When most people think about how they would like to describe their relationship, the word "routine" is often the last word they want to use. We often think of routines as boring and assume that if our relationship feels like a routine, it's a sign of trouble. Many people would prefer for their relationship to feel exciting, new and fresh instead. But I'm here to argue for the value of a routine. I'm a firm believer that if you have routines in your relationship it can actually lead to your relationship feeling less mundane and more alive.
Routines serve many purposes in our life. For as much criticism as they can garner, we literally cannot and do not function well without them. As much as most of us don't like working a 9-5 job, imagine how it would feel if you never knew when you were expected to start work until the last minute and didn't know when your shift would end. Sure, it can feel like a grind, but routines are in place so that we have predictability and security. If your morning routine is to drink a cup of coffee and you don't have it, you likely panic a little. If your routine is to listen to a book on tape before you fall asleep, you likely sleep better when you do that then if you don't. We all have routines and your relationship should too.
Here's the thing about relationships: they have to constantly adapt to the ups and downs of life and survive. This is a tall order when life throws curve balls at us all the time. The best way to ensure that your relationship can weather the storms that will inevitably come is to have a routine with your partner that you both enjoy or that makes you feel close to one another. At the risk of sparking a fierce debate, there is a lot to be said for religious couples who say that the reason their relationship is successful is because they put God first. Most religions involve a number of rituals and routines: prayer before meals or at regular intervals throughout the day, attending religious services the same day of the week, and specific holidays are just some examples. Don't get me wrong that there are lots of other perks if you and your partner both share the same spiritual/religious beliefs (such as similar values and connections to friends/family who likely also share the same beliefs to build a sense of community). But I believe that the number one reason (and what people really mean when they say they put God first) is that they have routines related to their religious beliefs that keep them bonded and connected. I remember growing up going to church and seeing the same couples in the same pews every Sunday. At one point as I got older, I remember thinking to myself how little I knew about their lives or their relationships such as whether they had gotten in a big fight the night before or if they felt distant from each other at home. But no matter what, there they were Sunday morning sitting side by side, engaging in a ritual that connected them to each other and to their higher power. It's a routine - and it works to keep relationships strong and consistent.
You and your partner likely have routines without even realizing it. Maybe you always kiss each other faithfully whenever you return home from work. More than likely, you probably have at least one TV show you watch together every week. It could be that you guys walk your dog together or order pizza every Saturday night while you watch a movie. It doesn't matter what it is - these are the building blocks for a solid relationship. I want to challenge you to push yourself and keep building routines into your relationship that feel valuable and important to the both of you. Have you both been wanting to exercise and get in shape? Set up a regular time and day to go to the gym and work out together. Did you guys used to go bowling all the time at the early stages of your relationship but now you haven't done it in years? Decide to do it again at least once a month.
You may be thinking, "Michelle, we're way too busy now. We have kids, we're older, we work opposite schedules at work, and this is not do-able." All that tells me is that you have made a routine out of everything else in your life except your relationship and that it's fallen to the bottom of the priority list. Creating a routine can be incredibly difficult and establishing daily or weekly routines might be a bit much if you and your partner really don't see each other that much. But with careful planning, get something going with your partner for at least once a month (a good strategy is to pick a recurring day, like the third Saturday of the month for example so you can plan multiple months out in advance). Write it on the calendar. Give yourself ample time to get things in order, like childcare, and get the ball rolling. Tell the people in your life that the two of you are starting something new together and get their support to help you. And here's the truth: routines don't have to take up much time. Slow dance together once a week before you go to bed for 3 minutes. Instead of having one of you read bedtime stories to the kids, do it as a team and both be there. Get up 10 minutes early so you have 10 extra minutes in the morning to sip coffee together before you both rush off to work. You may actually come to find that taking the time to establish routines saves you time in the long run because life flows easier when you know what to expect - and you've built a lot more quality into the time you spend with your partner when you do get it.
Finally, if you're thinking that routines just feel too "blah" and you hate routines in your life so why would you want them in your relationship, there is some serious reconsidering to do here. "Routine" does not mean "same". I know that's what you might think it means but actually it doesn't. You may choose to go for walks once a week but you can pick a different route every time. You may cook dinner together often, but you can mix it up by choosing different recipes. You don't have to watch the same movies over and over again or go to the same places. Explore, play, and have fun with whatever you and your partner do together on a regular basis. I highly recommend NOT doing the same thing for date night all the time but do highly recommend scheduling a consistent date night in the first place. I recommend trying new things together so that you can learn and grow while also making sure you reminisce and occasionally re-live what brought you together in the first place. Routines can actually keep your relationship feeling very new and interesting.
So whether you're just starting to establish a routine with your partner or want to re-vamp an old routine that's grown stale, get a routine going in your relationship that is anything but boring to the two of you and see how it feels. This is how to keep your connection going strong for years to come.