Dear Harry and Louise:
Early in my marriage, it became clear that I was more of the morning person than my wife; I often got up before she did. She liked to start the day with a cup of tea. So without any planning or forethought, I started bringing her a cup of tea when it was time for her to get up to go to work.
Sometimes the previous day we’d have had a little fight, and we’d have gone to sleep without resolving it. But every morning for as long as I can remember, I'd bring her a cup of tea and give her a kiss. That seems to help us forget the previous day and start the new day with something that says, “I love you.”
What are some ways couples can build little rituals into a relationship that will keep communication open and remind them that they love each another?
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This beautiful letter is more of a lesson than a question. Maintaining consistent rituals that reflect our love creates a strong foundation upon which we laugh, share stories, debate, and even fight. Every newlywed couple would benefit from reading your letter. I asked a psychologist if he often hears complaints about a partner (or parent) who does not express love. “So often,” was his response. He has his clients walk him through an average day, and very often a ritual will appear. We may want our partner’s expression of love to be loud and vocal, but it may come in the form of a dad who heats his daughter’s car on frosty mornings, a wife who irons her husband’s shirts on days he has important interviews, or a husband who does all the grocery shopping for his gourmet wife.
Here are some more that I gathered from friends: a dad who has not said the words “I love you” in years but enjoys computers and makes sure his daughter has the latest and greatest programs on her laptop; a husband who does not recite poetry but ensures his wife’s beloved New York Times is waiting on the kitchen table when she has to work on Sundays; and a husband who feeds and cares for his wife’s horses on the two days a week she works late.
How do we build these little habits? Imagine a ritual that is easy enough to do most days, a ritual that you enjoy doing, a ritual that will make your partner’s day better.
Thank you for your sweet and tender letter. May it evoke a more thoughtful approach to our relationships.
• • •
Tea in the morning is a sweet way to start the day, but what about those eight hours in the sack when you or your wife might be simmering over a dispute, petty or pervasive, from the night before? Who needs to let that anger invade one’s dreams? How can you cuddle if you are peeved?
No question that rituals that show your love can get you through troubled times, but I try to live by a simple rule: Never go to sleep angry with your partner. Even if you don’t resolve the dispute in its entirety, kiss and make up.
Then cuddle. Then sleep. Then morning tea will be preceded by a night of calm rest, hopefully.
• • •
Less time steaming can benefit both sparring partners. I call it “never leaving the room.” Stay put until everything you want to say has been released, then listen to your partner. We can’t always end a dispute before bedtime, but we can attempt to call a truce.
I have left the room, but I always return—for better or for worse.
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