It has been said that the biggest threat to modern-day marriage is everyday living. Most couples start out their relationship with sincere intentions that they will stay emotionally connected to one another for the rest of their lives. However, many couples discover that over time they start to experience physical and emotional drift in their relationship.
It's important to note that much, if not most, of our time is spent accomplishing tasks for ourselves and others. If you're like most married couples, tending to your marriage may not always be high priority on your "to do" list. Most couples would agree that creating structured time for children is critical to a child’s well-being. I hold that the same is true for marriages. If a marriage is viewed as a separate entity that requires time and attention, it’s more likely that it will be nurtured.
A healthy marriage provides each partner with a feeling of connection and renews both individuals. Contrast this with the more common scenario for modern-day marriage where we often see two people living together who manage the household, go to work, care for children, and pursue solitary activities like watching television.
One way to move a disconnected marriage to a fulfilling marriage is to establish marriage rituals. According to Dr. Bill Doherty, author of “Take Back Your Marriage,” the definition of a marriage ritual is an “interaction that is (1) repeated, (2) coordinated, and (3) significant."
Let's talk about each of these three points and how they can strengthen the connection in your marriage.
It makes sense that a ritual would be something that would happen repeatedly. However, it's often the case that once life gets busy, we stop doing the very things that are important to our marriage.
For example, I've spoken with couples in my counseling practice that felt disconnected and discouraged. As I'm going through their relationship history, I ask them what they loved to do when they were dating. Some say they loved to dance, or loved to take walks. When asked how often they still dance or take walks, these couples are surprised to realize they stopped doing these things consistently over the years.
Rituals in marriage occur more consistently when partners are purposeful about making them happen. A simple discussion about what you love to do, when you can do it, and where you will spend your time together can take wishes and dreams and transfer them to your calendar. As Dr. Doherty says, "You can't have a ritual if you don't know when to show up for it." Once you decide what you’ll do, set up the specifics for how you’ll make it happen each time.
A marriage ritual differs from a marriage routine because the ritual has meaning for both partners. For example, my wife and I try to eat dinner every evening together with our children. This event is repeated, coordinated, but lacks deep significance for our marital relationship. However, running errands together without our children is an activity that we also repeat and coordinate, but has tremendous significance for us. When we were dating, we loved to run errands together. It reminds us of our early years together when it was just the two of us.
As you talk with your spouse about planning marriage rituals that are repeated, coordinated, and meaningful, you'll find that there are many interactions that have meaning, but aren't coordinated. You will also find that there are interactions that are repeated and coordinated but have little meaning. As you learn what the difference is, you can coordinate and repeat the meaningful interactions to strengthen your marriage.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. Please send questions for future columns to: [email protected]. Geoff maintains a blog, article archive, Twitter feed, and Facebook page which are available at www.geoffsteurer.com.