Family Rituals

It is a sad fact that less than a third of U.S. families eat dinner together regularly, and more than half of those that do have the television on during dinner. This effectively ends conversation during dinner. Creating informal rituals when you can connect emotionally is critical in a marriage.

Since the publication of the book that this activity is adapted from, technological advancements have created even more distractions and barriers to connection. For example, cell phones, tablets, computers, video games, augmented reality, and virtual reality headsets. Electronic mediums like social media, streaming apps, short video snippets, and discussion boards exacerbate the technological barriers to face to face in=person interactions.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, lighting Kwaanza candles or the menorah, Thanksgiving at Grandma’s, family reunions: Most of us were raised in families in which some rituals were considered important. By making them a part of your married life (or coming up with your own new ones together), they become your rituals as well and further your identity as a family.

Also since the publication of Gottman’s seven principles, traditional celebrations and rituals have slowly been disappearing, and replaced with more modern versions. Families are also plagued by differences in beliefs, values, opinions, and perception about local, national, and world events and a vast difference in worldviews. Topics like politics, religion, climate change, racism, sexism, LGBTQ issues, abortion, and gun control make for difficult conversations.

Jesse came from a very close-knit extended family on his father’s side–the Feld mans. From the time he was a little boy the photographer at all of their family weddings was asked to spend a few minutes rounding up all fifty or so Feldman’s for the Feldman Photo. Every member of his father’s family, along with their spouses and children, would gather together, the bride and groom seated in the middle.

As a youngster, Jesse would roll his eyes and think posing for the photo was a big joke. But when he fell in love with and married Amanda, the ritual of the Feld man Photo took on a new meaning for him. Suddenly he was the groom sitting on the chair surrounded by his family. Now every time he looks at the Feld man Photo in his own wedding album, he feels a sense of pride and connection, knowing that Amanda has really joined his family This feeling has been reinforced over the years, every time he attends another Feldman wedding and he and Amanda pose along with the rest of the clan.

Rituals don’t necessarily have to derive from your respective childhoods and family histories. You can create your own. New rituals might come from a sense of what your family lacked. If you wished your family had gone on outings together on the weekends, you may want to incorporate that into your weekly routine. Or if you wish a bigger deal had been made out of the spiritual side of Christmas, you may decide to attend Midnight Mass together every year.

Sometimes rituals that don’t seem quite so momentous can be important for a family Nick and Halley for example, always celebrate family birthdays by baking a cake together. This ritual started when their son, who was then a toddler, was allergic to eggs, so they were unable to buy birthday cakes at the bakery Over the years their son got over his allergy, but the family ritual remained because it had become meaningful to them. It gave them a chance to come together and celebrate their family and the birthday in a very quiet, homey way.