Creating Rituals for Relationships

Rituals bring the sublime, the erotic into the ordinary

Yesterday and today I did more digging into relationship therapist Esther Perel’s ( growing body of work. She has been practicing for more than 30 years but seems only in recent years to be getting the media attention she so richly deserves. Perel has published two best selling books: Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence (2006) and The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity (2017).

Her first podcast Where Should We Begin? (2017) uses excerpts from couples’ therapy in her office with approaches to resolve issues like sexlessness in marriage, jealousy and grief. It won the Gracie Award in 2018 and in July 2021 she released a card game with the same name to help couples play out their challenges. A second podcast How’s Work?takes a similar approach to enhancing satisfaction in the workplace.

I’m fascinated with the idea of creating practices we can do to enhance closeness in relationships. Of course. Why not? This facet of her work rings especially true for me because as a single person adhering to daily routines was central to my sanity during the severest year of pandemic lockdown. It still is. Religions know the power of using ritual for instilling a sense of the sacred in community.

So what, exactly, is a ritual? In essence, rituals are routine actions infused with playfulness, sensory stimulation and imagination. They don’t have to be complicated. A ritual can be a Monday morning staff meeting with aromatic coffee and yummy munchies; making a hot chocolate and reading a bedtime story to a child; gathering around a campfire with s’mores for ghost stories or an intimate meeting with your romantic partner with any number of sensory elements.

The main elements in creating ritual are that a border of time and space is cordoned off from ordinary life that engages the senses. Touch, taste, smell, visual and auditory plus intentional eye contact. It’s all about sharing and nurturing the relationship. We might reassess who we are, our goals, express how we are feeling, what we need or wish to give to each other in the ritual space. The ritual is also honored with repetition. It is done over and over again. We commit to participating.

For couples, rituals can be almost anything. A simple tea ceremony at the end of a long day. Massaging each other’s feet. Reading something beautiful together in the garden. Stargazing. Taking a walk. Taking a shower or bath. Cooking together. The magic comes from the agreement that this is our time. That we value each other enough to separate this time from all else to talk, laugh, dream or play. To check in with each other and deepen the connection. Ideally, phones and other electronic devices are turned off for the duration of the ritual.

Ultimately, according to Perel, incorporating ritual into our schedules helps us order and nurture our most treasured relationships. I love how enjoyable and practical a ritual can be in bringing us back to the present. In the end, love is a verb. It involves intentional action.

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