Kidless, unmarried, and not even living in the same city. What can a busy soccer mom of four kids in her second decade of marriage actually learn from these two about relationships?
As it turns out, quite a bit! That really is one of the best parts of this endeavor: no matter who the couple is or what stage of the relationship they are in, there are relationship skills and strengths that we can learn from them!
A valuable aspect of hearing from James and Liza is the very fact that they are so relatively young in their relationship. They are still in the process of establishing what their shared values and rituals will be.
For those of us who are a bit further along in our own relationship journey, we may simply take those values and rituals for granted, or perhaps never even conscientiously established them in the first place. James and Liza are a great lesson and reminder for all of us to be mindful and conscientious about what we want the underpinnings of our relationship to be. Rather than simply operating on default mode, we can and should be proactive of establishing the core values we want to be the guiding light of our lives and our relationships, and then act accordingly.
When we form a new family, no matter what that looks like, we begin the process of defining what it means to be part of that family group. A culture begins to form. We tell ourselves and others stories about who we are and what is important to the new “us”. Ritual is a way of acting out those definitions, showing what is important and how everyone is included. When we participate in ritual it reflects and enhances the meaning of our life together. Thoughtful rituals, invested with care and emotion, strengthen the bonds between us and add a richness to life. They can be a means of expressing love and loyalty as well as a way of reinforcing values and creating a special space for each member of the family.
Reinforcing Shared Values
Shared values are often an important aspect that helps to bring people together. We often choose a partner based on how their values match our own. We like to be with people who care deeply about the things we care deeply about. What we often don’t realize is that in addition as acting as a commonground for initial connection, the sense of having shared values also acts as a buffer against troubled times in a relationship.
Dr. John Gottman visualizes it as a roof on his “relationship house”, protecting couples from the storms of life. Reinforcing those values and drawing attention to them shores up our sense of connection and helps us be resilient in the face of internal and external difficulties. It helps us see ourselves as an “us”, on the same team, working for the same goals. Even if we disagree about how to accomplish our goals, a sense of shared values, hopes, and dreams reminds us that we are partners in a partnership rather than adversaries. That shift in perspective is extremely powerful.
Identify your shared values. Write down with your partner what is important to you both. Don’t forget ideas and opinions (things you connect over intellectually), feelings (how you connect emotionally), experiences (how you interact socially), health and circumstances (physical values that you share), and connection to something bigger than yourselves or your union (such as shared spiritual values and beliefs).
Identify your own family or personal rituals, whether they be daily, weekly, monthly, etc. Think about how your shared values enter into those rituals. Do your rituals reinforce your shared values? If so, great! Continue to use those rituals as ways to enhance your values. If not, why not? Do an honest inventory of what rituals you have that don't reinforce your shared values, and figure out what changes you need to make to bring the focus back to where it should be.
Level Up: Think of a shared value that is important to you both and create a new ritual related to that value. Give it a try.
Rituals of connection:
role of TV
entertaining in the home
special celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, etc.)
times of sickness
(Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work page 246-247)
celebrating triumph (major or minor)
supporting someone when they’re tired or sad or have had a setback
caring for friends and neighbors
talking about lovemaking
keeping in touch with relatives and friends
holidays and birthdays
rites of passage
(Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work page 252)