Try to remember your high school graduation. What were you wearing? What speeches were given? How did you feel? You may not remember every detail, but chances are you can clearly remember the feelings you had and some of the colors, sounds, or thoughts you experienced. Why is that?
Markers of accomplishment, such as high school graduation, are often celebrated with traditions that set them apart from everyday events. These traditions, or rituals, remind us that we are moving from one stage to another, and we can later recall these transitions with clarity.
Similarly, in relationships we make many transitions, big or small, that are important markers of the relationship's progress. Sarah Halpern-Meekin at the University of Wisconsin and Laura Tach at Cornell University have found that couples who use rituals to mark these stages are better able to remember the moment of change in the relationship, and are generally happier and more stable.
What is a Relationship Ritual?
When you think about rituals in relationships you may think about a proposal and the engagement ring. A proposal is often a marker of the desire to get married, and both partners express their desire for the marriage to occur. When we are engaged, we even have a special title that makes our relationship status clear to others. These rituals have symbolism and meaning attached to them.
But what about earlier transitions? Do we mark the moment from casual dating to exclusive dating? Do we agree on what it means when we meet the other's family?
Rather than being confused about what your partner expects, try creating your own rituals and meaning together. Decide together what it means to meet the parents, whether or not that meaning is the same for other couples. Create your own ways to mark important transitions, such as revisiting the site of your first date when you feel it is time to increase your commitment to each other.
No matter what you do or how you create your rituals, use them as clear celebrations of your relationship and the progress you are making. As you create rituals together you will find that the two of you are on the same page more often and growing closer together. You will remember the goals you have for the relationship better and feel you know what your partner expects.
If we are not clear about the status of our relationship, or the meaning of events, it can become a source of confusion and conflict in the relationship. While one of us may think we are exclusively dating, the other may feel it is okay to date others. One person may see meeting the parents as leading to engagement, while the other may see it as a way for their family to be involved in their life. Being clear about the meaning of events and our desires for the relationship can save us a lot of heart-ache and confusion later. Relationship rituals also give us an opportunity to celebrate our relationships and reflect on the positive moments we have had in the past.
Creating rituals can be a great way to make sure you are moving through the relationship together and want the same thing. Follow these three tips to make sure you are celebrating your relationship in memorable ways:
A good ritual is something that is clearly different than the daily routines of life. Think about the many holidays we celebrate. Why is Christmas so special to us? What do we do differently on Mother's Day? Every holiday is usually celebrated with activities that we would not do otherwise. Celebrate your relationship the same way.
Choose something with meaning
A great way to celebrate milestones is to revisit the place of your first date. This is because successful rituals include something with meaning for everyone involved, and often something that doesn't mean anything to anyone outside of the relationship. The ritual can become a symbol of the two of you and the life you share.
Once you have marked a special occasion together in one way, repeat that same ritual every year after to remember how much you have grown together. So the next time your partner says "let's talk" make it an opportunity to create a ritual marking the beginning of a great new adventure together. You will find that with each new change you will remember the wonderful times you have shared together more clearly and know you are with someone you love.
This article was originally published on Relate Institute. It has been republished here with permission.
The Relate Institute is a not-for-profit organization that revolves around the aim of distributing the Relate Assessment - the most comprehensive premarital/marital assessment available - to as many couples and individuals as we can reach. We believe that all may benefit from assessing personal strengths and weaknesses as relationship partners, and work to help make relationship success a reality.