Early on in our intimate partner relationships, we tend to experience a “honeymoon” phase in which much of our time and attention is focused on our partner and we feel excited and optimistic about the future together. Our relationships progress over time and often involve marriage, children, and other life circumstances that unfortunately draw our attention away from our partners and instead on other priorities. When this happens couples can morph into ‘autopilot’ regarding their interactions and experience a decrease in feelings of connection and intimacy. When we are on autopilot we are generally following schedules and activities on a consistent and regular basis in order to manage everything, especially if children and work are involved.
As I have reinforced in previous articles, relationship maintenance needs to be viewed in similar ways as we think about our physical and emotional health. We take vitamins, follow a healthy diet and exercise regime, and engage in other habits in order to keep ourselves healthy. Along those same lines, we can create daily rituals, or meaningful interactions, with our partners to keep our relationships strong and fulfilling. When we think about what specific rituals we want to establish and engage in, there are some crucial ingredients to think about:
1. Consistent and repeated occurrence. In order for a behavior or interaction to be considered a ritual, it has to take place more than one time and on a regular basis.
2. Clear and mutual expectations about what to expect. Both partners need to understand and agree on when a ritual will take place, what happens during the ritual, how long it will last, and when it will end.
3. Shared meaning. Both partners should feel that the ritual carries some form of emotional meaning to them that serves to promote emotional connection and intimacy.
Every couple is different in terms of needs, preferences, and availability for the relationship, which will influence the type of rituals that are appropriate. However, here are some common rituals that couples are encouraged to establish and engage in on a daily basis in order to foster connection and intimacy:
1. Greeting/Reuniting ritual: Partners should consider how they would like to address one another after spending some time apart. This type of ritual helps to signify the transition from separateness to being together. This ritual tends to involve hugging or kissing for a brief time.
2. Quality conversation ritual: Most of our days can be chaotic and requires our attention to be focused on tasks, which normally impacts a couple’s ability to engage in one-on-one time to talk. Couples are encouraged to identify a time every day in which they can minimize distractions and focus on catching up and checking in with one another on a personal and emotional level. This ritual can often be incorporated into a couple’s nighttime or bed routine and should not involve topics of conflict.
3. Physical intimacy ritual: Couples should discuss and negotiate when, if, and how they would like to engage in physical intimacy so that it meets each partner’s needs. A physical intimacy ritual can help couples better understand what to expect as well as ensure that this part of the relationship is not being neglected.
4. Appreciation ritual: We tend to feel good when we give and receive positive feedback in our relationship. Appreciation rituals allow couples to know how much each partner values and honors one another on a regular basis. This ritual can involve love letters, gift giving, acts of service, or words of affirmation through text or post it notes.
5. Spiritual ritual: For those couples who maintain some form of spirituality in their lives, creating a shared ritual that promotes reflection can foster emotional intimacy and connection. Prayer, meditation, and visualization are examples of this type of ritual.