Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rituals in Marriage: Couple Glue for the two of you.


“At the core, what rituals do is, they give you a sense of history, predictability, playfulness or something to look forward to.”
Dr. Carol Bruess, author of What Happy Couples Do.

Everyone has rituals whether they realize it or not. Married couples have a lot of rituals, and they act as a kind of glue that holds the union intact, even in good times. Maybe especially in good times. The word ritual in fact, has the same root as the word rite, which is the act that makes us married people in the first place. From Latin ‘ritus’ via middle English for descriptions of ceremonies, the word has a long history with communities and couples. It also gave us the word arithmetic, originally meaning to count, or pronounce noteworthy. From the Encyclopedia Brittanica “Ritual is a specific, observable mode of behavior exhibited by all known societies. It is thus possible to view ritual as a way of defining or describing humans.”
All known societies. That means all of us. In marriage, though, the rituals of our daily interaction describe not just the initiation or onset of a new status or identification, but an ongoing behavior that almost identifies us to each other. Think of the Newlywed Game TV show many years ago. Those young, or not so young, couples were asked to identify behaviors of their mates. Then the recently off-stage mate was asked to identify with those behaviors. It was interesting to note how many times couples got it wrong, meaning that one or the other didn’t recognize a ritual as such. Over time, those people will see more clearly the ways those behaviors impact their mate and the relationship.

Rituals run the gamut from heartwarming to irritating, and everything in between. Some define roles in the relationship: he takes out the trash; she irons clothes, or the other way around. In some marriages he decides on vehicle matters; she defines the house and its contents. He might organize the vacation, while she sets up child care and the kennel.
But the rituals that truly matter in a relationship are the fun, romantic, bonding behaviors that are like the DNA of the marriage. Call it couple glue. Here’s a list of wonderful rituals gathered over many years. They’re loving, fun, even fascinating snippets of creative outreach between people fortunate enough to be deeply in love with their mates, regardless of the number of years together. And the exhilarating part is, they’re available for use by everyone.

Love notes--the old standby. Leave them everywhere, and at random. They don’t have to be extensive. In fact, shorter is better. Forget Twitter--write something.

A single flower goes a long way.

Be on the lookout for casual announcements from your mate such as “I’d sure like to...” Make that happen, and you’re the most romantic spouse on earth.

After ‘hello’, say something uplifting and complimentary. “Have I told you lately that I adore you?” is far better than “Did you remember to cancel the paper?” Make it a ritual.
Whisper. It’s incredibly romantic, and it drives the kids nuts. Great ritual.

Home from work, just snuggle in complete silence for long minutes.

Anticipate chores they hate, and do them ahead of time. This is love in action.

Nicnames may sound silly, but they identify you. ‘Goofball, Fred, Betty, snuggle-butt, sexpot, honey-bear, there are a thousand of them, a million maybe.

Remember their parents’ anniversaries/birthdays/death dates/red letter days.

Two words: Chocolate and Port.

Call them out of the blue.

Carve your initials in a tree. Yes, inside a heart.

Guys--open her car door for her. Old fashioned? Sure, that’s the point.

Women--talk him up. Men simply love it when wives brag, especially if it’s true.

Never share a mate’s deficiencies with anyone.


Women--tell your mate what you want.

Guys--no teasing, about anything.

Women--no criticizing, just pose ‘opportunities to improve’.

Select a keyword. Use it for ‘rescue me’, or ‘I need you to listen’, or ‘I’d rather not invite the Johnsons to dinner because they snipe at each other’. Keywords are handy. My wife and I use ‘fascinating’, as in, ‘The Johnsons are fascinating people, dear’. Guess who doesn’t get invited? Another, somewhat more exciting keyword can signal a desire for sex. The secret there is that every couple has one of these already whether they acknowledge it or not.

Maybe the best ritual of all is to simply show gratitude for everything your mate does. Marriage isn’t all sweetness and light, after all. It involves the interaction of two people who will have two different styles in everything from money to sex to clutter, to child-rearing. The best way to steer clear of petty clashes and irritation about those stylistic differences is to find something positive about the issue at hand, and be grateful for the way your mate handles it. Gratitude goes a long way to soothing upsets. It’s a good ritual to acquire in any marriage.

Rituals are such a critical part of relationships it’s good to identify the ones that define ours. Everyone has them; everyone needs them. It may even be more important to identify those which cause us irritation and discomfort over time--the way dirty clothes are left around, closets in disarray, those after dinner retreats to the den, leaving dirty dishes. Those are rituals, too. They may hold us together in ways we didn’t anticipate, minor irritations that we mention to friends in negative ways. In that regard we ought to turn them around, insert positives in their place, and reap the reward of their impact on the relationship. Couple glue should be warm and bonding. Great rituals can help make that happen.

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