How to Have Intentional Relationships

Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT, CGT

Table of Contents

How to Have Intentional Relationships

Most people’s lives are very, very busy. With work, hobbies, chores, and (if you have them) children, it can seem impossible to take a moment for yourself let alone offer intentional time to your partner. Our relationships become neglected as a byproduct of our overwhelming obligations.

Obviously, this isn’t a good thing for the health of any partnership. Science also shows that it isn’t a good thing for your physical health, either.

I often hear couples come into my office and share that they are at their wits end. They are frustrated, lonely, and burnt out. If only their partner would change or their boss would stop being so demanding or their kids would grow up more quickly, they might finally have time to be together in a way that meets their needs for intimacy. I often have to work with people to understand that they are here now. And that while one day they might suddenly have more time for each other, that it’s right now that really matters.

The longer you wait to connect with each other the harder it is. And the less motivated people feel to do it. So, I ask couples to consider how they can prioritize each other within the reality of their situation.

Rituals

Rituals are an important ingredient for healthy relationships. People who have rituals find it easier to predict when and where they can connect. They create a sense of security. In William Doherty’s book, The Intentional Family, he shares that rituals have three components:

  1. Meaning
  2. Repetition
  3. Coordination

The problem with our busy lives is that it makes it difficult to predict when we are going to connect next. This lack of predictability creates disorganization and chaos. It also increases the number of times we miss each other’s attempts to connect because we just didn’t realize we were supposed to be looking.

While there are often a lot of things that need to change in a big way when it comes to our lives being too busy to connect, you can take small steps by creating rituals that fit into the life you already have.

Big and Small Rituals

Some rituals are big (think holiday celebrations or annual vacations) while others are small (like the kiss you give each other every morning or the coffee you grab with each other on your walk to work in the morning). Let’s look at some steps you can take to notice, create, and maintain your rituals.

Notice

Start by noticing what you already have ritualized in your lives. Often couples have many rituals that they don’t realize are rituals. Do you kiss each day before you leave the house? Grab coffee together in the morning?

Make a list of these rituals that you already have and then make a conscious effort to notice them as they are happening. Noticing the rituals will help to maintain their meaning. You might even remark on them as they are happening by saying something like “I love our kiss every morning,” or “Isn’t it nice that we drink our coffee together every day?”

Create

Sit down with your partner and come up with a few easy to implement rituals you would like to create together. This might be adding in a conversation that happens at the end of the day or a walk that you promise to do each Saturday.

If you need an idea, I suggest starting with John Gottman’s State of The Union ritual. When I suggest this ritual, couples they end up loving it and see it improve their relationship.

The State of the Union

The State of the Union is a weekly meeting that helps couples reflect on the good, explore what has been challenging, and prepare for the week ahead.

In order to have a State of the Union Meeting, you need to pick a time that you will stick to (as much as possible) every single week. Most couples choose Sunday mornings but of course you have to choose what works best for you and your relationship. After that you will ask each other a series of questions.

State of the Union Steps

  1. Pick a good time and stick to it every week
  2. Make it enjoyable (perhaps have breakfast together, go for a walk, or cuddle in bed)
  3. Ask each other the following questions:
    1. What went well last week (and, in particular, what do you appreciate about me)
    2. What was challenging? (or, where could we have done better in our relationship?)
    3. What is coming up this week for you? Is there anything I need to be aware of?
    4. How can I make you feel loved and supported in the coming week?
  4. Make sure that as you answer the questions you are giving honest and kind answers. And as you are listening to the answers show openness, empathy and safety

When you're thinking of rituals to create, you might want to consider rituals that fulfill an area of intimacy.

Some examples include:

  • A weekly conversation to enhance emotional intimacy
  • A walk to enhance experiential intimacy
  • Going to a spiritual service together to enhance spiritual intimacy
  • Reading a book together to enhance intellectual intimacy
  • Laying on the couch and cuddling one morning a week (or weekend) to enhance physical intimacy
  • Scheduling sexy time to enhance sexual intimacy

Using areas of intimacy as a guiding force will help you to create rituals that feel meaningful and that build a closer relationship.

Maintain

New rituals can be hard to maintain. Life gets in the way and we might move back into our old habits. That is okay and to be expected. Instead of beating yourself up for it, make sure that as you are building in rituals you are showing yourself and your partner grace and compassion.

Maintaining rituals does not mean doing them perfectly every single time. It does mean talking about it when you’ve noticed they slip. Make an agreement with your partner that if either of you notice a new and special ritual slipping that you will take time to discuss what happened.

You can use these questions to help:

  1. What do you think got in the way of our ritual?
  2. Do we still find the ritual meaningful?
  3. If so, how can we get it back into our schedules?
  4. If not, what needs to be tweaked, changed, or created anew so we can feel excited again about doing our ritual?

Building an intentional relationship is about making a commitment towards small steps each day that help you prioritize and bring focus onto your relationship. By creating and maintaining rituals your relationship will become more and more intentional over time.

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