Barbara L. Green, LCSW



"When is a Walk a Ritual?"

"Do you want to go for a walk?" Peter and I have developed a "walk and talk" ritual. We often use long walks as a time to talk over important issues. When relationships end, people often say they miss the "experience" of being a couple. This experience includes the "couples rituals" that develop as part of most ongoing relationships. A ritual can be as simple as going out for lunch every Sunday after church. Each person knows this is the plan and there is a sense of "this is what we do every Sunday." On those occasions when Sunday lunch does not take place, it feels like something is missing. If the experience is a positive one for both of you and enhances your connection to one another it qualifies as a ritual.

A "couples ritual" is an activity between a couple that is bonding and is missed when it is not done. Rituals are repetitive and predictable so each person knows what to expect. Rituals require a couple to move beyond their individual interests and focus more on the relationship. They offer couples an opportunity to get off the treadmill of daily life and renew their sense of "we-ness". Rituals can provide the glue for a relationship during difficult times. When couples focus on their rituals, it increases their sense of connection. An activity can only become a ritual if both people are invested in it. A ritual can be serious, silly or silent: Visiting a loved one's gravesite every Sunday after church, serving an all red meal on Valentine's day, sleeping like spoons every night.

Sometimes a ritual can be created for a specific purpose. Sam and Janis instituted an "appreciation ritual" during a stressful time in their life. They made an agreement that no matter how they were feeling, before they went to sleep they would tell each other something they appreciated about the other. They described nights when they would speak through clenched teeth, struggling to come up with even one offering. Comments varied from "I appreciate how hard you work to support our family" to "I appreciated your willingness to talk to our neighbor about his loud music" to "I appreciate that you have good teeth so our dental bills aren't too high!" The joint daily commitment to the ritual was often more important than the appreciative comment.  Without rituals, intimate relationships can feel emotionally impoverished and disconnected.

The rituals we create together are like the strong and beautiful threads in a complex tapestry. Our relationships become sturdier, more interesting and more valuable as we weave rituals through them.