Thirdly, every marriage needs Essential Daily Rituals.
These Essential Daily Rituals keep our marriages healthy and vibrant. They serve to connect us on a daily basis and build our sense of belonging and of being a team.
A married couple with children is unlikely to have the opportunity for uninterrupted personal time, unless it is ritualised. It helps to have a regular gesture calibrated to some event or a set time (e.g. as soon as the kids are in bed) that signals the ritual has begun. To maintain meaning, conversation should be personal and intimate. Avoid logistics and problem solving: the goal is to connect at a personal level. Also resist conflict items – this makes the ritual hard work and one or both of you are likely to start avoiding it. Finally, agree on an exit point (e.g. after fifteen minutes), as open-ended rituals are hard to sustain.
One of our daily rituals is our evening walking-talk. We follow the same route each evening which avoids the unnecessary tension of having to decide which direction to take. It gets us out of reach of the kids (now young adults) and away from distractions. We can speak confidentially, catching up on each other’s lives and we get some exercise – about 4,000 steps according to the pedometer!
Fourthly, to make our marriages truly intentional, an Annual Review Ritual is incredibly valuable.
This practice is an opportunity to review how we are going, share our dreams and set goals for the coming year.
Some couples ritualise New Year’s Eve or their Wedding Anniversary to connect with each other by reminiscing on the past year. If they also use the occasion to make plans for their relationship over the coming year, they will ensure that they stay connected build a resilient and vibrant marriage.
Finally, an ‘I love you’ ritual is also incredibly important – simple, playful habits that remind the other of our devotion.
Some couples write regular, even daily, love letters to each other. One husband will randomly buy a rose and put it somewhere in the house for his wife to unexpectedly discover. Another leaves post-it notes in surprise places like the teapot or in her handbag.
What makes these seemingly simple gestures powerful is the way that formative experiences work. The things we most remember years or decades later are those things that were associated with intense emotion (either positive or negative, like the birth of a baby or the trauma of a car accident) and the things that we repeated day in and day out, like family prayers or getting ice creams after Mass.
Repetition of meaningful rituals is the way that we proactively form ourselves and our children in the values that really matter. But they take effort to establish and commitment to maintain.
Like most things in life, our relationship rituals decline with time unless we actively choose to make them part of our life. Apathy and indifference are the enemies of rituals, eroding them as a river wears at the shoreline. On the other hand, commitment to our rituals provides the glue we need to stick together during the times of stress and the seasons of despair.
So choose your rituals carefully and they’ll keep giving back to your marriage and to your family year after year.