Close Connections: Relationship rituals


By Nancy Norman

I wrote this column to remind myself and others how important rituals are in a relationship. I looked for an easy definition. Well, there isn’t one. There are many definitions, and they overlap with concepts like traditions, habits, ceremonies, rites, practices, etc.

So I made up my own definition. Rituals are actions which are repeated on purpose in a particular way with no other goal than the meaning shared by those involved.

Rituals have some amazing attributes:

  • Honoring a belief shared in the relationship
  • Reducing anxiety by creating some order in this fast-     paced world
  • Decreasing negative thinking by increasing our sense of control
  • Making grief a little bit easier to live with by giving us a way of expressing ourselves in a focused way at a time when loss and floundering prevail
  • Honoring the “us” in relationships in a single action
  • A way to solidify reconciliation.

We could say, “A ritual is worth a thousand words,” to borrow from illustrator Fred Barnard in the 1920s, because rituals are short-cuts to communicating intensely personal and highly meaningful messages. They can happen spontaneously and stick, or they can be carefully planned.

Let’s look at examples. These can be adopted “as is” but only if they are really significant for both people in a relationship. Hopefully they’ll spark your own creativity:

  • Going to breakfast at a certain place every Saturday morning rather than cooking—honors the person cooking and shows appreciation for the gift
  • Walking to the post office (or some destination) hand in       hand—we’re in this together and we want the world to know it!
  • Taking time together for that morning cup of coffee—there’s no where else I’d rather be and no one else I’d rather be with at this moment
  • Clicking forks (or spoons) with that first bite of food during each meal together—so thankful for this food and our time together to enjoy it
  • Looking in each others’ eyes in bed before turning out the bedside light—we were lucky enough to have another day together

For two people creating a ritual, it might go like this: each person imagines some action that symbolizes an important aspect of the relationship. Bring these suggestions to each other. And then fashion a ritual with a meaning both of you embrace. Of course you can have more than one!

To maintain their efficacy, rituals need to be reviewed from time to time. If either person feels an emptiness in what was created together, say so. If either one still feels the original ritual strongly and doesn’t want to let go of it, say so. As you talk over each person’s wishes and respect each other’s feelings, you will likely move toward designing a new ritual that both of you agree embodies a precious meaning.

Rituals can play an important role in maintaining relationships. Writer Terry Tempest Williams says, “Rituals are the formulas by which harmony is restored.” They may look mundane, but their power is magical.

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at



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