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Two Rituals That Calm Your Nervous System and Strengthen Your Relationship

couple in bed white bedding

Dr. Stan Tatkin says we can and should be our partner’s best anti-depressant and anti-anxiety agent. That seems like a tall order to me, but I have learned so much about attachment theory, couple bubbles and neurobiology from Dr. Tatkin, I’m willing to trust him.

Dr. Tatkin is fond of saying partners are in each other’s care. Relationships are less about helping yourself and more about helping your partner. It’s up to you to find ways to care for your loved one. One simple way is through morning and bedtime rituals.

Let’s meet in bed

It’s easy to get lost in busy schedules and disconnect from your spouse or significant other. Bedtime and morning rituals help you stay connected.

Think back to when you were a child ten years old or younger. Did someone put you to bed at night? Did they read to you? Tuck you in? Talk over your day with you? Or were you responsible for falling asleep on your own? Did you read to yourself? Watch television? Count sheep? How, if at all, is your bedtime routine similar to the one you had as a young person? How is it different? Is one better than the other? Would you like to change the one you have now? Does your partner go to bed at the same time you do?

The way we shift between consciousness and unconsciousness has important consequences on our mental, physical and relationship health. It’s another element that could lead to feelings of security or insecurity.

Dr. Tatkin asserts that whether we are conscious of it or not, we may react negatively to an empty bed when we expect someone to be there. Despite a 2011 study by Dr. Wendy Troxel that demonstrates both men and women sleep better (level four sleep, fewer body movements) alone, couples subjectively state they sleep better when they are together. Dr. Troxel’s theorizes that for men and women, the need to feel secure at night outweighs any sleep disturbances that occur while sleeping together.

Night owls and early birds 

So what if you’re a night owl and your sweetie is an early bird? Or you have children or a job that put you on different sleep schedules? Studies show that couples with different night and morning orientations argue more. According to Dr. Tatkin in his book, Wired for Love (This is about the fifth time I’ve mentioned this book. Go get it.), all is not lost if your bio rhythms are off. It is still possible to create rituals that allow each of you to follow your natural rhythms. Make plans to meet each other in bed at a certain time. The night owl can put the early bird to bed by reading to her, looking into her eyes and talking about the day or lying in bed holding hands watching a favorite television show together (although be careful this could serve as a distancing behavior if there is not sufficient eye contact, verbal communication or physical connection during the viewing), praying together or making love. The methods of putting each other to bed are endless. I encourage you to use your imagination. I know you have extraordinary minds and can find sweet ways to send each other off to dreamland.

The night owl is then able to stay up late after putting his or her partner to bed. I don’t have proof of this, but I would guess the night owl might decide quite often that he or she is ready for bed too once they’ve gone through the comforting routines of putting their partner to bed.

Morning rituals offer the same opportunities for connection. Could you lie in bed together each morning talking over your upcoming day, showing physical affection, looking into each other’s eyes, praying, breathing deeply, etc.?

Leaving and reuniting

Each day most couples have times of separation. One or both of you go to work, the store, to school, etc. How you leave or reunite can affect how much energy, confidence and support you feel while out slaying dragons in the big bad world.

Your partnership serves as home base or a soft place to land. How do you and your partner separate for the day? A kiss on the lips? Cheek? A slow hug? Yelling at them to not forget something like an appointment, their lunch, or to pick up the kids at daycare? Do you let them walk out the door without a word?

How do you reunite later? Do you meet them as they walk in? Yell from another room? Act like you don’t hear them?

How you disconnect and reconnect during the day affects your relationship. Warm rituals solidify the security of your relationship. Dr. Tatkin says we need to re-attune to our partner after they’ve been away.

Positive reunion/departing rituals include: greeting each other as soon as one of you walks in the door, before greeting the kids, pets or guests in the house; hugging each other until you feel each other relax; stopping what you are doing to say hello or goodbye in person when a partner arrives or leaves.

I admit I was notoriously bad about greetings and leavings when I was married. I knew my husband needed the warmth of my love before he left for the day and when he returned at night. I could feel his need. I just could not give it to him. Perhaps because it felt inauthentic or perhaps I felt like I lost too much by pouring out love on him. Perhaps my well was too dry to offer secure affection and attention. Whatever the reason, it didn’t happen and our relationship suffered for it.

I have experienced the therapeutic rejuvenation of meeting each other’s eyes as you reunite and the relaxing benefits of full body hugs that make you both melt. I never want to stop the practice.

We all have a need to make and continuously re-make secure connections with our most important people. Morning and bedtime rituals paired with departing and reuniting rituals are easy ways to touch base with your relationship and create a safe haven.

What are your sleeping rituals? Greeting and departing rituals? Could you implement changes in your rituals for 30 days? 

If you would like more ideas for reconnecting with your partner, please contact me for relationship coaching. I’d love to show you how to bring your lover closer. 


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  1. Lauren March 25, 2017 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Great post! My boyfriend and I currently do not live together, but when we sleep at each other’s places we are on different schedules, so he usually tucks me in. And there was a time awhile back when he didn’t take the time to greet me when we would reunite, but after a discussion about how that made me feel, we always make a point to greet each other warmly. We also have our own ritual when we say goodbye, which does not necessarily include a kiss, but always a squeeze of the hand, which makes my heart melt and makes me feel connected to him.

    • Brenda Knowles March 26, 2017 at 8:50 am - Reply

      Thank you for sharing your experience Lauren. It is nice to hear the rituals really do make a difference. I love the hand squeeze goodbye! It sounds so sweet and meaningful.:)

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