Karen Smillie, MFT
Not everyone likes routine.
Despite this, most of us have at least one or two that we perform day in and day out. Sleeping on a certain side of the bed, drinking the first morning coffee, visiting certain websites when we turn on the computer. These habitual activities often bring a familiarity, comfort and calm to the day.
Rituals are predictable routines that have meaning. Many people have rituals that have come from family tradition, religion, or happy happenstance. When couples come together, these rituals become part of the partnership. As time moves on, couples usually develop some rituals of their own.
When I work with a couple, I pay close attention to the rituals that seem to be working well – routines that seem easy, inviting and joyful for both partners. Many times, these events have occurred without fanfare and with no knowledge of their growing symbolic meaning. It takes some time thinking through these routines to realize that they’ve quietly become important relationship rituals.
Tip to Thrive: Consciously introduce rituals that feel good into your relationship.
This may mean looking at the rituals you already share and making deliberate efforts to continue them or it may mean discussing some new rituals to establish. With your partner, discuss specific behaviors that you already include when you leave each other’s company. Do you see any routines that feel good for both of you? If yes, think about continuing them with an eye towards what meaning these behaviors hold in your relationship.
One Thing Exercise
Here is a ritual that I’ve seen work well for couples. Try it out and see how it feels. If it doesn’t feel right, try exploring other types of rituals. Remember that it’s important that your and your partner find rituals that make sense for you and your relationship.
- Step 1: Every time you and your partner part company, both of you can choose to find out one thing that will happen in your partner’s life while you’re apart. One simple phrase that is used each time you leave each other can help signal to you that it’s time to learn this one thing. Here are a few examples:
“What’s one thing you plan to do while we’re apart?”
“Is there one thing you’re looking forward to today?”
“Do you have anything exciting happening this week?”
“What’s the one thing you’re dreading the most this week?”
“Honey, what’s your one thing today?”
- Step 2: Remember what your partner says for their one thing. Write it down if it helps you remember.
- Step 3: When you return to each other, ask about the one thing mentioned when parting. Encourage elaborate answers by asking questions that start with How or What.
“How was your business meeting?”
“What was is like to spend time with your sister?”
“How do you feel about your one thing?”
- Step 4: Continue doing this for a few weeks and let me know how it turns out!
Why You May Want To Try This Exercise
Relationship rituals help create shared meaning between two partners and present opportunities for connection. When methods of checking in with each other, or noting an event or milestone, are predictable and consistent, partners may experience less relationship anxiety. In couples that are disconnected, planned rituals offer deliberate and focused ways on reconnecting.
As always, feel free to email me with any questions about this exercise.