Tis the season for celebrations! So many holidays take place this time of year – Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years… the list goes on. We often partake in specific rituals to commemorate these events, like opening presents under a pine tree or kissing someone at midnight. But rituals are not just for these big overt celebrations.
Rituals, in an anthropological sense, are any repeating actions or behaviors that have some symbolic meaning assigned to it. This means that rituals can take place anywhere and at any time, and aren’t reserved for certain special events. Coming home everyday and giving your pet a treat before snuggling them is a ritual. And so is brushing your teeth with your partner every night before tucking into bed at exactly 10:30pm.
Rituals do a lot for us; they can build connections, maintain relationships, and generally keep daily life functioning. Given that rituals play a big part in our lives in general, whether or not we recognize them, means that they also play a part in our romantic relationships.
It has been found that couples who participate in rituals and can recognize them as rituals report experiencing more positive emotions, satisfaction, and commitment to their relationships. Intimacy rituals especially are more common in romantic relationships, and are also correlated with relationship satisfaction.
Rituals are psychologically powerful. Humans are creatures of habit– we like to seek out patterns and dislike anything that disrupts them. Repeated actions can form a ritual that develops a shared meaning between participants, affirming the relationship and connection between them. This in turn affects emotions, sense of belonging, and desire to commit.
However, it is important to recognize the difference between “ritual” and “routine”. Just because you repeat a behavior doesn’t mean it’s a ritual. For example, every morning you need to drink coffee. There is a difference between making a coffee yourself and drinking it just to wake up in the morning and your partner making it for the two of you before you drink it together and talk about your plans for the day.
The first scenario is a routine where you’re doing something just to get something done (ie. satiating your caffeine addiction). The second scenario more resembles a ritual because there is a shared meaning behind your daily coffee drinking session. It is a moment where you both can share a part of each other, with each other. This mutual experience is significant and symbolic of your bond together.
So next time your partner puts the plates in the sink for you after dinner, or goes with you on the tenth date to your favorite cafe, or holds your hand every night before falling asleep, think about what that gesture means to you. This ritual is a special moment that you share and signifies the connection between you both.