According to John Bradshaw, one of the great contemporary luminaries in the field of family therapy, about 95% of American families are seriously dysfunctional. Everywhere I go I see families in crisis. I believe that one of the most important reasons for the current dilapidated state of the American family is all the challenges brought to family life by the rapid changes in society in the last 200 years.
These include industrialization, increasing urban mobility with its destructive effects on the extended family, sexual liberation, women’s liberation, and gay liberation, and the resulting breakdown of traditional models of family life. Further erosion of family life is caused by a rising climate of materialism prevalent in our society, in which the car we drive, the career path we are on, the clothes we wear, and the hot bodies we can couple with have become more important for many of us than the family and friendships we create.
But there is some good news in all this. In this wide open climate of shifting social mores, there are many opportunities for exploring alternative family structures. Because many of us, especially women and gays, experienced the traditional family as a bastion of patriarchal tyranny, we can welcome these new models of family life as a chance to build new relationships based on equality, mutual respect, flexibility of gender roles, new child rearing strategies, and sexual freedom.
Such times of social upheaval are always difficult for those who seek stability and comfort in tradition. This is why so many people are retreating now into the camps of the religious fundamentalists, where they can find some comfort in condemning the rest of us to hell. Unlike the Christian and Islamic fundamentalists who see this new world as the devil’s playground, I see great value in rising out of the restrictions of the patriarchal model of family life and exploring these new lifestyle options.
But in this time of shifting social values it is easy to lose track of the time tested and valuable rituals of family and intimacy which kept the joy and love of the family intact for millennia. Many of these daily rituals were lost as we tossed the baby of loving family rituals out with the bathwater of those old patriarchal attitudes. So we may have lost many of these important rituals that were taken for granted by our ancestors who lived in a simpler time. In this article I will describe some of these rituals, and show how bringing them back even to the most alternative and liberated of family relationships can add a sense of emotional security to our lives, as well as greatly increase the romantic passion within any relationship.
The most common bonding ritual in love relationships is love making. In the human species this particular ritual has a very special significance, since humans are unique among the apes in the length of time required for parenting, the depth of our pair bonding, and our need for deep family ties. Anthropologists are convinced that the unusual intensity of human sexual desires and the enormous variety of sexual expressions, compared to other animals, is a part of this complex family bonding which makes us human. In a future article I will describe the rituals of love making in more detail and show how we can maximize their power to create security, passion, and romance.
Here I will only point out that in the absence of so many of the other rituals of love with which our ancestors were familiar, sexual activity has assumed an exaggerated importance for bonding and intimacy in modern society. We are now requiring sex to assume far more significance as a bonding tool than it is capable of achieving for us. This is especially painful because our partners simply can’t always turn on their sexual juices just to fill us with love. People have very different sexual needs and desires. And even when we are ready to be sexual emotionally, the physical anatomy can be slow to respond. We can literally wear out our sexual organs by making them carry the lion’s share of our need for love, intimacy, acceptance, and power in a relationship.
So I’m going to give you today the names of five other rituals which are easy to learn, take much less of our time and energy than sex, and yet give us a similar sense of security and belonging with our partner. Even if we just incorporate one or two of these rituals into our relationship lives they can make a big difference in our passion for each other. They will even take the pressure off of our genitals so that our sex lives can be calmer and easier and more fun for all of us. These are the rituals I teach my clients and use in my intimate partnerships:
The wake up together ritual
The off to work goodbye kiss with a promise of return ritual
The welcome home hug
The dinnertime ritual
The goodnight kiss
These daily rituals have been used for millennia by loving couples and families to build trust, safety and intimacy. And though they sound somewhat outdated, like Leave it to Beaver reruns in an era of Sex and the City, these rituals have an ancient instinctual power to bring security and pleasure to our family lives whether we are living in a gay marriage, a swinging polyamorous household, or a traditional family. Many of us have had little training in or exposure to these rituals, so in the next article, I will discuss each of these rituals in detail with precise examples of the words and gestures that make them effective. You will find the whole collection of articles atalchemyinstitute