Fewer and fewer rituals are present in our modern world, yet the proper celebration of the major events in our lives provides us with not only a safe framework but also contributes to our good mental health. We spoke to Dániel Kozma-Vízkeleti clinical psychologist and family psychotherapist about the power of ritual in a marriage.
From a psychological point of view how significant are rituals in our lives?
Just like our everyday habits such as drinking our morning coffee from a certain mug, one of the roles of rituals is to strengthen our sense of security and to help us in the various compartments of our lives. Rituals, however, are more than that, they are emotionally rich events, which have a symbolic meaning reaching beyond themselves.
Graduation can mark the beginning of life as a young adult, through marriage a woman becomes a wife, a man becomes a husband, with the ritual they receive new rights and responsibilities. A birthday or new year’s eve can also mean a step into a new stage of life, bidding farewell to the old.
What do you mean when you say the ritual has a meaning reaching beyond itself?
The ritual is not only about the event itself but accompanies us from one lifecycle to another, it allows us to bridge the change, and there is a message to the community. That is the reason we celebrate important events in the company of our family and friends. There is the public demonstration of our commitment to each other, and our friends support in this new phase of our lives.
How does the fact that there are fewer and fewer rituals affect the health of society?
Modern man often finds the traditional rituals and habits empty and old fashioned and has started to gradually reject them. Not only is the number of people getting married in decline, but fewer people attend their graduations, we don’t get together for Sunday lunch, we don’t get dressed up to go to the theatre and so there are fewer events which we consider important, fewer events to add colour to our dull everyday routine.
Research shows that people whose lives involve these special events are significantly less likely to become addicts. This is not surprising as many addictions are pseudo rituals: think of lighting a cigarette, exhaling the smoke. The more real rituals are missing from our lives, the more likely we are to try to replace them with other- often harmful- habits.
Many people don’t consider the spiritual significance of habits when they choose to say no to them. People often say that marriage is only a question of a piece of paper.
If it was really about a piece of paper, then it wouldn’t be worth getting married. But hopefully, a wedding is much more than that, it is the preparation for a committed relationship, involving a series of rites lasting about a year culminating in the public announcement of this extremely complex decision. The seemingly trite preparations, the stag night and hen party and the different customs connected to weddings serve the purpose of highlighting the importance of a decision which fundamentally determines the rest of our lives. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the bigger the wedding, the better the marriage, but by elevating the event to a celebration, by emphasizing its significance, the commitment is strengthened and supported.
The actual planning of the wedding may be a serious challenge for the couple. How they solve the situations of making the guest list, choosing the menu or venue together provides a glimpse of how they will reach agreement on major issues later. If I can give a word of advice regarding the guest list, I would tell the bride and groom to listen to their hearts and invite those people they are emotionally attached to, those people who really matter to them, as their presence is more important than some relatives who might be invited so as to avoid offending them.
It is a more and more common situation that the couple makes a commitment to each other, and even have children before they get married perhaps years later.
Commitment to a relationship as an emotional experience is not only connected to weddings. In couple therapy for example it is a very important question, from when the couple dates their commitment to each other. This is an intimate personal experience marking the point from which they belong together. This moment is not the same for everyone. In the case of a committed relationship where this happened earlier, the wedding is a ritual strengthening their commitment, and a public declaration to the community.
Original text: Anna Kerekes