The information presented in this document is based on research studies conducted by Dr. Kelly Campbell.
Couple rituals are behaviors involving the couple members that are repeated and hold special meaning for both partners. Every relationship has rituals, but couples are different in their types of rituals. What makes rituals so special is that usually, they are unique to a particular relationship. In other words, they wouldn’t feel the same if enacted with a different person. Couple rituals are important because they are associated with relationship satisfaction and stability. They help people cope with transition and crisis by providing regularity and predictability to everyday life. If a couple is moving to a new neighborhood, or if a child is entering school, or if a death in the family occurs, partners can use rituals to ease the stress associated with these transitions. Even during non-stressful times, rituals such as sharing meals together, praying together, and expressing love and affection will help solidify the couple relationship and create a sense of couple identity.
In this handout, you will find descriptions of various positive couple rituals. You will also find quotes from study participants with examples of how each ritual type gets enacted in their relationship. Rituals can be negative such as when couples argue about the same topics over and over, repeat negative patterns, and engage in unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking together. These negative rituals are generally destructive to couple relationships, so this handout focuses instead on the positive things couples can do to help strengthen their relationship.
Enjoyable activities are leisure rituals that partners enjoy doing together. These could include going out for dinner to a certain restaurant, playing sports together, watching certain television programs, going for daily walks, playing cards on the weekend, and participating in certain hobbies together.
One individual described how she and her partner “enjoy going to the grocery store together, picking out what [they] want to eat on [their] special date night, and going back to his house to prepare the meal.”
Another individual noted that she and her partner “lay in bed and watch adult swim on Friday and Saturday nights.”
Intimacy rituals involve particular ways of snuggling, touching, kissing, having sex, and expressing fondness or affection towards each other.
One individual reported that she and her partner “almost always take a shower together in the morning and wash each other’s hair.”
Some individuals reported elaborate intimacy rituals exemplified in the following account: “A ritual for my fiancé and I is to open a bottle of champagne, turn off all the lights, light some candles, and dance in my fiancé’s den to slow music.”
Communication rituals are special ways that couples communicate with each other including writing notes, checking in at certain times of the day, text messaging particular phrases, or communicating in ways that are unique to the relationship.
One participant noted that he and his partner “check-in daily to talk about what’s going on in each others lives.”
Another participant described how she and her boyfriend “regularly talk on Instant Messenger on the computer. [She and her partner] IM each other every morning. He always says ‘Good morning beautiful’.”
Patterns, Habits, and Mannerisms
Patterns, habits, and mannerisms are ways that partners act with each other that may be different from the way they act with other people. For example, some couples have developed preferred ways of sitting together when sharing a meal or watching television. Other couples might have ways of resolving conflict or responding to common situations that are unique to their relationship.
One participant described how her partner “always opens [her] doors and gives [her] the first bite or sip of food that is shared.”
Another participant indicated that whenever she leaves her partner’s home, “he always stands on his porch until [she’s] out of the driveway and waves to [her] as [she] drives off.”
Daily Routines and Tasks
Daily routines and tasks refer to activities partners do together for daily living. These could include cooking together, doing chores together, eating meals together, walking the dog together, and gardening or cutting the grass together.
One participant described how she and her partner do all their housecleaning together: “We do dishes, trash, laundry, beds, vacuuming…normally we each do some jobs during the week, trading out cooking and washing dishes.”
Another participant indicated that “[she gets] home before [her] partner and each night, when he gets home, [their] two dogs start barking to let [her] know it’s time to meet him at the door. The three of [them] sit at the top of the stairs and greet him when he opens the door. [They] then take the dogs outside, talk about [their] days, and make dinner together.”
Play rituals include having a shared sense of humor (e.g., laughing at certain things together), acting silly in ways that only the partners understand, sharing jokes, and playing certain games with each other.
One participant described an elaborate ritual he and his boyfriend enact call “Mixing Phat Beats”. In this ritual, “one guy pins the other guy to the ground and uses his chest as one might use a DJ’s turntable, including sound effects and sometimes lyrics. It’s never just a simple affair though, it always involves a brief wrestling match to see who can pin the other first, and the winner gets to mix the beats (while the other struggles to get away).”
Togetherness rituals involve setting aside time just to be together. During this time, partners can do anything that involves spending time together as a couple. These rituals are less about the actual activities and more about having the dedicated time together.
One participant indicated that she and her partner “enjoy spending time together doing just about anything with just the two of [them] (fishing, movies, dinner out, six flags).”
Another described that she and her partner are only able to see each other on the weekends: “This is a ritual in itself. Both of [them] don’t plan to go anywhere else but to see each other. The weekends are [theirs].”
Private codes refer to words, phrases, jokes, or gestures that partners may have developed together. Examples of private codes could include using special nicknames, speaking in code language, or repeating a phrase from a movie that the partners saw together.
One participant noted that he and his partner “write notes everywhere [they] can, with the word ‘SHMILY?’, meaning ‘See how much I love you?’ This acronym was developed one Valentine’s day when the husband wrote a song for his wife called SHMILY. After that point, the couple used this acronym to randomly remind the other of their bond, shared history, and love.
Couple favorites include visiting a favorite restaurant, giving favorite gifts, eating favorite foods, playing favorite sports, or engaging in whatever the partners have decided are their most favorite things to do as a couple.
One participant described how she and her partner “have a special meal that [they] always cook when [they] have the chance to cook together. [They] always make chicken and shrimp fettuccini alfredo with all different kinds of seasoning that [they] like to experiment with. It is a favorite meal for both of [them].”
Spiritual rituals involve attending religious services together, meditating together, praying together, doing yoga together, participating in spiritual group activities as a couple, and celebrating religious holidays together.
One participant commented on how she and her partner always have Sabbath dinner together on Friday nights, which includes “wine, candles, and conversation home alone together.”
Another indicated that he and his wife read spiritual growth books together and that “God is the center of [their] relationship.”
Escape rituals refer to time that partners take to get away from everyday routines and pressures. During this time, partners might go for a walk or hike, take a vacation, go for a drive together, or spend the night in a hotel.
One participant described how he and his girlfriend go on “weekend excursions to another close-by city to experience a new restaurant together or an attraction there.”
Another participant described that when she and her boyfriend “get bored, [they] will get in the car and go on adventures and drive until [they] see something interesting and then stop and hang out there or go exploring for awhile.”
Celebration rituals involve celebrating occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays with a partner, and having certain, predictable ways of celebrating these events.
One participant noted that she and her partner “always celebrate the anniversary of when [they] started dating and this is something [they] have continued to do even after getting married.”
Another participant described how she and her partner “give each other cards on [their] monthly anniversary, which [she] has renamed ‘month-iversary’. In the cards, [they] recount all that has happened in the past month, the struggles [they] have overcome, the good times, and [their] hopes for the future.”