually identified with everyday, ordinary activities, while traditions involve more special, infrequent, time-honored events. For instance, visiting the in-laws once a year may become a tradition, but it may not be a couple’s favorite activity. Even a Christmas or Chanukah or Eid Al-Fitr tradition may not be regarded as a particularly enjoyable bonding ritual by both partners, thus making it a tradition. That said, the religious occasion might be powerful in and of itself, and, if the couple particularly appreciates THEIR time together in that space, it would be a couple ritual.
Are the specific rituals unique – one of kind? No. Even the strange ones have been noted as rituals by more than one couple (and often scores). A very particular turn of phrase might be close to unique, although even then, it is likely that out of billions of people alive now not interviewed, and tens of billions that have come before, the ritual exists elsewhere, especially in essence/close similarity.