When we think of preparing for something difficult, learning to ride a bike, starting a new training regimen, even gearing up for a big work presentation or social event, the act of preparing can often take on a ritualistic feeling. Before a big surgery, a doctor may wash her hands a particular way, before an important battle, a soldier may kiss a picture of their kids. The science recognizes that there is something more happening than simple placebo effect, and has begun citing specific chemical changes in the brain when a new habit is formed around a specific stressful event.
For some, this notion plays out within couples – a partner struggling with a particular issue, when a couple is separated for work or familial reasons from each other, or when one person routinely experiences an emotional shift or is expecting to face a difficult time. To prepare, the couple may build a ritual around that time or event – a special bracelet worn until the stressful situation is over, a worry stone carried in a pocket, a change in communication patterns until the event is over. Because both parties understand the weight of the ritual or the token used, it can take on whatever properties assigned to it.
An example might be when one partner routinely travels for work: before they separate, the couple might eat at their favorite restaurant, exchange a personal treasure – a scarf, a key-chain fob – and agree to text each other nightly at a certain time. By formalizing the arrangement, it gets set as ritual and can be a source of comfort and reassurance that despite the distance, each is loved and valued.
Chances are, you already have something you do that fits into this space: by voicing it, it can be the tool you need it to be.