Shared meanings

Married life is more, far more, in just two people sharing the same mailing address.  Our faith teaches us that it is a union of two people that form a new “one”.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that marriage is a contract between one man and one woman that binds them into an indissoluble partnership. Successful couples do a good job of solidifying and cementing their oneness each day.

John Gottman refers to this as creating shared meaning.  He correctly observes that there is a spiritual dimension to marriage, a sacred aspect that creates an inner life of togetherness for the couple. Another way to look at this is, in successful couples, this “inner uniting” results in mutually fulfilling, enriching family culture. These couples share a unified philosophy of life, marriage, and family.

Dr. John Gottman discovered that couples create shared meaning through their use of rituals, roles, goals, and symbols. Each of the next four blogs will address one of these four components. Today, we will talk about rituals.

grayscale photo of family on table

Think of rituals is actions, habits, patterns, or practices of doing certain things at certain times in certain ways. You can have daily, weekly, monthly, or even yearly rituals. Think perhaps of your family rituals around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Speaking of Christmas, what do you do with all the Christmas cards you receive once Christmas is over?  I know a family that places the cards in a basket on the dining room table. Then each day before dinner begins, they open the top card, read who it is from and say a prayer for that person or family. Now that is a great ritual that not only keeps Christmas alive but keeps their friends present in their mind throughout the year as well.

I know another family that has the weekly ritual they call free Friday nights. Most of the rules that govern family life are suspended on Friday nights. Kids can play computer games or watch TV all evening if they want to.  They are even allowed to eat dinner in front of the TV. The idea is that they have worked hard in their studies and their chores all week long and Friday night is their night to unwind and have fun.

Doctor Gottman strongly encourages couples to develop daily rituals of connection, especially when they leave each other in the morning and reconnect in the evening. Longer hugs, longer kisses, taking a few minutes to offer a word of encouragement as the day begins, work to bond the affection the couple shares. Compliments and gratitude when you reconnect at the end of the day are an excellent way to start the evening off on a positive note.  I know one couple that has the ritual of playing a game of cribbage each morning as they eat breakfast together before they go off to their respective jobs.

One ritual I would encourage you to embrace is to spend 15 minutes each night alone, without children, to reconnect at the level of affection and appreciation and thanksgiving. This is not the time to talk about logistics or bills or work to be done around the house. This is the time to reconnect the two people who love each other deeply. Perhaps to get this ritual going for the next few evenings you could use that time to discuss what the culture of your marriage and your family looks like now and how you would like it to look a year from now. Make specific and definite plans. Have fun. This 15-minute investment in your marriage equals 1% of your day.  Is your marriage worth a 1% investment – I think it is.  

Closing thought: Perhaps the most powerful family ritual you can put in place is the family dinner, every night.

Remember: Your spouse is enriched through your friendship.

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