Are you looking to revitalise a relationship or enrich an ongoing one? Here, Dr Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight, outlines some of the most common bonding rituals that help to foster the ongoing connection between couples.
- Regularly and deliberately holding, hugging and kissing on waking, going to sleep, leaving home and returning.
- Writing letters and leaving short notes for each other, especially when one person is going away or when a couple have come together after a spat or a time of distance.
- Participating in spiritual or other rituals together, such as formally meeting for special family meals.
- Habitually calling during the day just to check in and ask after the other person.
- Creating a personal sharing ritual, that is, a time that is just for sharing personal things and connecting, not for problem solving or pragmatic discussions – for example, a daily connection ritual that starts when one partner asks, “So how are you right now?” or “So how are we doing together?” to shift the conversation away from other issues. Alternatively, set a specific weekly time – for example on Friday night after supper, you could linger over coffee for at least thirty minutes.
- Arranging a special time just to be together, for example, Sunday morning to have breakfast in bed without the kids, or shifting schedules to eat breakfast together every day.
- Maintaining a regular date night, even if only once a month.
- Once a year, taking a class together, learning something new, even doing a project together.
- Recognising special days, anniversaries and birthdays in very personal ways. When I am tempted to play down these kinds of acknowledgments with my loved ones, I always remember they are concrete symbols of the fact that they exist in my mind and that this is what secure attachment is all about.
- Deliberately deciding to attend to your partner’s daily struggles and victories and validating them on a regular basis. Small comments such as ‘That was hard for you to do, but you went for it,’ or ‘You worked so hard on that project, no one could have tried harder,’ or ‘I really saw you struggling to be a good parent there’ are nearly always more effective than concrete advice. We often give our children this validation but forget to give it to our partner.
- Taking opportunities to publicly recognise your partner and your relationship. This can take the form of a ceremony, such as a renewal of vows, or it can be a simple thank-you to your partner in front of friends for making a wonderful supper or helping you reach a personal goal.
Dr Sue Johnson is director of the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute and International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, as well as professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa and research professor at Alliant University in San Diego, California. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and has received numerous honours for her work, including the Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Couple and Family Therapy award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.