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Rituals can bind a family together, without them families drift apart. When a couple gets together each brings with them at least one rule book as to how the rituals that permeate family life are to be undertaken.

The task they face is not to impose their ritual, their rule book, on the other but together find their own ritual and to form a new family structure together.

It is possible to be very intentional about this from discussing the daily rituals of family life such as mealtimes and parting and coming together, to the annual rituals of birthdays, holidays and then Christmas itself. Transitional rituals such as weddings, divorce, graduations and funerals can all also be tackled intentionally in order to minimise conflict, promote togetherness and ensure that family bonds are strong and able to support family members when the strains and stresses of the outside world buffet them.

In the intentional family, discussion and agreement are important aspects of family rituals in order that they remain relevant, do not become stale, or that rigid rules form a prison for family members. In most families, usually one person, and most often the woman in a straight couple, is responsible for family rituals – it is important she is supported and appreciated for this. Rituals in the end are important both for maintaining a couple’s connection and for family connection. Meal times, parting and coming together and bed times, even when there are no children are the most obvious rituals to work on.

These are all part of the fabric of everyday life, small everyday acts that cumulatively can determine the fate of a relationship. It is common that the couples who come to see me for couples counselling have not attended to these rituals and have got into a fight over whose family rule book they are going to follow rather than writing their own one together. It has, and this is often a major difficulty, never occurred to them that there is any other way other than the way they have been brought up for doing things. It is also the case that they have often not seen family rituals agreed and modified consensually by the adults that brought them up and this they have to learn as part of creating the rituals that work for them.

There is no rule book for the rituals that are created; they can be a mash-up of different traditions, faiths, or solidly rooted in a particular tradition. What matters is that they are meaningful to the participants. This means that rituals that extend out from the home have to take account of others, creating a diplomatic dance of extended family life, especially at times like Christmas and for the rituals of transition. Where people are in second or third marriages, this calls for especially creative solutions to accommodate multiple family traditions and rules.

William Docherty’s book ‘The Intentional Family’ is a good place to find out more and in our course programme for 2014/15, I will be running a one-day workshop for anybody who is interested in establishing intentional families, to help families stick together and thrive.

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