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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • September 2018
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Are you and your partner connected?

According to John Gottman’s bestselling book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” “Rituals are structured, scripted traditions that you can depend on.” The Sloan Center at UCLA conducted a study of 30 couples, all of whom lived in Los Angeles. These couples all had small children, and both partners worked outside the home. As one would expect, the amount of time these moms and dads spent together as a couple, without the children, was minimal. The study found that, on the average, these couples only spent 35 minutes speaking to one another each week; most of those 35 minutes were spent discussing their to-do lists or the children.

Successful couples know that they must spend time together as lovers, and not just as mom and dad, if they hope to keep their relationships in good working order. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link; to create a stable home for their children, the connection between the parents must remain solid and positive. When children detect conflict between their parents, they often “take care of the relationship” by acting out in some way; they behave in such a way that the parents are distracted from fighting with, or ignoring, one another and are required to work together to handle the situation. John Gottman’s research also showed that when there is friction between the parents, babies have difficulty bonding with their dads. Taking care of each other and spending time alone as a couple is the best way to provide a stable home for the children.

Rituals of connection are structured, scheduled times that couples can count on being together. Holidays are a time when rituals, in the form of traditions, take place; however, there are 10 times the amount of informal rituals, as there are formal ones. Rituals can happen once a day, once a week, once a month or once a year. They can be as simple as kissing goodbye and learning one thing that each partner has planned for the day, or as complex as a weekly “State of the Union” meeting. Such a meeting might include processing a fight or regrettable incident, working on resolution of a situational problem, planning a date night or planning a vacation.

When creating a ritual, consider the following questions:

  • Who will be responsible for implementing the ritual?
  • What will the ritual be?
  • How will it begin?
  • How will it end?
  • Where will it take place?
  • How long will it last?
  • How often will it happen?
  • How will it be refused (provided one of the partners is not willing, or able, to engage in the ritual)?
  • How will the refusal be handled?

For most couples, sex is one of the main rituals of connection. Using the questions above can help couples who are uncomfortable discussing sex to script these intimate interactions and may help to avoid hurt feelings, anger and misunderstanding. Planning a time for sex may sound unromantic, yet when dating, partners plan everything: where they’re going; what they’re wearing; what kind of scent they’ll wear; what music they will listen to and what they will eat. That isn’t very spontaneous either, is it?

Start with a couple of simple rituals that take very little time. As time goes on, you can add more rituals. You might greet one another with a kiss that lasts longer than 6 seconds when arriving home. Having a stress-reducing conversation, for 20 minutes each day, is the best way to remember that you’re a team. It should always feel like it’s you and your partner against the world; that you have each other’s back. Each partner takes 10 minutes to discuss a stressor, which has nothing to do with the other partner, or the relationship; while the other partner listens closely, without giving advice. Be careful that you don’t side with the enemy. If your partner is upset because the boss yelled at them for being late, and your partner is always late, this is not the time to say, “Well you are late a lot!” Instead, validate the emotion: “That must have been upsetting for you. I would hate it if my boss yelled at me; it’s so disrespectful!”

What if, despite your best efforts, you and your partner are unable to conduct one or more of your rituals? Life happens and nothing in life, or relationships, is ever perfect. It is important that you make a point of communicating about the missed ritual, rather than skipping it without discussion. If you can’t complete the ritual often, perhaps you and your partner need to have a discussion about time management; you might want to invent a ritual that doesn’t require so much time. Making time for some planned rituals is better than not connecting with one another at all. If you are having a difficult time deciding what rituals you would like to create with your partner, go to your favorite app store, or to the Gottman Institute website, and download virtual Gottman card decks. There are 14 different decks of virtual cards; one of the decks is entitled “Rituals of Connection.” The app is free. Each of you can pick one ritual to discuss with your partner. If your partner likes the ritual, commit to doing it; if they don’t like the ritual, pick another card. 

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