Editor’s Note: Strong relationships are at the core of a happy life, but sometimes, dealing with the people in our lives is tricky. That’s why Thrive Global partnered with The Gottman Institute on this advice column, Asking for a Friend. Every week, Gottman’s relationship experts will answer your most pressing questions about navigating relationships—with romantic partners, family members, coworkers, friends, and more. Have a question? Send it to [email protected]!

Q:  My partner and I have very different morning routines, and it’s caused a bit of frustration for me. I prefer getting up early, making coffee and breakfast, and reading the news. His routine is to sleep in and not get ready until the very last minute (we both leave for work around the same time). He’s mentioned that my routine, which can be “loud,” can sometimes interfere with his sleeping in. Is there a way for us to compromise? (P.S. I think it would benefit him to wake up much earlier!) — K.O.

A:  It sounds like you’re an early bird and he’s a late riser, which results in a frustrating morning routine, all around.  

You’re right! There are advantages to waking up early and getting ready for one’s day! And it is frustrating to feel like you have to tiptoe around to do so.

But he’s right too! Some people have difficulty waking and need the extra sleep. It’s annoying for them when their partners make a bunch of noise in the wee hours.

You could simply seek a compromise to make life go better, but I see your dilemma as an opportunity to build a “ritual of connection” that could make this part of your life together more enjoyable.

Dr. William Doherty describes “rituals of connection” in his book The Intentional Family. Partners create rituals in their relationships to connect with each other in ways that promote friendship, emotional intimacy, romance, and meaning. In his groundbreaking research, John Gottman found that couples who have rituals have happier relationships.

Some examples of rituals of connection are:

  • A weekly date night doing things you love
  • A daily walk to catch up after work
  • Sunday mornings relaxing at your favorite coffee shop  

Rituals are “your things” that you do together that define your relationship. They involve a blend of your different needs, which results in more satisfying ways to be together. Partners who are conscious of how they are and are not connecting find ways to build rituals that make life more satisfying and meaningful. You need your early morning hours to go better.

Here’s how to create a new ritual for your morning routine.

1. Be honest about your concern and share your positive needs

Partners who honestly share their concerns about the ways they are or are not connecting are more likely to work together to build rituals that create a more satisfying relationship.

Say something like, “I think we could do better with each other on workday mornings. I am tired of the friction between us around the sleep issue. I am wondering if we could talk more about that, and figure something out that works better for both of us.”  

Positive needs that begin with “I” are easier to hear than critical remarks that start with the word “you.” Don’t say, “You are so difficult in the morning. What’s wrong with you that you cannot get out of bed?!”

Instead, focus on what you need: “I want things to feel more positive between us in the morning. I want to feel like I can do what I need to do to get ready for the day without annoying you. I want to connect with you some before we go off to work.”  

2. Ask about, understand, and accept his needs

When we listen to our partners, understanding and acceptance promote constructive dialogues.

Hear him out. Accept his needs as valid for him. You are different from him. You wake up very easily. You function well when you do. That works differently for him. If you want him to collaborate, accept this.

3. Be open and creative, and create a ritual

To build a ritual of connection, partners should open, creative, and kind.

Think about ways you can address your common needs and build a bridge between your differences

Figure out how you can both be respect and respond to your common and different needs in the morning. Look for opportunities to bridge the gap between you. Answer questions like who, what, where, when, and how to determine how to make this ritual a part of your life together.

Think about all the options: Can you partly get ready for work the night before, so you don’t have to move around quite so much in the morning? Can he wake up 15 minutes earlier so you have some time together before you go to work? Can you have coffee and breakfast waiting for him to help him wake? Can he hold you or sit with you, even if he is not ready to chat much? Can he help by agreeing to do the dishes before he leaves or when he gets home?

Write down a plan to make the ritual a part of your daily routine. See how it goes and modify it, together, as you need to.

Being conscious of how they are connecting helps partners to build rituals that help them to change problematic interactions into opportunities to be close.

Read more “Asking for a Friend” columns here, and follow us on Facebook for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.