Calling for marital rituals from the Smart Marriage® community!

At his banquet presentation at the Smart Marriages conference,
Bill Doherty talked about the rituals in his own marriage, such as a
nightly hot tub soak and conversation under the Minnesota stars.

He then invited audience members to share their own favorite marital rituals.
The results were moving, inspiring - and sometimes hilarious. Read Bill's talk below,
and add your marriage rituals at the end.

If you or someone you know is getting married, why not give them a gift certificate for a marriage skills
course - the gift that keeps on giving. See sample GIFT certificates.

Definition: What's a ritual?
Marriage Rituals shared by audience at Denver Smart Marriages Conference
Wedding Keepsake Ideas
Order the tape

Rituals added since Denver
Smart Bachelor's Parties ≠ Smarter Marriages
Holiday Marriage Rituals

Marriage-Friendly Wedding Rituals

First, some inspirational videos and advice:
Adorable $4K wedding - to inspire you.  We should have a contest.

Amazing Wedding Processional -
you can see that not everyone in the wedding party could dance,
but all went along with it out of love and devotion. Wedding was in Minneapolis.

Tip: Provide a "family genology" of bride/groom at the Rehearsal dinner -
helps everyone learn who is who and reminds everyone that it's two families who are
marrying each other. - The First Dance



University of Minnesota

Banquet Keynote/Annual Smart Marriages Conference
Denver, Colorado

I had a fascinating conversation with the taxi driver on the way from the airport to this conference. When he mentioned his wife, I asked him how long he had been married. "Forty-seven years married," he said, "and I’m 68 years old." He was an African-American gentleman who seemed to be in great physical shape. I asked him about his secret of his marital longevity. Without hesitation, he replied: "Get things out in the open. No secrets. When you have a fight, you have to make up afterwards. Which means someone has to apologize first." He added that he always apologizes first. This guy’s been reading the marriage research, or maybe he doesn’t have to. He then ventured into the domain of gender roles. He recounted the time that one of his ten grandchildren asked him, "Grandpa, are you the head of the family?" He answered slowly and carefully, "Yes, I guess I am, but if I’m the head, Grandma’s the neck, and you know, the head never moves without the neck moving first." I felt like I had already attended the most interesting talk of the conference, before I even got to the hotel.

I’m here to talk about intentional marriage and rituals that will set us free. We fall in love through rituals of connection and intimacy--courtship rituals like romantic dinners, long talks, riding bicycles or going skiing, going for walks, exchanging gifts, talking every night on the telephone. We mostly do these rituals alone as a couple - when people are falling in love, their family and friends know to give them some space. We gladly fill our time through rituals of connection and intimacy. We develop a common language and a common experience bank. We go to dinner at our favorite spots, and we try to sit at our favorite tables. We go dancing at our favorite places. And we don’t dance with everybody in the room; we dance mostly with the person we are falling in love with.

I want to tell you a story of Ken and Judy who are a couple I saw in therapy back when I was living in Oklahoma. They were a beautiful couple, tall, handsome and graceful. They had met on the country-western dance floor, and they told me, with a bit of shyness, that they were really good dancers. So good that other people on the dance floor would sometimes make a circle and watch them dance. Ken and Judy had been married for three years. When I asked them when was the last time they had danced, they replied ruefully, "Three years ago." The ritual that brought them together ? that helped to define them as a couple ? was something they had abandoned. Dance floors, I guess, are for singles and for couples who are falling in love, not for married couples trying to sustain their love.

What is Intentional Marriage?

An intentional marriage is one where the partners are conscious, deliberate, and planful about maintaining and building a sense of connection over the years. My emphasis here is on rituals, but a lot else goes into being intentional about marriage: attending marriage education experiences, building a community of support for one’s marriage, setting boundaries with children. In some ways ours is a movement to promote being intentional about marriage, to promote mindful marriage. Because in this era, if we are not intentional, we will become an automatic pilot couple. What I mean is that the natural flow of marriage relationships in contemporary life, with our crammed schedules, endless tasks, kids to care for, and ever-present television and other media is towards less focus on the couple relationship over time, and therefore towards less connection, less spark, and less intimacy. This is not being dysfunctional, this is being normal.

I work in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is right near the Mississippi, the farthest north where big ships can navigate the river. I like to use Mississippi analogies when I talk to couples. Getting married, I say, is like getting into a canoe in the Mississippi River at St. Paul. If you don’t paddle you go south. Not that I have anything against the south, but if you don’t want to go there, you’ve got a problem. If you want to stay at St. Paul ? it’s a pretty powerful river ? you’ve got to paddle. And if you want to go north you have to have a plan. To grow closer over the years, you have to be mindful and intentional not only because of the pace and distractions of life, but also because of what research has shown is the loss of intensity that occurs from daily living over many months and years, from sleeping beside the same person every night and having sex 3.25 times a week in the first five years and then 2.5 in the next five years. (I never knew what those decimals meant in the studies. False starts, perhaps?)

Let’s see, where was I? I was saying that going on automatic pilot is not about being dysfunctional; it’s about focusing on other things. That’s even before we have kids. But after we have children, the current gets really swift. With new babies, our first priority is naturally the care of a creature that nature has programmed to get our attention. And our second priority is self-care. We tradeoff child care so that we can get some individual down time. We end up borrowing on our marriages, not just for a short time but for a long time. We borrow on each other’s good will and time and energy in order to do our job as parent and in order to have down time for self-care. We evolve good parent-child rituals, but we lose our marital rituals. People can be quite gifted at family rituals with the whole family, and quite dumbfounded about what they would do as a couple. Couples who courted through having long, romantic dinners are sometimes nervous about dining alone because they are not sure what they would say to for an hour or more. So they make sure they invite other people along for company.

And so, our marriages go on automatic pilot. During courtship the marriage is figural in our lives—front and center, if you will—and the rest of our lives are ground. When we get married, and particularly after we have children, this reverses: other things—the children, our work, our hobbies, our religious involvement—become figural and the marriage moves to the background and only gets our attention when there’s something wrong. The antidote to becoming an automatic pilot couple, I am saying, is to be an intentional couple who cultivates rituals over the years.

As I talk about marriage rituals, I invite those of you who are married, or have been married, to think about your own rituals. I’m going to talk about some from my marriage, about some from couples I have worked with, and before we leave tonight I am going to hear from you all as well.

What are Marital Rituals?

Rituals are social interactions that are repeated, coordinated, and significant. This is the classical, anthropological definition going back to van Gennep’s work in 1908. Rituals can be everyday interactions, or they could be once a year, but they’re repeated. They’re also coordinated. You have to know what is expected of you in a ritual; you can’t have a meal ritual together if you don’t know when to show up for it, and you can’t dance together if you don’t know what kind of dance you are going to do. You’re not going to have much of a sexual life if you don’t end up in the same space at the same time. Rituals are not only repeated and coordinated, they are significant. A ritual is something that has positive emotional meaning to both parties.

This matter of significance is what distinguishes a ritual from a routine. A marriage routine is something that you do over and over in a coordinated way, but that does not have much emotional meaning. You can have dinner together as a couple every night, while one of you watches television and the other reads the paper. This is probably a routine because it lacks emotional significance. Of course, one couple’s routine might be another’s ritual. I have a friend who is very busy, as is her husband (their kids are grown). She told me about the mundane activity she and her husband do every Saturday that helps her feel close to him: they do errands. For them, this is a ritual of connection. You see, if they did their shopping efficiently, they would divide up, right? Rituals are not efficient; they are about connection. So my friend and her husband do errands together and talk along the way. I bash TV all the time, but I know a couple who, when they watch a favorite TV show, sometimes take turns giving each other a shoulder rub, with one sitting on the floor and the other on the couch.

Almost anything can be turned into a ritual of connection, if the focus is on the relationship. Some couples check in with each other by phone a couple of times a day. It’s only a ritual, though, if both of them know it’s a connection time. If just one person likes to call and the other person says, "Yep, yep, busy, busy, I’ll talk to you later," this is not a ritual, because it is not coordinated--and it’s probably not emotionally significant either. In fact, the demand-withdrawal cycle ruins rituals; both people have to be into it.

I divide marriage rituals into rituals of connection, rituals of intimacy, and rituals of community. Examples of a connection rituals include good-byes in the morning, greetings in the evening, and going out for coffee and conversation. I talked to a woman who said she and her husband always say "I love you" when they part in the morning, because they never know that they will see each other again. Working in the garden together can be a connection ritual. I’ll have more to say later about greeting rituals.

Intimacy rituals include dates where you’re going out to have some special time together, patterns of sexual intimacy, and special occasions such as anniversaries or Valentine’s Day. By the way, I think anniversaries are the least intentionally celebrated ritual in the American family. You ask most people about their anniversaries, and they respond sheepishly that they don’t do much for it. Anniversaries they tend to occur on days like Tuesday, most of the rest of the world doesn’t know about it, and there are kid events to go to. But anniversaries are really the birthday of our marriage, and we tend to let them go without much ritual.

Community rituals are couple activities where the partners give and receive support in their larger world, such as joint involvement in a religious community, neighborhood activities, joint friendship activities, and joint community action. I have become aware recently through an initiative I have been working on, called Family Life 1st (, that faith communities tend to offer opportunities and committee involvement mainly for individuals, not for couples. Few couples seem to have a couple identity as members of their faith community. Why not have couples who co-chair activities, for example? Faith communities create rituals of community for couples only at the time of the wedding, then drop them, unless someone in the family plans a community rituals 25 or 50 years later. It’s shameful, really, how little the ritual life of most faith communities has touched the life trajectory of marriage beyond the launching stage.

Rituals have been an invisible and neglected area of marriage, even if our own field. We have tended to focus on communication skills and conflict skills, which of course are crucial, but my view is that often it’s the rituals of connection and intimacy and community that provide the foundation upon which we build when we try to engage conflict management skills. To switch metaphors, the rituals put the water in the well, the water we drawn on during times of conflict and struggle.

Examples of Marital Rituals

I’d like you to be thinking now about your own rituals, as I share some rituals from my marriage and from those of others. Remember: to be a ritual it must be repeated, coordinated, and significant to both of you. I will start with greeting rituals in my own marriage. I don’t remember what Leah’s and my greeting ritual was before we had kids. But I do know it degenerated at some point. This might be our greeting at the end of the day: "Hi. Eric threw up, and Beth has been obnoxious." Or, "Did you remember to close the garage door?" This greeting from the love of one’s life. We realized that his greeting routine was not working for us anymore, and we decided to do a radical step: to intentionally say, "Hi, honey. How are you?" With a hug and kiss. Pretty radical, huh? Like people who are in love. You heard it here first, and I’ve taken out a patent on it. You’ll have to pay us fifty cents every time you do it.

I once asked a couple I was seeing in therapy about their greeting ritual. The wife was usually home, in the kitchen. The four children and the golden retriever were somewhere in the house. This is what would happen: The husband walks in, greeted first by the dog with a big, enthusiastic show of affection. Dogs are great ritualists; they are consistent, they are loving, they are excited to see you. You can actually chart the number of hours you’ve been gone, and correlate that with the energy of their greeting ritual. So, the husband walks in the door, is greeted by the golden retriever, and next by the kids, with hugs all around for child one, two, three, and four. And then he goes to the bedroom and changes clothes. His wife remains in the kitchen. Some time over the next 20 minutes he wanders into the kitchen and the first words uttered by one or the other are something like, "Jesse has a concert tonight, so we have to speed up dinner." I asked this couple how they greeted each other when they were newlyweds. With sheepish grins, they recounted that it was "Hi, honey, how are you?" Followed by huggy, kissy, and how was your day? I asked them if they remembered when that changed? Not a clue. Most of us are clueless about the decline in our marital rituals. Rituals erode just as gradually as the Mississippi wears at the shoreline.

And so I asked this couple if they wanted to continue with their current greeting or if they wanted to change it. We spent an entire session working on the first 60 seconds after the husband came home. Why such careful deliberations? Think of the complexities of re-choreographing this dance. Who greets whom? Who approaches whom? How do they want to actually greet each other? With physical contact? Is the physical contact a hug, a kiss? If a kiss, on the lips or on the cheek? This degree of intentionality is important. Otherwise, the scene will go like this: In he walks, expecting her to find him; meanwhile, she’s expecting him to find her. You have to decide who takes the first step in the dance. In my household, the person who is home moves towards the one who came in. It makes it easier. There are fewer misunderstandings. And for my client couple--this is interesting, because they were still sexual with each other--the wife thought a hug and a kiss on the cheek was all she was ready for. If she had not had the courage to say that, then the first time he tried to kiss her on the lips, what does she do? She pulls away, and he says, "What the heck is this about, anyway? I am trying to be affectionate and she rejects me." And then he doesn’t approach her again. In the rituals of married life, both God and the devil are in the details, which is why the crafting of good marital rituals is such an art. This couple used a simple greeting ritual as a way to learn to be intentional in their marriage and to re-weave, thread by thread, the fabric of their relationship.

I did a workshop a couple of months ago in which I talked about this greeting ritual example. There was a couple in the group who have a golden retriever and kids. A while back, the couple had noted their dog’s consistently high levels of enthusiasm, and they decided to create a greeting ritual to top their golden retriever. Top the dog, they decided. After all, they were not married to the dog. So now what they do is rush towards each other, jumping in the air and waving their arms, squealing with delight like this, "Wooo! Woooo!" I had them demonstrate. (I asked my wife if she was willing to do it with me up here on the podium, but she declined. Only one fool in the family at a time, I think is what she said.) This couple decided to go over the top in their greeting ritual. And they do it every day. Now this is a one-of-a-kind ritual that would never have appeared on my top ten list. But it is so wonderfully playful. And what do you think it’s like for their children to watch this? Our children note how we greet each other, whether with the gold retriever maneuver or just a simple hug, kiss, and expression of gladness to be reunited with our mate.

The Special Case of Talk Rituals

Let’s now talk about talk rituals. One of the standard teachings in our field is that couples need time to talk together every day. Well, a married couple with children, who has fifteen minutes of uninterrupted, non-logistical, non-problem-solving talk every day, is, I think, in the top two percent of all married couples in the land. It’s an extraordinary achievement. When I say that to my undergraduates who are not yet married, they can’t believe it. Because when we are courting and falling in love we have oodles of time to talk. After we get married, if we don’t have kids, we still have time to talk, but even then our time is starting to erode because of the TV, the Internet and the newspaper. And then when we have kids, time to talk takes a big dive. You’re not going to have time for personal talk, if you have children, unless you ritualize it. Mumbling at 11 o’clock at night when you are exhausted does not count as a talk ritual.

Here is the talk ritual in my marriage. This is one that Leah and I came up with when our youngest child was four. After dinner, we would clean up, give the kids dessert, one of us would start the coffee, and then we told our children to go play. We taught them to leave us in peace while we had our coffee, so that we could talk. We said basically to not interrupt us unless the house is burning or something equivalent, in which case they can always call 911 and then interrupt us…. So we had about fifteen minutes every day to talk as a couple. This daily conversation has the three phases of a ritual. First, a clear transition. Anthropologists refer to this as the transition to ritual space. It simply doesn’t work to say, "Let’s just find fifteen minutes every evening." When? If you don’t specify a time, then someone initiates it an inconvenient time for the other. Set a specific time, say, eight-thirty till a quarter of nine? When your mother has just called? When one of you is reading e-mails and isn’t quite finished? And then at the agreed upon time, one spouse is generally seeking out the other. After doing this for a while, the initiator says, "Hey, I’m always finding you, how come you don’t find me to start our talk ritual?" It simply doesn’t work unless you have a clear, regular transition point that is calibrated to some event. And so for us, the time was dinner, followed by coffee. Of course, if one of us had to leave immediately after dinner, we did not have the talk rituals, but we always noted the exception. One of the ways you know you have a solid ritual is that, when you cannot do it for some reason, you make mention of that fact. If you just skip it, you communicate the message that is not important.

So the first phase of a talk ritual, or any ritual, is the transition to ritual space. The second is the enactment phase, when you are actually engaged in the ritual activity, in this case a conversation. Here Leah and I evolved some ground rules. No logistics talk. No talk about getting the lawn mowed or the electric bill paid. No problem solving talk. No conflict items, such as, "Now that I’ve got your attention, let me tell you how upset I am about what you said last night." If you do logistical talk, you will not connect at a personal level, so why do the ritual? And if you let conflict and problem solving enter the conversation, then one or both of you is likely to start avoiding the talk ritual because you may not feel up to working so hard on your relationship. In fact, a general groundrule for all family rituals is keep conflict out if at all possible. If you go out of a date, do not bring up unpleasant topics. Do not discuss your problems when the goal is to enjoy each other’s company. As adults, we are fully capable of deciding to avoid bringing up problems. We visit our relatives all the time and do that, right? We can decide to be pleasant with our spouse for fifteen minutes a day even if it kills us. What Leah and actually do during our talk ritual is an emotional check-in. It’s "How are you doing?" "What has your day been like." It’s just a check-in. No problem solving, no logistics—just being friends savoring a brief interlude of personal conversation every day of their married lives.

The third phase of a ritual, after the transition and the enactment, is the exit stage. You have to have a clear, coordinated way to end the ritual. The problem with saying, "Well, we’ll talk for awhile" is the ambiguity about when it should end. Somebody may be just warmed up when the other is looking at the clock and winding down. Can you see how you get into a demand-withdrawal pattern if you don’t know when the ritual ends. If you’re out at a restaurant, the ritual is starting to end when they give you the check. With our coffee ritual, it generally takes about 15 minutes to drink a full mug of coffee; when our cups are empty, we are more or less ready to stop. This is a clear exit, with no need to negotiate. Negotiating every time is inconsistent with ritual, because it’s not coordinated enough and there is too much opportunity for conflict, which undermines ritual.

Let me give you another example of a talk ritual in my marriage, one that we took up after moving to Minnesota fourteen years ago. But it’s cool sometimes in Minnesota, so we bought a hot tub and put it outdoors under the stars. Our nightly ritual, starting 14 years ago, is that around 10 P. M., we go to the hot tub. It’s the end of the day. We just sit out there, in the water, look at the stars, and talk. Again, no logistics talk. And every time we’ve tried to solve a problem it’s not been good, so we try to avoid that too. The hot tub is a couple ritual that we’re committed to. And I only understood how this had become a marriage ritual, and not just an individual pleasure ritual, when in the last few years, Leah started traveling as much as I’ve been. I realized that when Leah is out of town, I tend not to use the hot tub very often. The other thing that helped me realize it was a marital ritual was when after several years, yours truly, Mr. Ritual, began to say, "Nah, I don’t think I feel like it tonight." After a few times of this, Leah expressed concern that we were losing something, a ritual in fact. And so we had this discussion about what this meant, with me taking the individual rights approach, the authenticity approach. I said, "Are we talking about a rule here? Suppose I don’t authentically want to go to the hot tub?" Anyway, what I came to realize in that discussion was that it was a couple ritual. We don’t do it every night, if we’ve been out late or there is thunder and lightening or a blizzard. But otherwise and for the most part, we do our hut tub ritual. Because it’s part of our connection.

I will mention a final ritual and then ask you to share your own. A client couple were very disconnected, low in conflict but disconnected. The wife would get home from work around 8:30 at night, and usually they did not talk much during the rest of the evening. But they came up with the following talk ritual. When she came home, he would find her and greet her. He would start the tea water while she changed clothes. And then she would go to the living room, he would bring in the tea, and they would sit and talk. Can you see why the details of this ritual are so important? There was a clear transition mark: she comes home, he greets her, and then he starts the tea water. She has some time to decompress, and then they had an agreed upon place to talk, a place without many distractions. (They had a teenage daughter who was happy to leave them alone after her mother visited with her for a few minutes.) This nightly connection ritual was a way back in to feeling like a married couple. But interestingly, you only know you have a real marital ritual when you lose it, and then put it back. Rituals are always threatened by erosion, like the shores of the Mississippi. This couple went on vacation, during which the tea ritual was not practical. When they came returned home, they failed to put the ritual back in place, and then they realized they missed it—and reinstated their teatime. You always lose a ritual for a time, and then you have to decide how important it is to you.

Audience Sharing of Marital Rituals

At this time, I would like those of you who are married, or have been married, to reflect for a moment on your own marital rituals of connection, intimacy, and community--big or small, daily or yearly. Here’s the plan. I’m going to give you a moment of silence to reflect and come up with a favorite ritual, and then I’m going to ask you to divide your table in half for small group discussion. I’m going to give you about six minutes to share your stories. After that, I’m going to work the room with a microphone, and hear from some of the more interesting, inspiring, or off the wall rituals in your marriages.

Okay, you can nominate people at your table, or you can nominate yourself. I’d like to start with this side of the room, from these tables on over. What I’d like you to do is stand, introduce yourself, and then describe your ritual.

Couple #1:

"Well, he’s mad at me because I want to tell this; he’s embarrassed. Is it okay if I tell it?
I tried to get him to tell it, but he wouldn’t."

"That’s alright. What’s your name?"

"Beverly Rodgers. We’re therapists, but that doesn’t matter; you can still mess up rituals when you’re therapists. Our anniversary is Christmas, which was one of those graduate student weddings, you know how you do it – you get married any time you can. So we always lost our anniversary in between Christmas things, and we had a birth of a child at Christmas. So he decided to save our anniversary by kidnapping. So every year he kidnaps me and takes me somewhere. All he tells me is what kind of clothes to pack, take the coat, a swimsuit, etc – then he takes me wherever.


"And he just sort of scoops me up…and it’s really cute. He has a limo pick me up like Cinderella… and the other thing is, because I grew up in such a poor environment, if I get surprised I cry, so I spent the whole first three years of this sobbing for our entire anniversary."

"Thank you. That’s quite a ritual. Who would like to go next?"

Couple #2:

"Well, Annabel just wanted me to share with you that we fell into a beautiful ritual in the last year and a half. We decided to take up ballroom dancing every Wednesday night for an hour and a half. And so she just shared with me that when I’m out of town it ain’t the same."

"Thank you. Wow, that’s great."

"It isn’t the same in the sense that the other guys are better dancers."

"Got it. This is Ramon Corrales, husband of Annabel, who was my first trainer in marriage education, back in 1975. I’ve never forgotten you. And he is good; he is good. So who else would like to go, or nominate somebody else from this side of the room. Okay, you want to go for it?"

Couple #3:

"Dick and Kathy Stojak from Forth Worth, Texas. We were married on the 22nd of August, and we celebrate each month our monthly wedding anniversary on the 22nd. We do something special. It’s not necessarily a big thing; this past month or this month, in June, we were married 430 months. Always tell that to couples at Pre-Cana or at Engaged Encounter and let them try to figure out what that is in years. It keeps them thinking. But it isn’t necessarily a real great thing ? I mean it is a great thing between the two of us, but it might be going out to dinner, it might be a phone call during the day to say "I love you," it might mean leaving a note in the morning, it might mean going out to McDonald’s, maybe, for dinner, it might mean stopping off at Wal-Mart or Kmart and picking up a new potato peeler or wooden spoon, but the thought is that ‘I love you’ and it’s a special day, and we try to keep it alive, and do so each month."

"Thank you, I’m impressed! Well, this table here is really into it."

Couple #4:

"My name is Char Kamper and my husband and I have been married for 32 years. We have three children. Just one of the little things that we’ve done for each other over the years… My husband will buy me a rose, and put it somewhere in the house, and I never know where it is. He doesn’t tell me when he does it; he does it just randomly. It might be once every six months; it might be every couple of weeks… I never know. He’ll never tell me; he’ll just be reading the newspaper, but when I find it’s somewhere in the house and that’s his ‘I love you’ to me. We’ve done this for so many years. It’s always a different color and I never… he doesn’t say anything, he just waits until I find it. From me to him, it’s pies. I can’t sell a cake in our house, but my husband loves pies. And so when he comes home and finds a pie, he knows it’s for him. And again, it’s just one of those things that over the years, it’s an unspoken thing but we just know that this is our way of saying ‘I love you.’"

"Thank you, thank you. This reflects the wonderful creativity of couples. Middle of the room, I see some fingers pointing here; we need some undifferentiated people who are willing to be forced into it. Ah, yes sir."

Couple #5:

"Bud Baldwin from Chicago and my beautiful bride Michelle, 43 years of marriage. We have kind of a different kind of twist on the bed time ritual. After we turn out the lights, I go over to her (we have a king-sized bed, I find my way across to her), and as I begin to embrace her and after all those years she still asks, ‘How do you know it’s me?’ And my only answer is, ‘Nobody else would ask such a stupid question!’"

"Jerry Springer, here we come."

Couple #6:

"Edward Santana-Grace. I have one I didn’t share in the group, but I thought about it afterwards. My wife, Ruth, is responsible for setting up our celebration of our anniversary, but I am responsible for setting up the celebration of the day we fell in love. And that was my choice; I said, ‘I always remember the day we fell in love, and I’m going to celebrate that.’ So we have different responsibilities."

Couple #7:

"I had to make peace with the fact that when I would get home in the evening, that my wife is with clients. I wasn’t used to that. After my first wife died, I was left all alone. And then I married a beautiful, bright young woman--and she was never home in the evening. Clients! Clients! So I had to make my peace ? how do I handle it? At first I was a little grumpy, and I didn’t say anything. Then I thought of it. The moment I heard her car coming up the driveway, I would run to the sink in the kitchen, because when she comes in from the garage she has to walk by that sink. And I would just go to the sink and lift up my arms and wait for her. She would come in… the first couple of nights she thought I was nuts! Anyway, she would come in, and she goes over there and stands. And I stand, and all of a sudden, she starts taking little mincing steps, like a butterfly! And as she takes those little mincing steps, I take two giant steps and we hug each other, and we kiss each other, and I tell her how wonderful it is to have her back home. We do it to this day, and I want you to know that."

"And that was Morris Gordon, and Lori Gordon is the other half of that couple. We need to get equal time for women here, folks. These extraverted men…"

Couple #8:

"Helen Hesketh. Okay, gals, I’m taking equal time. We have for twenty-five years written a daily love letter to each other. We haven’t missed a day, even when Joe had open-heart surgery. And we have 18-19,000 of them in a closet and the kids are going to read them when we’re gone. We don’t do it at XYZ time every day; but we do it. We don’t go to bed without having written that love letter and talked about it."

Joe: "Someone once told me, ‘If you don’t want to like this principle, Joe, before you go to sleep just put a little note under Helen’s pillow and say, ‘Helen, I didn’t have ten minutes for you today to write a love letter.’ I said, ‘I can’t do that,’ so I haven’t."

"Wow. Wow! So how are you all feeling in this room? Are you feeling good? I sure am."

Couple #9:

"One of the rituals that we started when we were dating, I was fifteen and a half… Oh, we’re Jerry and Judy Schreur from Grand Rapids, Michigan. And when we were dating I was fifteen and a half and he was right out of jail and a high-school dropout. (laughter) He had a convertible and we would ride, ride, ride. Now he has an ’87 Porsche and we still take the top down, and we still ride and ride and ride at night; we enjoy doing that. But … two things. Number one. This conference has become a ritual to us as a couple as I can be involved in his ministry. So this conference really has become our ritual. I take vacation to come here with him. The other thing is, I lost my virginity in our car, and every car we’ve owned we’ve made love in." (thunderous applause and laughter)

"Wooo! It’s… it’s getting X-rated. Close the doors back there."

Couple #10:

"I’m Jim Sheridan from Adrian, Michigan and I’m glad to follow that particular ritual. Mine will seem tame. My wife Sharon and I shower together every night. We have a shower with two separate heads – showerheads – and we have sort of a ritual within a ritual, because every time she drops the soap, which seems to be frequently, I always pick it up for her (laughter and applause). There are advantages to picking up the soap that I will not get into. Hold on, hold on. Yeah, Bill is dying here. When we’re done, I always hug her.… We refer to this as a double-breasted hug, and I rub her back a little bit, and tell her that I love her. And I wipe down the walls and she gets out. And then when we get in bed together (by the way, we’re wearing the same thing we did to the shower), we always roll together so that I can give her a short back rub for about oh, two, three, five minutes. But we always tell each other we love each other before we go to bed."

"Thank you! We got anything over here?"

Couple #11:

"Jim Strickland from San Jose, California, and my wife Bea. I think this qualifies as off the wall. About four or five years ago we were with some friends, who happen to be here this evening. It was right before Father’s Day and our friend Fred was kidding about the fact that Father’s Day is an unappreciated holiday. And I said, ‘Fred, what do you mean, unappreciated? Don’t you have a Father’s Day tree? Every year, when I come down on Father’s Day morning there’s presents under the tree, and I open the presents, once in a while I’ll open one on Father’s Day eve.’ And we made quite a little joke about this. And then when a Father’s Day came up four or five days later, and there was a tree. My wife had taken an artificial plant and put little ribbons all over it, and put presents underneath it, and we celebrated Father’s Day. Well, every year from now on I tell her not to do that because it’s too much trouble, and she goes ahead and does it anyway."

"Thank you, thank you. Anybody else over here? Yeah, you’ll be next, but I want to hear from a female next."

Couple #12:

"Hello, I’m Aurora Farber from Atlantic Beach, Florida, and this is my husband Rhett Farber, and we have a couple of rituals that we do. They’re greeting rituals and goodbye rituals and one of them is that during the day we’ll see to each other periodically ? Rhett might say to me…"

"’Honey, did I tell you much I love you today?’"

"And I’ll say, ‘I don’t think so."

"’I love you so much.’"

"That’s our sweet, caring ritual. Another one is what we do when we’re having fun in public because everyone always gets a kick out of this, and this is how we say goodbye. All of you can learn this, and afterwards, if you want to, we’ll teach you how. This is called The Shake." (Elaborate, choreographed hands shake ritual, followed by uproarious laughter and applause.)

Couple #13:

"I’m Andrew Lyke from Chicago, Illinois and… This is really – I never thought of it as a ritual, but you know, my wife and I, early on, we realized we were certainly of different planets, recognizing that there are two kinds of people: those who make beds and those who don’t. I’m definitely one who doesn’t. And this was really part of what became almost nuclear warfare for us, that I sensed that she was trying to turn me into a bed-maker and I was refusing to be one. It was either a Mother’s Day or a birthday or an anniversary; one of those days when you’re just looking for something nice to do. Terri got up first, and was in the bathroom, and I got up, thinking about what is it that I can do. And I looked at the bed. And I knew that she would know there was only one reason I would make this bed. And it just became a way of saying ‘I love you.’ I am not a bed-maker still, but I will make the bed once or twice a week."


This has been amazing. You know, I’m remembering David and Vera Mace, the founders of marriage education – the early founders of the marriage movement. Does anybody know what there morning ritual was? David made breakfast and tea – they were British – and brought it to Vera every morning of their marriage. That came back to me here, as we did this.

I want to say a few words in conclusion, and I’m sort of full of what we’ve done here. In his wonderful play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, the playwright August Wilson has a character who is a healer in an early twentieth-century African-American community in Pittsburgh. One day the healer is bragging that he can heal anyone of any problem. A friend challenges him, "Can you heal a married couple?" "Sure, I can," the healer replies. "Well, what if the couple don’t want to be healed?" came the retort from the friend. "That’s different," said the healer. And then these words were the refrain of the play, repeated several times: "You can’t bind what don’t cling." You can’t bind what don’t cling. Commitment to our rituals can provide the glue we need to stick together during the times of stress and the seasons of despair. I’m sure that every couple who stood up tonight could talk about their times of stress and their seasons of despair.

I once worked with a very distressed couple whose perseverance was a marvel to me. Most couples would have given up long ago. It was one of those rare times where I was ready to give up before they were. It just seemed so hopeless. One time, I said, "I’ve run out of ideas. I’ve got nothing more. But I’ll go around the track again with you if you want." And they said, "Yeah, we want to do it." And they eventually found each other again. I asked them how they had endured these dark days. They said that they had clung to their Friday Shabbat meal, their religious ritual in their Jewish tradition – even if they were not speaking to each other. No matter how bad things were, whether they were not sleeping together or not speaking together, they never missed this ritual. You can’t bind what don’t cling.

And so, when we cling to each other through our marriage rituals; we are set free. Free to risk the uncertainties and pain of conflict, free to explore the astonishing emotional intimacy that only marriage can offer us, knowing that when we cling always, we are free to fly together.

®Copyright CMFCE.

We would like to collect marital rituals from all of you, many hundreds
of them if possible. To review:

A marital ritual is a shared activity that you do on a repeated basis
(from daily to yearly) that has meaning for you as a couple. It can be
small or big, splashy or simple, as long as it is a regular part of your
life that helps you stay connected as a couple. There are a lot of smart
marriages out there, and we hope you1ll share your rituals to help other
couples. If you are willing to have your name connected with the ritual,
that would be terrific.

Here is a guide to writing about your rituals for placement on the
smartmarriages web site. (See the end of these instructions for rituals
added since the Denver conference.)

1) Give enough details so that others can follow your example, but try to
keep your description under 100 words. If you need more space, that's
okay, but brevity is best.

2) Make sure you say what the ritual does for you as a couple, how long
you have done it, and any obstacles you had to overcome to make it a part
of your life.

3) Say whether you want to "sign" yours and your spouse's name to your
ritual, or whether you want to be anonymous.

4) Consider reading Bill Doherty's talk for background information on
marital rituals, and for examples, before writing yours. We'll add the rituals
to the end of the talk as they come in.

5) More than one ritual is fine, but write them up separately.

Send rituals as email text to

Order the Audio or Video recording of this presentation, session #750-5 at
Audio $15 and video, $29 plus S & H.
This is one of the most popular tapes of any Smart Marriages
Conferences - people love it.

Here are rituals added since the Denver conference:
Sawing the Log - German Wedding Ritual

My partner and I share a time-saving ritual which makes it possible for us to
stay emotionally close, even though we both have very busy schedules. At the
end of the day, my partner and I usually take a shower together (we both have
different, sweaty hobbies). The purpose of this shower is never sensual or
sexual, but simply a way for both of us to get clean while at the same time
reconnect by sharing what happened during our days. Sometimes, we take our
shower together in the morning as a way to connect before the rush of the day
takes us in seperate directions. In fact, knowing I can share my shower with
him often helps motivate me to get out of bed, since I know I won't get to see
him otherwise! Either way, showering together gives busy couples a chance to
touch bases while also getting a daily chore out of the way. How wonderful to
have a warm, relaxing shower and at the same time connect with my partner!
- Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,
This sounds wonderful.....BUT do you have two shower heads?
What do you do when it's cold? Doesn't that mean one of you has to stand
outside the warm water flow and freeze? Just curious! - diane

We just have one shower head - and you are right! When it's colder - it
takes a bit of strategic manuerving to keep warm - but it encourages sharing and
physical closeness - we take turns - one will soap up while the other rinses
or we'll both stand sideways in the water to each get some warmth and cuddle up
to each other! But it's worth it!!
We have been married almost 2 years. I have to leave
for work quite early, but my husband doesn't have to
get up till much later. For a while I tried not to
wake him until he told me he'd rather I wake him and
share some cuddling time before leaving. So I set the
alarm 20 minutes early every morning and we just hold
each other till I have to get up, then he falls back

It makes us feel closer as a couple. Because of our
schedules some days we don't see each other again
unitl 11 pm, but at least we've acknowledged and
cherished each other that time in the morning. We've
done this just the past two months or so. And the
obstacle was feeling I should not wake him. When in
fact he prefered I do.
- - - - -
Another ritual we used to have I would like to
rekindle. When we were dating, we were graduate
students and had no money. Instead of going out, we
would make tea at home and read to each other from a
novel. We did this probably twice a week for several
months. It gave us a shared topic to think about,
enjoy and discuss. Our obstacle now to restarting it
is that we have so many other distractions at home,
tv, computer, magazines, etc. I want to try anyway

My parents had a similar ritual before they had kids
where every night my dad read outloud while my mom did
the dishes. They talk about how enjoyable it was but
they don't do it anymore and I wonder when they
- - - - - -
Another of our rituals is very similar to the couple who
talks about keeping an anniversary journal, except for
us it's a New Year's journal. It was the first thing we bought
together when we got engaged, and we have written in it these
first 3 new year's we've shared together. We don't
have to write on New Year's day, but definitely during
the first week of the year. We write all about our
plans and accomplishments and challenges. When a
friends got married we gave them a similar
- Anonymous
Here's a ritual that my husband and I have been sharing for the 22 years of
our marriage. We have kept a diary of our anniversaries every year. After
the kids are in bed on our anniversary, we pull out the diary, light the
wedding candle that was on the altar of the church when we married, and
reread the diary together. In it, we've recorded what we did to celebrate
the day, any highlights of the previous year, changes that have come to our
family (like the birth of our kids, moves, and so forth). It's a nice way
for us to see the ebbs and flows of our relationship, and to remember how
we've been blessed in all of it. It takes us a little longer each year to
read the diary (by the 50th, we figure we'll need to start at about 2:00 in
the afternoon), but I can't imagine doing the anniversary without it.

- Martha and Dana Flemming
My husband Neil and I married in May of 1978. Since this was a 2nd marriage
for us both, we were more conscious and mindful about the concept of
deliberate choice and deliberate action. I wanted just the 'right' rabbi to
perform this important ritual with us so I shopped around. When I found Rabbi
Phil I knew instantly he was the one to meet with and do the deed.

In his counselling, he suggested a ritual he'd suggested to other couples
before. It went like this: every Friday evening, as a changeover from the
week into the weekend it would be good to take some time during which one
does not conduct any business that is not in behalf of the marriage.

Here is what Neil and I came up with, and later re-fashioned for ourselves.
Each Friday, between 6pm-8pm, we answer no phones, no doors, watch no TV,
listen to no radio or other outside news. We can do anything we want with the
time, but it must be in behalf of the marriage, relationship and not anyone

Each of us must be home by or before 6pm. This is very serious. there are no
excuses, including 'traffic.' The only time we 'violate' this rule is by
mutual consent, and then it's not a violation. Mutual consent items are
things like having tickets to a play, any other appointments we both choose
to keep or participate in, or going to synogogue services. Even these events
were to be kept to a minimum. The 6-8pm time frame was crucial to our
committment to the relationship.

Our friends came to know that between 6-8pm Friday evenings we were
"unavailable." All social plans began at or after 8pm. You know what? It was
never a problem. Everyone respected that ritual because WE respected it and
upheld it.

The upholding of this ritual, this "special time" for ourselves created a
safe space, a buffer from the world, a time to catch our breaths from the
work world, to re-group, to relax, to make love, to eat leisurely dinners, to

At first, it seemed like what are we gonna fill 2 hours with?! After a short
time, it was easy to use that time for needed moments. 2 hours went by fast,
and their presence and effect were felt by a sense of Renewal.

We kept up this ritual even when our older daughter (my stepdaughter) came to
live with us, after we were married 9 years. We simply told her this was a
ritual of the home, and she could participate in it in her own way. After we
were married 11 years our second daughter was born. Whatever was needed was
still done, but the 2 hour ritual span of time was still 'for family' and no
phones, doors or other urgencies were answered.

At the point where the baby turned 3 years old, we extended the 6-8pm time to
encompass the ENTIRE Friday evening. We formalized shabat dinners, including
a 5 minute ceremony of prayer and songs. Because there was more energy put
into making the evening an event for our daughters, we needed to accommodate
ourSelves better, so that we wouldnt feel the loss of our own needed
'downtime.' So, we re-fashioned Friday evening. At first we redesigned the
special time to be 6-9pm, but that wasnt enough for Neil and I, with all the
things that had to be done for the girls and family.

At this point, we stick to our ritual friday evenings from 6pm, on. Even when
we have friends come share shabat dinner, we take no phone calls, answer no
doorbells (guests are expected and let themselves in), deal with no neighbors
or community business (no matter what committee I may be on, no matter what
legal advice is sought from Neil). Friday nights are sacred. Thats SACRED.
Sacred time and sacred space. And it makes our home a sacred place. For ALL
of us.

So far this ritual, with its periodic re-fashioning, has been in place for 21
years. and it's something we look forward to, and count on for our sanity and
destressing, every single Friday.
- Annie and Neil Garfield
My husband and I started this ritual after watching the movie, "The Story of Us."
Every night, before going to bed, we ask each other what the "high" and "low"
of our days were. We speak one at a time and always face each other while
we're doing it. It gives us the chance to really connect on many different levels.
Sometimes when we do this, we end up having long conversations about how
he or I could have handled a situation differently or laughing about something
someone said. Either way, the best part of my day is usually the fact that we
have this quiet time together without any outside distractions.
--Cori and Hal Search
My husband of 23 years came up with this idea because he's more of a romantic than
I am. Every morning, he gets up at 5:30, gets ready for work and goes downstairs
to make his coffee and breakfast. 6:15 is my cue to meet him at the kitchen table.
There he sits, with his breakfast...and two lit candles. So for 20 minutes every morning,
it's just the two of us enjoying a breakfast by candle light. It's especially "romantic"
during the winter when everything is dark and we talk by candle light only. What a great
way to start the day!
- Allan and Silvana Clark
Here's a ritual my husband and I have been practicing for
almost 20 years:

Although the custom of a weekly date for married couples is
not a new idea, about 10 years into our marriage Jim and I
were moving to a new city and new job with three young
children. We figured these transitions might put extra
stress on our relationship so we committed to have a weekly
date. Considering our busy schedules and modest income we
developed the following process:
1. We scheduled the dates on the calendar for the whole
year - usually a Friday or Saturday. This way we wouldn't
accept another commitment unless we could switch our date to
another night that week.
2. We alternated who would plan the date and it was often a
surprise to the other spouse. This evened out the "burden"
of planning and allowed each of us to occasionally do new
things that the other spouse might not have thought of or
chosen. The surprise added mystery, zest, and romance.
3. It needn't cost money and needn't mean going out of the
house, but it did require having time away from the
children. (Some of our best dates were sitting by the river
at night gazing at the lights. "Home dates" often meant
each of us taking naps in the evening while the other
watched the kids so that we could stay up past their bed
time and have fun by ourselves.)

The main obstacle I can remember about alternating "Date
Leader" was that I often did not feel very creative and felt
a burden coming up with a new idea on my turn. Although we
still do the weekly dates, we no longer alternate since that
became too much work and we had built up a nice reservoir of
ideas that we still draw on.
- Jim and Susan Vogt, Covington, KY
My husband and I have two small rituals that connect us without words. The
first we use when we are with a group of strangers. The second helps us
find each other when we are lost and in a strange place. Somehow these
actions are very reassuring and comfortingly familiar.

The first is the slow blink. When we are stuck in conversations at a party
and one of us would really like to leave (the party or the conversation,
either one may be the case). One of us will catch the others eye and just
blink slowly; this is the signal that we want help in gracefully wrapping
things up and exiting. This way we can help each other out and keep the
event fun for everyone.

The second is the low whistle. We have a snatch of a tune (honestly I think
it devolved from the song sung by the fairy godmother in Disney's Cinderella
- but it has since taken on its own melody) that we whistle softly when we
are looking for each other. One of us whistles, the other responds, and we
walk toward the music, whistling softly back and forth until we find each
- Anonymous
My husband and I hold hands every night as we are falling asleep. This simple
gesture makes us feel connected, secure and loved regardless of the type
of day it has been. We have been married 25 years, and have been doing this
for the past 2 years.
-Kristi & Denny
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share our marriage

It began after I was raped shortly after we were married nearly
14 years ago.

I am a nurse and work "odd" shifts most of the time. I call my husband
when I arrive at work and call when I am leaving work.

This reconnects both of us to each other, gives me a sense of security
and also allows us both to say, "I love you".

When we first started doing this, it was to just keep me "sane" and to
reassure my husband that I was safe, but it has evolved into something
even more important, a chance to reconnect, a chance to express our love
for each other and a chance to refocus my day and my attitude from work
to home. We never hang up the phone without first saying to the other,
"I love you.".

It's a small thing, but one that is very important to me.
- Anonymous
My wife and I met in college when six of us went out together for pizza. She
and I began to become acquainted. That was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving,
1958. Since marriage, we have tried to go out for pizza every Tuesday before
Thanksgiving. When our children were young it was often pizza
at home or out to eat with them, but since it usually has been just the two
of us. We talk about the "early days" and our hopes for the future, just
like that first time. Since marriage we have yet to go back to the same
pizzeria (yes, it's still there -- Pusateri's in Dubuque, Iowa) for the
anniversary, but we have been there 2 or 3 other times and that's special for
us also. (I knew by Thanksgiving that she was the girl I wanted to marry
though it didn't happen until 9 June 1962.)
- Bob and Connie Davis

When we are together and a new hour starts, whoever notices it first
says; "It's a new hour! Have I told you How much I love you lately?" It
always brings a smile to our faces and reminds us how much we do love
each other. We especially like to do this on long car rides, where we
can do it several times in a ride. We have been doing this for the last
three years and don't intend to stop.
- Mark and Janet Frink
My husband and I have very different sleep schedules. I go to bed around 11
p.m. and am up at 6:00 a.m. He usually goes to bed between 1:30 and 2:00
a.m. and gets up around 8:00 a.m.

I like to keep a glass of water by my bed. Early on in our marriage he got
into the habit of bringing me my water and kissing me goodnight. We have
continued this "ritual" throughout our marriage (14 years next month). I
think this is an important ritual for us because it provides us with an
opportunity to connect each night. I don't just wander off to bed. There's
something comforting about the fact that he knows when I go to bed and that
we have said goodnight to each other.
- Dawn and Tom Cassidy
Since the time we were married, we have taken payday as a day to go out
and be together. We may only have enough money to attend the dollar
theater, or even only enough money to take peanut butter sandwiches to
the park. But we set aside time at least every two weeks to go out

We have a special-needs child who demands much of our time and energy.
So it becomes even more important to take this time to be alone together
to reconnect and just talk as two adults. We put family problems off
limits for discussion while we are on our "date", so that the time is
concentrated on just "us".

Recently our 11 year old told us that married people don't date, but we
had to correct her and let her know that yes, indeed, married people
dated and enjoyed it!
- Anonymous
My husband and I decided, before we were married, that
we would never sleep apart, even when we were angry
or upset with the other. We may not cuddle, or touch
each other as we normally do, but we sleep side by side.
Just as making sure to tell each other we love and cherish
each other, daily, and if we miss saying it, we feel as if
we missed something, the not touching, not cuddling,
makes us think hard about any disagreement, whether or not it's
worth missing the touching, cuddling. Just knowing our
partner is always there, is reassuring, and comforting.
- Tamer & Mary Louise, married 3 years on Valentine's Day, '01
My husband and i have been traditionally married for two years now and will
be wedding in December. When we were still dating as girlfriend and
boyfriend we reached an agreement that the person who is visited at their
home welcomes the visitor with a HUG AND A KISS.... and we are still doin it
today (amazing). In the morning when we part for work we give each other a
good day KISS, phone as soon as we get to our offices, lunchtime "How is/was
your lunch" and just before we knock off "Hie sweetie, im gettin out of this
place". After work its always a Kiss and "Hie sweetie, how was your day??"
We take a shower together (sometimes) as a way of connecting after a long
day, and sit together to play with our son and prepare him for his bedtime.
We never go to bed without a "goodnite darling/sweetie" and he holds me
closer to him everynight....... We talk less but i'm really happy with the
way we have done our marriage rituals and the different small ways we have
shown our love for each other, and the way we have stayed connected by these
small things we've done and said to each other.. I DON'T INTEND TO STOP
THESE RITUALS!!! For as long as we both shall live.....
Bunjiwe and Mehluli (Zimbabwe)

Holiday Rituals for Couples

These were collected from the Smart Marriages community:
- - - - - - - - - - -
My husband Dan and I make a point to go out one evening and look at Christmas
lights and decorations around our neighborhood. Since we have moved to
Chicago...we have now added a trip "into the city"--do dinner, walk along Michigan
Avenue hand in hand-- taking in the holiday energy. We also get "all dressed up"
for some holiday event (me in glitter, he in a "tux" or great looking suit) and get our
photo taken to add to our collection.
- - - - - - - - - - -
In addition to gift exchanges, we also give each other a "Christmas" card...(put under
the tree) and write our special words of love and wishes. This means more to me then
his store bought gift.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Every Christmas season, my husband of ten years and I choose an evening to make
a fire in our fireplace, put on some Christmas carols, lie on the couch together and
look at the lights on our Christmas tree. It makes us feel warm, cozy and connected.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Our holiday tradition is that the Christmas tree does not come down until we've
made love beneath it (which has been more of a challenge as the kids have
gotten older).
- - - - - - - - - - -
More than 25 years ago, I inaugurated an annual Christmas day "treasure hunt"
for my spouse [The first time, I had gotten a small bonus and wanted to surprise
my wife on Christmas morning]. I placed the first clue in her Christmas stocking,
which led her to a second clue hidden somewhere in the house, and then to
another, until she found the "treasure" at the end. The $ amount has not always
been very large but the "hunt" is priceless. Since that time, we now have to do
it for all three of our children as well [mind you, the youngest turns 21 on
December 31 this year!] As children, they protested being "left out."
We have bought a Christmas ornament together every Christmas
for the last 9 years, starting a year or two before we were married.
We just buy one each year, and we spend a good amount of time
looking for just the right one that reflects something about our year
that year. The first was bought at a street fair in Salzburg, a beautifully
carved violin with a red ribbon. It reminds us of our time there together
that Christmas. Our most recent is a wooden cactus, bought here in
Tempe Arizona. In between we’ve had ornaments that reflect the place
we got engaged, the year we got our dog, the year we lived in North
Carolina, and so on. We always put the date on the back with permanent
marker. It’s fun every year to unwrap the ornaments one by one and
remember our years together.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Each year we both take a day (or a half-day) off of work to go Christmas
shopping together. Sure, we could go on the weekends, but the act
of actually taking time off work just to spend time with each other is really
powerful! It’s a tradition that we look forward to. We have a nice lunch
out together while we’re shopping. Sometimes, we don’t even buy a
single thing, but we do a lot of looking.
- - - - - - - - - - -
We have a tradition of baking bread together to give as gifts to friends,
neighbors, colleagues. We put on holiday music and bake away! When
we have kids, I’m sure they’ll be involved in this tradition.
- - - - - - - - - - -
In our 33 years of passionate and joyful marriage we have never bought
each other a Christmas gift. (We have ten children so we do enough gift
buying) Each year we do something, often adventurous and generous
for someone in need as our gift to each other. The memory is the real gift.
Our favorite thing to do is "ring and run." We will find out about a family in
need, Dad suddenly out of work or whatever, and stuff enough cash for
us to feel it as a sacrifice, into a Christmas card that says "and the word was
made flesh and dwelt among us". We tape the card to their front door
when we know they are at home, ring and run. The first time we ever did
this Ron let me hide in the bushes so I could hear the squeals of delight.
We laughed ourselves silly, panting and puffing in the "get away car"
wondering if one of these years we will give ourselves a heart attack for
- - - - - - - - - - -
My husband and I do something kind of silly - but we rely on it for a few
laughs every Christmas - and our kids love it! When we wrap our presents
to place under the tree, we "make up" the gift-giver, using the name as a
clue to what's in the box. For instance, this year I bought tickets to an opera,
wrapped the tickets in a box, and put on the tag: To Dan From Beverly Sills.
Other memorable tags have been: a pair of clogs from "Dutch," a pair of
pajamas from Hugh Hefner, perfume from Pepe LaPew, a book from Mr. Barnes....
you get the picture. So, it's a guessing game, as well as a big laugh when the
gift is finally opened.
- - - - - - - - - - -
I don't know if this qualifies but my mother and I got a good laugh. I visited
her recently and we were talking about Christmas's past and she said that
when we were small (the '50's and 60's) and when she and my father were alive,
every Christmas eve when they were sure that we were finally asleep they
would listen to Christmas carols while they got organized and then watch
the replay of the Midnight Mass from the Vatican while they assembled toys,
etc. I laughed because 50 years later, my husband and I do the same thing.
- - - - - - - - - - -
When visiting parents or relatives for several days and staying with them, we
agree to "check in" twice a day to debrief and stay connected.
- - - - - - - - - - -
One holiday ritual I enjoyed as a couple for new year's eve was filling out a
questionnaire that recounted (among other things) best and worst moments
of the past year (for each individual and for us as a couple), favorite movies
and books seen/read, noteworthy world events and trends, something important
each partner learned that year, and hopes, dreams and resolutions for the
future/coming year AS A COUPLE. Filling out the questionnaire together
was fun and sparked interesting discussion, as did reading past years' surveys
which I collected in a notebook. Over time, it can become a wonderful record
of your journey together.
- - - - - - - - - - -
New Year's Day is our annual stay-at-home, order food and make out our list
of wishes, dreams, and goals for the year. We also revisit the list on our
- - - - - - - - - - -
A Christmas ritual we began when we were commuting between cities during
the holiday time, was to plan several special events for times we were
together...being very intentional---could be symphony; lighting of the River Walk;
attending a play; when in Phoenix doing a Desert Walk at night, etc...but we try to
do 3-4 different events that are special to the season, the area of the country
we are living in at the time and involve just the two of us.
- - - - - - - - - - -
A "new tradition" we began implementing several years ago is something we call
the 10 days of Christmas. (Why 10 days and not 12...don't know...just happened
that way). Beginning on the 14th of December we give each other a small token
gift, each day. Actually my husband seems to get into this more than I do. It's not
about expense but a deliberate way of treasuring each other...a favorite candy bar;
candlelight & massage; a favorite poem copied and given with an explanation why;
book; CD...the sky's the limit. We both enjoy doing this and it has lessened our
expectations of the actual DAY of Christmas.
- - - - - - - - - - -
We both love to bake, so two days before Christmas my husband and I spend a
day together in the kitchen baking a variety of goodies for our family and friends,
pack them in decorative containers and deliver them to their homes on Christmas
Eve. Everyone looks forward to receiving the goodies and if we miss someone or
deliver too late, we sometimes get a phone call to ask if the goodies are coming.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Each Christmas, my wife and I select a memory to share with one another from
our own childhoods at Christmas time. Sometimes the memories are pleasant,
sometimes sad, or maybe just plain silly. Often, they are memories that neither
of us have previously shared with one another.
- - - - - - - - - - -
One evening when my husband and I were dating, he called to invite me for a
drive around town to look at all the Christmas lights. Unfortunately, it was late
and I was already in my pajamas so I declined. Being the "persistent courter",
my husband said, "That's okay, I'll put my pajamas on too and we can tour the
town together in our PJ's!" So, he came and off we went admiring all the Christmas
lights in town in our plaid flannels and fuzzy slippers! We giggled at the thought
of getting pulled over by the police! We had so much fun that we did it the
next year and hence a tradition started! That was 9 years ago! This year we are
taking our two children for the first time and calling it the "Pajama Parade."
It's kinda a crazy thing, but it has been fun for us and there is something
very cozy and intimate about driving around in your PJ's ohhing and ahhing
at Christmas lights!
- - - - - - - - - - -
Since we are empty nesters and our children live 1000 miles away our
rituals is truly a couple ritual. My husband Larry and I go to Midnight Mass
on Christmas eve because either one or both of us will sing in the choir;
we wake up Christmas morning; fix a Mimosa then open our gifts from
each other. After opening gifts, we fix breakfast, put a fire in the fireplace
and depending upon whether we have to visit family later in the day, just
lay back and relax. We may watch "White Christmas" and/or "It's A Wonderful
Life" or whatever Christmas story is on the TV. Most of the time we don't
have to visit family until later in the day and sometimes not at all. Some
Christmases we never got out of our PJs! It's a great day to "cuddle", "reflect",
and be close to God and each other.
- - - - - - - - - - -
Following candlelight service at church, my husband and I come home and
fight. The tradition started years ago amidst slap-happy holiday fatigue. I
make my turkey stuffing with French bread, and one year Bob and I challenged
each other to a ‘sword’ fight with the loaves (still wrapped, of course). Our
four kids are grown, but whoever is home for Christmas still expects our
rousing fight, which ends when one of us cries uncle or one of the swords
breaks. Then we snuggle up and settle down to Bob’s reading of the
Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke."
- - - - - - - - - - -
The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Family
By Julie Baumgardner
The song says "it’s the most wonderful time of the year!" Bright-eyed children
have made their Christmas lists, checked them twice and handed them over to
their parents with great expectations of lots of presents under the tree. The
countdown has begun. Over the next four days, people, especially parents,
will head out early and come in late from intense shopping sprees not to mention
staying up late wrapping those presents. Millions of dollars will be spent as people
go all out purchasing gifts for their children, spouse, relatives and friends to make
sure a perfect Christmas is had by all.

Interestingly, when people, young and old, were asked what they were looking
forward to most about Christmas, very few people mentioned presents at the top
of their list. In fact, some didn’t mention gifts at all. The most popular answer was
spending time with family followed by enjoying some time off. Receiving gifts
was closer to the bottom of the list.

Giving and receiving presents is a part of the Christmas spirit, but based on what
people are saying, the store bought gift isn’t the most important thing to them.
If this is true, why do we spend so much time and energy focusing on presents?
Maybe there needs to be a shift in our focus to what people say really matters to
them over the holidays….TIME with family. Perhaps the greatest gift you could
give your family is the gift of your time.

If you haven’t completed your Christmas shopping yet, here are some suggestions
you may not have considered.
- Make gift certificates for special outings with you and give them to each family member.
- Buy a new board game that the family can play together like Scattergories, UNO or Scrabble.
- Sign up to learn a new hobby together as a family.
- Make a video scrapbook by interviewing family members. Ask them questions like,
"what’s your favorite family memory, family vacation or family tradition and why?"
Parents, tell your children how things were different when you were little. This
is a great gift to open and watch on Christmas day.
- Schedule a family progressive dinner right in your own home. Let each member
of the family be responsible for one of the courses. You can even move to
different locations in the house for each course.
- Put together a family photo album. Include old photographs right along side
more recent pictures. Take time to sit down with your family and walk down memory lane.
- Write a letter to each family member. Tell them why they are special and what they
mean to you. Too often we assume people know how we feel about them, especially
if they are family. Put the envelopes on the tree to be opened Christmas morning.

When families spend time together memories are made, and people feel a sense of
belonging that can’t be found in a store bought gift. Funny things happen and there
is laughter, traditions are started, and instead of being strangers living under the same roof,
family members really get to know each other. People long and crave for intimacy in their
own family. It is a void that store bought gifts will never fill. So give a gift that doesn’t require
batteries or assembly yet will last for a lifetime. Give the gift of your time.

Julie Baumgardner is the Executive Director of First Things First, a research and advocacy
organization dedicated to strengthening families through education, collaboration and mobilization.
She can be reached at


Wedding Rituals - new takes on old traditions

New marriage-strengthening twists on traditional rituals:
The only wedding gift I give is a marriage education class. I don't want to wonder who
got the china or crystal after the divorce.
Diane Sollee - click for gift certificate ideas
At my niece's wedding, instead of throwing the bouquet to the single women
at the reception the DJ asked all the married couples to get on the dance floor. He
played the Anniversary waltz and he started by asking for anyone married one day
to leave the dance floor -- which was the bride and groom. And then couples
married one year, two years, five years, eight years, and so on were asked
to leave. The last couple standing were married 56 years and the wife was
given the bridal bouquet by the bride.
Bill Doherty
The DJ at my son's wedding did something similar. As the longest
married couple was left standing (my aunt and uncle who have been married 62
years) - he asked them what advice they might give as to the secret of what
makes a good, lasting marriage. My uncle did a wonderful job and included the
ability to admit when one is wrong and say "I'm sorry" even when you think you
were only 10% wrong; learning to laugh at ourselves and not take life too
seriously. It was a wonderful tribute to them and an affirmation of marriage for us all.
And, at the rehearsal dinner we took few moments of silence and then as a part
of a prayer of blessing we called out the names of those that could not be in
attendance (either deceased or for some other reason not able to attend). It
reminded us of the importance those persons and the influence they have had
and will continue to have on us and on the newlyweds as they begin their lives
Bea Haledjian
When my daughter was married a couple of years ago, at the end of the evening
the MC asked everyone to form a circle around the bride and groom. He then
gave a speech about how “marriage will have its ups and downs and all the people
surrounding you right now are here to support you through whatever happens.”
Then he asked everyone to hold hands and walk slowly around them in a circle
as the band played, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” (There wasn’t a dry eye.)
Pat Ennis, Syracuse New York.
My stepdaughter, who will be 18 in January, is getting married next August. Since
she has experienced the divorce of her parents and is marrying young, I wanted
to do more than just throw a bridal shower. I decided to have a marriage party
instead at which we will have several happily married couples--some of which
married in their teens--share their stories and give advice. Instead of towels
and spatulas, I will be asking the couples to give gifts of marriage books,
videos, and classes to help this young couple have a successful marriage.
Lynn Corcoran Roberts
> Hi Diane: I recently heard of this interesting nuance in a wedding ceremony.
> A man with an 8-year-old daughter married a woman with no children. After the adults
> exchanged vows, the now step-mother turned to her new step-daughter
> and exchanged a vow to her new daughter. Included in the vow was to love and
> respect and to make her feel accepted and special always. I did not hear if
> the daughter also exchanged a vow with the new Mom but that would be cool.
> That was a first for me. Thought your readers would enjoy.
> Kevin Kindelan, Ph.D, Winter Haven, Fl

Yes, this is a wonderful ritual. Roger Coleman adds a special touch with a family medallion
ceremony. Here's a clip from an article stored on the E-newslist archive.

Strengthening the Family Circle - Dec 1999
The Family Medallion Wedding
. . . At approximately 10,000 weddings this year, parents with children from
previous relationships will use the Family Medallion wedding ceremony to
strengthen their newly formed family circle. The cornerstone of the
ceremony, easily adapted to any wedding tradition, is the presentation of
a Family Medallion to each child after the couple exchanges vows. The
medallion consists of three intertwined circles, signifying each spouse
and the children either spouse brings to the relationship.

The Family Medallion and presentation ceremony "Celebrating the New
Family," was developed in 1987 by Dr. Roger Coleman, Chaplain of Urban
Ministry at the Community Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri.
Since then, over 100,000 couples nationwide have used this special
ceremony to recognize that, with children present, marriage is more than
the coming together of two persons -- it is the creation of a new family.

There is a growing need for a way to acknowledge the important role
children will play in a parent's remarriage. Every year nearly 500,000
couples bring to their marriage children from previous relationships or
children born prior to the wedding. National statistics show that over
25% of the annual 2.2 million marriages in the U.S. involve single
parents, with an average of two children per family.

Marjorie Engel, author of Weddings for Complicated Families -- The New
Etiquete, sees the Family Medallion as serving a vital function
especially in blending families. "Children often feel like they are a
losing a parent," Engel explains. "By involving their children in the
ceremony, sensitive and creative parents can turn the wedding day into a
resource rather than a wedge."

When Mary Jo Klein, of Potomac, Maryland, told her children, ages three,
four and six, that she was remarrying, she explained that they were all
getting married together. "The Family Medallion, with the three linking
circles, made that fact clear to them," Klein explained. . . . .
Ms. Nelson looked for a way to include her two sons in the wedding and
found the answer in the medallion ceremony. "The wedding usually revolves
around the couple exchanging rings. We wanted the boys to receive special
symbols as well."

Ellen Hart, of Roslyn, Pennsylvania, appreciated the simple sweetness of
the medallion presentation ceremony. "It was so beautiful, it brought
tears to my eyes. My son was obviously touched because it's been five
weeks since the wedding and he hasn't taken off the medallion yet."
See for info on the
liturgy used in the ceremony and information on ordering the medallions.

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