To preface, we all know there’s no such thing as a truly perfect marriage. However, we can certainly aim high. You know that moment after an argument or intense conversation when you and your partner have calmed and are hugging, wondering why you were even fighting in the first place? Think about that moment...think about how good that moment feels. All the content of that fight drifts away and chances are you feel safe, loved, and at peace. One of my favorite parts of my job as a marriage and couples counselor is witnessing these moments in session. To watch a couple go from 60 down to 0, sliding into the the vulnerability lane and creating an intimate moment is beautiful. It’s also powerful. It’s bonding.
We’ve all heard the term “bonding” before. We often think of a mother bonding with her newborn baby or a father bonding with his toddler. While these are certainly bonding examples, recent research shows that bonding doesn’t just happen in childhood. We now know that bonding, or attachment, is true and necessary from “cradle to grave”. To deny our need for close and secure attachment relationships, is to deny our human nature. We are “Created for Connection” as authors Dr. Sue Johnson and Kenneth Sanderfer explain in the title of their book. Having positive attachment relationships in our lives is linked to an incredible amount of positive benefits including, but not limited to, feeling loved and safe in your relationship, increased self-esteem and self-confidence, increased ability to cope with traumatic events, better physical health, and overall happiness in life in general. One study, among many, that demonstrates this link includes the Harvard Study of Adult Development, also referred to as the “Harvard Happiness Study”. The results of this longitudinal research found that those in connecting relationships live longer and happier lives.
Creating “bonding rituals” throughout your day or week can make a big difference in maintaining a secure attachment with your spouse or partner. Bonding or attachment rituals are moments with your partner that convey the message and sentiment, “I love you for who you are, no matter what, and I’m not going anywhere”. This can look different for every couple, and chances are you and your lover probably already do some of these things without even realizing the significance of it. For instance, bonding rituals may be waking up each morning and drinking a cup of coffee together, giving a kiss goodbye when one or both leaves for work, greeting your spouse at the door with a hug when they return, spending time in prayer together in the evening. It can be monthly date nights or celebrating big moments together like birthdays and anniversaries. Regardless of how different this looks like for you, the end result should be the same - you feel connected, safe, and loved.
Similarly, repair rituals are equally important. Repair rituals are those things you do with your partner to bond and reconnect after a period of disagreement or disconnection. They can look the same as bonding rituals, and the message conveys “We’re good” and “No matter what, I love you, you’re important to me, and we’re in this together”.
I recently had a couple ask, “But how do we stop from ever fighting again”? My response to them was this: The perfect relationship or marriage isn’t one in which you never fight. Almost all couples fight. The “perfect” marriage is one in which you can repair after a fight, when you can shift into that vulnerability lane together, and you can create and maintain a strong attachment that can defend against anything your relationship and life throws at you.
What are your attachment and repair rituals in your relationship? If you don’t have any, I would encourage you to talk with your lover and try to establish one. Happy bonding!