Connecting in small and simple ways is the lifeblood of relationships. Try these practices to stay close to one you love.
A ritual is a meaningful behavior we practice regularly. We seldom think about whether we feel like doing a particular ritual; we simply get up, brush our teeth, start the coffee, and walk the dog.
Besides morning rituals, we have routines for bedtime, celebrations, funerals, holidays, observances for certain days of the week, and perhaps a celebration of the full moon. Some people have wordless rituals for letting their partner know they want to make love, such as lighting a special candle. Many parents use a portion of a wall to mark their children’s height on each birthday or take a photo on the first day of each school year.
Native Hawaiians practice a sunset ceremony every night: as the sun goes down, participants stand facing the ocean and silently reflect on the day. Did they keep their promises, do good work, and take that ocean swim they’d said they would? Which moments were touching, happy, or sad during the day? As the sun meets the ocean, that day, with its disappointments and its victories, is released, as they await the dawn and the chance to begin again.
Rituals comfort and nurture us. They become something we can count on no matter what is going on in our lives. Making regular time to connect with ourselves and others is not only the soul food of love, but it maintains us through the stormy and frosty seasons of our relationships.
Meaningful gifts, memorable trips, or a single profound act of giving from a partner—such as agreeing to let your partner’s sister live with you for three months while she gets her life together—are touching, standout moments in a relationship. However, research shows it’s the steady sprinkle of smaller moments of kindness and care that create a trusting and healthy relationship. Consider my husband Tim’s gesture of making me a latte every morning, a ritual he’s maintained for some thirty-five years now.
Ritualizing our connection helps keep our relationship account in the black. Rituals ensure we stay linked to each other even when we are tired, annoyed, or feeling distressed at work. They are regular reminders of the friendship we share.
Daily Temperature Reading
The Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) was developed by family therapist Virginia Satir and later taught by the PAIRS Foundation. It offers a step-by-step process for communicating with your partner and requires that each person share an item that falls in one of five distinct categories. Although the exercise is ideally done face-to-face, people have done it through emails, phone calls, texts, and video conferences.
Practicing the DTR—even if it feels stilted and corny at first—will become a habit and will ease your communication. Almost everything you need to share regularly with your partner will fit into one of its five categories:
1. Appreciations: These are things you appreciate about each other. These statements can range from the simple (“I like what you’re wearing today”) to the sublime (“I love the way I can talk about anything with you and you seem to get it”) and may address either characteristics or behaviors (“I like how caring you were with my mother yesterday”).
2. News: This is information, which ranges from the incidental to the vital. One person in a relationship is often better at passing along information than the other. We often forget to update our partner about a change in plans (“I forgot to tell you that the neighborhood party was changed to next month on the third Sunday, so we are free to do something else next weekend”) or about news (“I had this weird dream last night” or “I read in the paper that...”). Sharing news reminds us of our shared lives and helps us to stay connected.
3. Puzzles: These are worries or confusions. Clear up big or little mysteries before they grow and before concocting a story to explain them (without consulting your partner). Most puzzles have simple explanations. Try saying, “I am confused about...” or “I wonder...” (“whether you still have a toothache,” “whether you were upset this morning,” “how the article you talked about a few weeks ago ended”).
4. Small complaints and requests for change: This is information about small changes you’d like your partner to make. This is not a problem-solving tool but rather a practice of constructively voicing a complaint and giving the other person the information needed to change things if he or she chooses to do so. Addressing complaints and irritations when they occur stops anger from building up and erupting and prevents the Lumpy-Carpet Syndrome (which we’ll talk about in Chapter 15). Here’s an example of an effective complaint with a request for change: “When I see you’ve called and not left a message, I worry. Can you remember to leave a message and say why you called, even (or especially) if it’s only ‘I just wanted to say hi’?”
5. Future dreams: These are things you are looking forward to doing together, whether in the short or long term. These could be already- made plans (“I am so excited we are going to...”), plans you’d like to make (“I would love it if we could...”), or simply dreams you hope can happen eventually (“One day, I hope we can...”).
Joint Exercise: Daily Temperature Reading
Here’s how couples can practice the Daily Temperature Reading:
- Find a time that works for both of you. Sit comfortably, and face each other when you speak.
- Speak in short sentences to prevent information overload.
- Have each person share one of the five temperature readings while the other listens without interrupting.
- During “Puzzles,” the listener may respond to the speaking partner’s question if it can be answered in a single sentence.
I suggest using this exercise three times a week for a month and then deciding if you want to continue with it.
Want more on relationships? Check out “Growing Apart? How Couples Can Revive Their Emotional Connection.”