Counselor self-care: Rituals that bind

Oh the happy day!

As I work on a paper for my Marriage and Family Therapy class on rituals for couples, I’ve been thinking about my own rituals and those that my husband and I share.

Rituals are incredibly important. They bind us together and help us forge ahead during life transitions. Many are religion and culture-based–think weddings, funerals, and various coming-of-age ceremonies, such as confirmation, bar and bat mitzvahs, quinceaneras, and even debutante balls. Just as many have little or nothing to do with religion or culture, and spring up organically between family members or friends. Rituals bind us by reaffirming our identities as a member of a certain group and give us a sense of continuity through repetition. I’d venture to say that most of us have personal rituals that also give us continuity.

I think the most interesting statistic I’ve read in my research so far speaks to how important rituals are for couples: Couples with more ritual activity have a greater chance of staying married (1). The rituals don’t have to be big or complicated. As I get older and Louie and I approach our second year of marriage, I’m beginning to realize how important they are to my routine-loving self.

For example, I chose to attend all three of my graduation ceremonies at Penn State, and could not understand how some of my classmates just had their diplomas mailed to them. We worked hard for those master’s degrees and we deserved some celebration! I also needed closure for my time at PSU–I was there five years and changed a lot in that time. Looking back, maybe my friends didn’t feel as strongly. I plan to attend my graduation at UNK, too.

My husband and I both felt strongly that our wedding should be celebrated, as well. We did think about a small ceremony, a destination wedding, eloping, all of it…but in the end, it was more important to have our families and friends present as we entered a new phase of our lives.

These big rituals are important for maintaining my own sense of continuity. Life transitions are hard for me to begin with, and marking them helps the transition go a little more smoothly.

Aside from big rituals, Louie and I have our smaller rituals. We both have our daily rituals that give some structure to our days–we both need some routine. In the evening, I straighten the house before bed, trying to get as fresh a start as possible for the next day. Louie warms up on trumpet every single morning, which sets the stage for the rest of his day.

We also have some rituals as a couple. We often share Sunday dinners at the kitchen table, usually at a slower pace without phone/text interruptions. We sit on the porch together on warm evenings. For our first anniversary, we celebrated with a weekend in Omaha and then a dinner at home complete with some of our wedding photos and even decorations.

I hope to cultivate some more couple rituals. I have tried, both overtly and not, to institute some because I know that they are important in maintaining connections with each other. These are met with mixed success. One important set of rituals we’re still negotiating are those surrounding Christmas celebrations. We do our own little things, like spending an evening addressing cards or baking cookies, but the actual Christmas Day celebrations are still in limbo. The past few years have been kind of unusual for both of us, and I don’t see future Christmases settling into any kind of tradition unless we either start a family or are very intentional.

Ritual is important enough to me that I’ll keep trying. Or maybe backing off and letting rituals develop on their own. Or better yet, developing some around things we already do. I think rituals are very important to Louie and I, but we think about them differently. These thought processes reflect our personalities–I tend to persist until things happen, and Louie generally allows things to run their course.

Our second anniversary is in June. We haven’t talked about how we’ll celebrate this year, but don’t worry, Louie! I have ideas! We’ll at least look back at where life has taken us in the past year, and I know this retrospection will be part of our anniversary celebrations next year, and in twenty years, and twenty years after that. I’ll be curious to see what other family rituals bind us by that time.

Are rituals important to you, either personally or in your relationships? How have they developed?

1. Berg-Cross, L., Daniels, C., & Carr, P. (1992). Marital rituals among divorced and married couples. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 18, 1-30. As cited in Parker, R. J., & Horton Jr., H. (1996). A typology of ritual: Paradigms for healing and empowerment. Counseling & Values40, 82.

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