How love rituals can help you improve your love life

A while ago we were once again invited to a civil marriage ceremony. Since the registrar in charge limited herself to coming up with a dry, boring “boiler-plate” program on the subject of marriage, love, partnership instead of a personal presentation I could not help myself but to let my thoughts wander while listening to her. I was once again pondering the question about the role played by rituals in our every day lives including our partnerships.

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The marriage ceremony is obviously a very important ritual on behalf of the partnership. It is not by chance that almost all human cultures celebrate comparable ceremonies signaling commitment and a common bond. In addition to this “major” ritual most relationships feature many more or less “small rituals”. Every year many couples celebrate the day when they met, on certain occasions always listen to the same music, give each other flowers or other small, personal gifts on Valentine’s Day or other special dates. In partner relationships rituals are cultivated over time – often as a matter of course because they are rooted in socio-cultural customs (as for instance anniversaries and Valentine’s day), and then they are often part of the couple’s very own history together. In that case they can be very personal and only significant and meaningful to both partners alone. Particularly those small rituals usually serve in creating the special closeness within a partnership. They are rarely spectacular but rather the small, often repeated endearing daily acts and gestures communicating intimacy and emotional security. Whether the daily cup of coffee he serves to her in bed because she has such a tough time getting up or, the good night kiss prior to going to sleep, or the glass of red wine together at night when the day’s events are discussed – these are all the situations when the partners connect and confirm their mutual relationship.

Rituals are also frequently used to recall shared memories about wonderful times and to re-live them together one more time. Examples are the cases when couples leaf through old photo albums together or even regularly take their vacations in the same place or maybe book the same hotel room where they spent their honeymoon. All of this strengthens the feeling of togetherness and creates a mutual foundation that helps many couples to master critical times together.

On the occasion of relationship counseling that is why I often ask the couple early on about the rituals it cultivates. When there are none (any longer) it quickly turns out that the couple has already drifted apart. Sometimes I also have to be persistent with my question until something is finally remembered – in that case the rituals have become routine, are taken for granted and no one recognizes them any longer. Ideally rituals should be deliberately created and actively nourished in order to protect their function as “relationship nurses”. During the relationship it is always permissible and desirable to change and expand them or even replace one or the other with a new ritual. Again, here the imagination should have no bounds. Rituals can also sometimes turn into “warning lights” when something in the relationship is going awry – when a partner forgets the anniversary for the first time in 10 years or the traditional Sunday morning breakfast together suddenly fails to materialize, a quick contemplation may well be in order.

By the way, the wedding turned out to be quite memorable, after all. Lots of friends armed with a battery of champagne bottles were waiting outside the registry to congratulate the happy couple by bombarding them with rice. A special ritual, indeed . . .

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