More frequently, the traditional nuclear family roles and division of labor is changing. It is not uncommon that I meet with same sex partners, mixed sex partners, step-parents, co-parents, life partners, etc. Each of these partnerships has their own unique dynamic.
The traditional Western patriarchal construct where the male, “husband”, works and provides the income while the female, “wife”, manages the home and raises the children is being blown up and re-imagined into a more diverse, inclusive, and shared construct.
While the evolution and construct of relationships are unfolding into something new and more diverse, I have noticed that something else is not shifting. Regardless of the make-up of the relationship, one of the partners will routinely express that they feel invisible to the other.
“They act like I’m not even here and what I do doesn’t matter.”
More commonly, I find, the partner who works from home and manages the household shares that perspective more often. On the other hand, the partner who works out of the home, will commonly share that they are tired, and their contributions are enough. At times, I will also hear, that they feel their partner doesn’t contribute as much.
“They get to hang out at home all day, who knows what they do?”
“All they do is play with the kids!”
In a relationship, no matter how you label it, a relationship still involves multiple human beings who have needs. Regardless of sex or gender affiliation, each person has a desire to be noticed, appreciated, and validated for their effort and contribution.
“I just want him/her to say, “thank you” for doing the laundry.”
“It would be nice for him/her to ask me about my day.”
A remedy I suggest and work with clients to incorporate into their relationship are formal and informal rituals of connection. Bill Doherty, in his book, The Intentional Family discusses the importance of connection between partners. Furthermore, research by the Gottman’s, supports the notion that intentionally creating rituals of connection are vital to maintaining a healthy relationship.
What is important is for both individuals to make a commitment to each other to intentionally incorporate these new behaviors into the relationship. The ritual creates an environment that each partner has something to look forward to – a way to be noticed, appreciated, and validated by one another.
The Gottman method, with over 35 years of research, has formulated 5 essential rituals of connection.
- The daily stress reducing conversation involves intentionally finding time in your day to sit with your partner and take turns sharing what is stressing you out outside the relationship. The goal for the listener is NOT to “fix” the situation rather to give the speaker a chance to be heard as well as supported and understood.
- The weekly “state of the union” conversation is a scheduled time to talk about the operations of the relationship, scheduling, and other factors that need to be addressed. This scheduled time allows for both partners to understand what the other one needs for support during the next week.
- The weekly date is important to allow both partners a chance to connect. This doesn’t have to involve going outside the home. This is simply scheduling some time to be with one another and putting all the other “stuff” aside to focus on each other. The weekly date can be as short as 30 minutes after the kids go to bed or it can be as long as you want it to be. The goal is to connect emotionally.
- Daily cuddle time is an opportunity to connect physically. Human touch is important, and this ritual can benefit a relationship tremendously. Set the alarm for 15 minutes earlier than normal and take the time to hold each other before you get going with your normal routine in the morning. Embrace each other as often as you can wherever you can.
- Rituals about sex should be discussed and shared between each partner. Understanding what turns each other on can be empowering to both partners. You wouldn’t drive your car blindfolded therefore don’t close your eyes and guess what turns your partner on. Ask each other, share with each other, explore with each other, and enjoy with each other!
While these 5 rituals can enhance the foundation of a relationship there are also a number of other rituals that should be incorporated that are unique to your relationship and provide both partners the opportunity be seen rather than feel invisible!