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Relational Rituals

This morning I had my dream date. Once a month, early enough that we are still bleary eyed, we huddle together in a restaurant booth over bowls of oatmeal and discuss our adventuresome night-lives. We are a dream group--four 50+ women who have found a depth of connection and an oasis of fun in discussing and deciphering the meaning of our dreams. We always have the same waiter, Henry. He no longer bothers giving us menu’s because it’s always “oatmeal around the table.” This is part of the pleasure, having been together frequently enough that we have created relational rituals.


I have always enjoyed relational rituals. In the first half of my life they included regular evening dinners with my family of origin, then with my husband and children, holiday gatherings, bedtime stories, Friday pizza, and “girls night out.”  Of course, children move out, family structures change and careers create shifts in relationships. Still, I find great pleasure in deepening relational connections by creating history and continuity where there previously was none, by finding meaning in ordinary actions, and by fostering patterns of engagement that establish safety for more openness and depth. These are the blessings of ordinary rituals.


With one of my friends, we periodically engage in a relational ritual we call “the beauty check-in,” a light-hearted acknowledgement of each other’s efforts at body maintenance and self-care. With great humor we may lament the cost of haircuts and manicures, discuss the virtues of facials over facelifts or make note of the latest Hollywood trend in eyelash extensions. Paying homage to the dance of perpetual preening brings us together in shared laughter and delight over the pleasures of being feminine souls and establishes safe and common ground for revealing what’s lighting up our hearts and minds. This is a relational ritual helping us make an essential midlife transition: to increasingly value the ripening of our souls as our bodies age. Shared humor and openness make it easier to surrender to change and affirms that our inner light continues to shine brightly.


Over the last few years I have been hearing about “stitch ‘n bitch” groups. These groups reflect the resurgence of interest in knitting—an activity that supports being together, slowing down, and having conversations that create a shared narrative. Knitters can engage in a project, set it down, and later easily pick up right where it was left off. Conversations that happen while knitting are like that as well. Additionally, knitting itself is a wonderful metaphor: who’s life isn’t the act of following the thread of unfoldment, turning here, looping back there, one moment at a time, pausing once in a while to step back and take stock of what is emerging? Relationally, it’s possible to knit a satisfying connection that becomes substantive and tangible, warm and comforting for all seasons of life.


Couple’s rituals are particularly sound investments, deposits of love and goodwill that keep intimate relationships from going bankrupt during disagreements and significant transitions. My favorites include setting aside a day a week for “our time;” or beginning dinner with a question meant to by-pass our “planning minds,” such as “What’s the state of your soul?” or, as we light candles, asking “Can I hold any positive intention for you right now?”; or at the end of the day reflecting upon what the best part of each of our day’s has been.


Christmas is a natural time to think about relational rituals. Many of us have rich traditions during this season. Yet, as our lives change, it is important to create new rituals that meet our current needs. For women who are without a partner or away from family during this season, and for all of us who have undergone life changes, it is important to look beyond “the way it was” or “the way it has always been,” see our lives as they currently are, and ask ourselves “How can I create more meaning in my life, not just during the holiday’s, but everyday”?


Here are some helpful tips for bringing ritual into everyday life:

1. Notice familiar or repeated patterns in your relationships.

2. Ask yourself if these patterns can be made more meaningful or be symbolic of a value you would like enhanced.

2. Be consciously creative with the enjoyable rituals and patterns.

3. Think outside the box to create new patterns that enrich daily life. 

4. Repeat patterns and rituals that are intimate, satisfying, and enjoyable.

4. Invite others to join you in activities that create an environment conducive to meaningful dialogue.

5. Create new traditions, serve a meal at a women’s center or homeless shelter for women with families. Invite a friend or two to join you in this new ritual, a ritual that you might extend beyond the holidays.