Letters From Esther #19: Routines and Rituals

Esther Perel

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Shall We Begin? 

It’s officially been a year in this strange reality. For one whole year, we’ve been pivoting, spiraling, extending uncertainty, grieving, coping, trying to get grounded while simultaneously craving spontaneity.

What do we do with such anniversaries? We know how to celebrate the anniversaries of birth, weddings, back to school, or joining a company. But what happens to our wedding date after we’ve divorced or the birthday of someone we’ve lost? What are we meant to do with this first anniversary of pandemic lockdown, and as we pass 500,000 Covid deaths here in America—as many as were killed in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War combined?

Hard anniversaries are helped by looking at the routines which have helped us create structure and predictability and the rituals that have helped us process what the occasion signifies. Routines are concrete repetitive actions that help us develop skills while creating continuity and order. Rituals are routines elevated by creativity, driven by intention, and imbued with meaning. Rituals ease us through transitions—birth, first day of school, graduation, marriage, death—and create a code for handling them. If setting the table every night is a routine, pulling out the special china for the anniversary of grandma’s death, making her favorite recipe from the old country, and looking at pictures of her is a ritual that helps us remember her and process how much time has passed since we could hold her. 

Rituals and routines are both about delineating between space and time and creating a grounding rhythm, a predictable structure with a reassuring, calming, and stabilizing effect. They can also overlap. Reading every night to our children is a routine that helps them develop literacy skills; but symbolically, it’s a ritual of creating special time between parent and child. When you bring mindfulness into your routines, they can become rituals.

In the last year, I have depended on daily routines and rituals to help me function through my day like never before. Every morning, I cut a juicy pink grapefruit in half to eat. I make a cup of coffee just how I like it. I cut up fresh strawberries, mango, grapes for one plate and carrots and cucumbers with sea salt and olive oil for another. After a year of this, I find certainty knowing that, by the end of the day, my husband and I will finish it all, snacking away in our little kitchen cafeteria where we work, call friends, and catch up with our sons on video calls. These are some routines that have sustained and nourished me for one whole year now.

But on this hard anniversary, it is my rituals, both old and new, for which I find myself most grateful. I’ve spent the last year trying to figure out what information, advice, and exercises can be most helpful to the readers of this newsletter, attendees of our workshops, our community, and so on. So much of that information has come directly from daily scheduled conversations with family, friends, colleagues, and my team—an old ritual recast for the Zoom era. For a year, the old ritual of Friday night shabbat—that ancient weekly transition between work and rest where we sit around the table, light candles, drink wine, and sing and talk for hours knowing we can sleep in—has created continuity from pre-pandemic life to now. For a year, my new rituals—a Zoom yoga group with friends where we catch up after savasana; the weekly big batch of hearty soup I make and deliver to friends’ doorsteps which reminds me of my good girl Belgian roots and the warmth of sharing food even when we’re apart—have helped imbue my routines of physical exercise and cooking with new meaning. 

As we process this anniversary together, taking stock of our deep losses and perhaps surprising gains, it’s worth looking back at the rituals and routines which have helped us day after day, month after month—and the ones that will continue to create continuity, structure, and joy as we move ahead.

Let’s Turn the Lens on You

Ask yourself, then ask your loved ones.

  • What old routines and rituals have created continuity for you this year?
  • What new routines and rituals have created structure and joy for you this year? 
  • Are there any that have been passed on in your family? If so, what?
  • Do you follow any religious or spiritual rituals? 
  • What are some special routines or rituals you’ve made with friends this year? 
  • What new routines and rituals would you like to try now?

Let's continue the conversation.

Watch the replay of the Letters From Esther Workshop: Rituals For Your Relationships.

More From Esther

The 3 Types of Relationship Fights You Keep Having—And What To Do About Them / a blog
Your relationship arguments aren't always about what you think they are. Read more to learn about the three hidden dimensions under most relationship fights and how to break the loop.

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Couples who are plagued by sexual boredom would be well to explore the hidden fantasies and desires that turn them on. In this blog, we look at how to do that.

How Erotic Thinking Helps Emotional Connection a blog
No matter how effective our routines have been in helping us through the last year, if they’re not filled with creativity, they inevitably leave us numb. 

Conversation Starters

A compendium of highly recommended sources of inspiration and information.       

I’m Reading:

I’m Listening To: 
Down to 100 carefully selected songs, spanning 18 countries in 7 languages from 1965-2021, this playlist is from my son Noam Saul. I so enjoy having my sons keep me up to date on music as well as sharing my old favorites with them. For me, this playlist is not only a way to discover music but also to discover my son.

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