Boundaries Around Family Rituals

Planning and setting boundaries around family rituals are important aspects to a healthy union.  Often the issues are not the forethought or behavioral parameters useful for family rituals, but the violations of couple expectations.  Many couples have unrealistic expectations regarding family rituals that are often reinforced by holiday “Hallmark commercials and movies.”  For over three decades of research and practice, I have found that couples with high expectations are often disappointed.  This displeasure transcends most if not all aspects of their daily lives from career, family and social network.  When a partner’s expectations are not met in such activities as cleaning the home daily, or preparing breakfast every weekend, this can lead to bitterness, resentment and animosity.  When havoc is wreaked on the relationship, it becomes paramount that the couple has flexible expectations, NOT lowered expectations.  This is true in all aspects of life, as we are likely to get what we expect.

Your partner may think of you as the individual whom they may want to grow old with when you honor one another’s goals, dreams and ambitions, even if they are different from your own.  The potential for life-long partnership increases significantly when the couple has a shared meaning system encompassing their legacy – the stories they tell, their beliefs, values, and ethics.  The predictive couple success rate increases exponentially when couples agree on constructive ideology of what love is, how to rear their children and what constitutes a home.

For conflict management, it will benefit you to NOT only pay attention to how your partner deals with conflict in his/her family but in all aspects of his/her social interactions.  Be observant of the overall picture of conflicts your partner has in his/her social circle in terms of whether compromises can be reached, apologies given AND accepted, and there is damage control and repair when someone is hurt.  Family of origin conflicts often run deeply and the ritual of a family gathering can turn an innocent game of Monopoly into an expression of decades of past grudges.  As it is important to plan and set boundaries around family rituals, one would also benefit from doing the same in their relationship.  Healthy relationships are not expected to heal childhood wounds.

The following advice will serve to help couples contemplating being together forever and navigating through rough waters:

  1. Make sure you are friends.
  2. Make sure you like one another.
  3. Make sure you trust one another.
  4. Make sure you are fully committed to one another.
  5. Ensure you have a satisfying sex life.
  6. Make sure you can manage and resolve conflict constructively.
  7. Consult a mental health professional as an objective third-party on whether to continue or discontinue a relationship.


"Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works"
– Hebrews 10:24