Participants with relationship rituals reported … being more invested, more committed, more grateful, feeling closer to their partner, and perceiving that their partners were more responsive. … The benefits of relationship rituals emerge only when both members of the couple agree on that ritual.


The Happy Consumer: Psychological, Financial, and Relational Well-being

Paper #4: Rituals and Nuptials: Relationship Rituals Predict Relationship Satisfaction

Ximena Garcia-Rada, Harvard University, USA, Ovul Sezer, University of North Carolina, USA Michael I. Norton, Harvard University, USA

Across three studies, we show that endorsement of relationship
rituals is associated with greater romantic relationship satisfaction,
and that increased commitment to the relationship mediates this
positive association. Additionally, we document a critical facet that
predicts the psychological impact of relationship rituals: that they are
held consensually.

Rituals are pervasive in a myriad of social relationships: from
religious gatherings to business meetings, rituals are central to social
connection (Durkheim, 1912; Goffman, 1967). In sports, fans may
engage in pregame rituals to send good vibes to their teams. In business,
group members may develop their ritualistic activities to empower
themselves before a long day at work. Whether through weddings
or funerals, families also engage in rituals to wish happiness
to newlyweds, or to pay their respects to lost ones. We empirically
explore the potential benefits of rituals in another important social
context: romantic relationships. We propose that couples who enact
relationship rituals – from weekly date nights to cooking together to
bedroom activities – experience greater relationship satisfaction, in
part because commitment to enacting rituals manifests in commitment
to the relationship. We test this prediction in three studies that
examine the relationship between rituals and relationship satisfaction and find that rituals boost commitment in turn leading to greater
relationship satisfaction (Studies 1-3). Additionally, we show that
consensual endorsement between partners about their rituals predicts
relationship satisfaction (Study 2) and distinguish rituals from
routines (Study 3).

In Study 1, we examine whether engaging in relationship
rituals is associated with greater relationship satisfaction (N=201;
Mage=37.18 years, SD=12.10; 59% male). Participants completed
a questionnaire that had two sections: a section asking them to report
whether they engaged in a relationship ritual with their current/
most recent partner, and a section with a series of relationship quality
measures (investment model scale – Rusbult; Martz & Agnew 1998;
gratitude –Algoe et al. 2010; perceived partner responsiveness –Caprariello
and Reis 2011; closeness – Aron, Aron, and Smollan 1992).
Because asking about rituals could lead participants with relationship
rituals to recall positive memories or feel regret if they do not
have rituals, we randomly assigned participants to either describe
their rituals first and then report relationship satisfaction, or the reverse.

We observe that rituals in romantic relationships are ubiquitous:
57% of participants reported engaging in rituals. More importantly,
we find that participants with rituals reported greater relationship satisfaction
(M=6.98, SD=1.80) than those without a ritual (M=5.93,
SD=2.28; b=1.05, SE=.29, t(199)=3.64, p<.001). There was no effect
of order of the sections nor was an effect of type of ritual, suggesting
that having a ritual may be more important than the specific form
that ritual takes. We also observe that participants with relationship
rituals reported having fewer alternatives to the relationship, being
more invested, more committed, more grateful, feeling closer to their
partner, and perceiving that their partners were more responsive (all
ps<.05); all effects hold when controlling for relationship length and
marital status and when re-running analyses only with participants
who were currently in a romantic relationship. Finally, we find that
commitment mediates the relationship between rituals and satisfaction
(ab=1.08, SE=.25, CI [.59, 1.59]).

Study 2 was identical to Study 1 with one key difference: we recruited
one hundred and eight romantic dyads using Qualtrics panel
data (N=216; Mage=56.48 years; SD=13.13; 48% male). We replicate
findings from Study 1 and show that individuals who engaged
in relationship rituals are more satisfied and that the relationship is
mediated by commitment (all analyses involved actor-partner interdependence models: ps<.10). We then analyzed responses within-
dyads and assessed partners’ agreement on whether they had a
ritual: both members of the dyad reported having a ritual (n=55),
both members of the dyad reported not having a ritual (n=33),
and members of the dyad disagreed on whether they have a ritual
(n=20). We created a score of dyad satisfaction by averaging relationship
satisfaction ratings provided by both members; agreement
within the dyad had a significant effect on relationship satisfaction
(F(2, 105)= 3.97, p=.022). Bonferroni post-hoc tests revealed that
couples that reported having a ritual were marginally more satisfied
in their relationship (M=8.05, SD=1.23) than couples that reported
not having a ritual (M=7.32, SD=2.06, p=.092) or couples that disagreed
(M=7.11, SD=1.18, p=.058); the latter two groups did not
differ (p>.250). These results suggest that the benefits of relationship
rituals emerge only when both members of the couple agree on that

In Study 3, we investigate differences between relationship rituals
and routines and show that rituals are conceptually distinct, and
lead to psychologically different outcomes. Participants were asked
to report whether they had a relationship ritual and a relationship
routine, and after answered the same relationship quality measures
(N=404; Mage=37.40 years, SD=11.36; 47% male). We observe
that participants engaged in both activities: 74% reported having a
relationship ritual and 81% reported having a relationship routine.
We replicate our previous findings showing that participants who engage
in rituals were more satisfied with their relationship (b=1.24,
SE=.22, t(402)=5.76, p<.001), but found only a marginal effect for
routines (b=.41, SE=.25, t(402)=1.66, p=.099). We then entered rituals
and routines in the same model simultaneously predicting relationship
satisfaction and found that rituals were significantly associated
greater satisfaction (b=1.22, SE=.22, t(401)=5.51, p<.001) but
routines were not (b=.11, SE=.25, t(401)=.44, p=.658).

Taken together, our results suggest that couples that adhere to
relationship rituals – are more satisfied. Our work makes several
contributions to research on shared experiences and interpersonal rituals.
First, our findings contribute to prior research that demonstrates
that shared experiences lead to greater satisfaction (Boothby, Clark,
& Bargh, 2014), enhance social relationships (Gilovich, Kumar, &
Jampol, 2015) and drive more coherent and positive retrospection
of experiences (Ramanathan & McGill, 2007). We show that relationship
rituals are associated with greater relationship satisfaction,
especially when partners agree on their ritual, suggesting that sharing
an experience (Belk, 2009; Caprariello & Reis, 2013; Kumar
& Gilovich, 2015) is particularly important in making interpersonal
rituals an effective social cohesion tool. Second, we identify the
psychological mechanism that underlies the association between relationship
rituals and relationship satisfaction by shedding light on
the importance of greater commitment in relationships. Relationship
rituals are effective because they amplify partners’ commitment to
relationships, as with other research suggesting that rituals foster
feelings of bonding with group members (Durkheim, 1912; Spoor &
Kelly, 2004; Xygalatas et al., 2013).

Paper 1
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly and Reed Larson (1987), “Validity and
Reliability of the Experience-Sampling Method,” Journal of
Nervous and Mental Disease, 175 (9), 526–36.
Dunn, Elizabeth W. and Michael Norton (2013), Happy Money:
The Science of Smarter Spending, New York: Simon &
Dunn, Elizabeth W., Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson
(2011), “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You
Probably Aren’t Spending It Right,” Journal of Consumer
Psychology, 21 (2), 115-25.
Gilovich, Thomas, Amit Kumar, and Lily Jampol, L. (2015), “A
wonderful life: Experiential consumption and the pursuit of
happiness,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(1), 152-65.
Labroo, Aparna A. and Vanessa M. Patrick (2008), “Psychological
Distancing: Why Happiness Helps You See the Big Picture,”
Journal of Consumer Research, 35 (5), 800-9.
Van Boven, Leaf and Thomas Gilovich (2003), “To Do or To
Have? That Is the Question,” Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 85 (6), 1193-202.
Updegraff, John A. and Eunkook M. Suh (2007), “Happiness is
a Warm Abstract Thought: Self-Construal Abstractness and
Subjective Well-Being,” Journal of Positive Psychology, 2 (1),
Asia-Pacific Conference of the Association for Consumer Research (Volume 12) / 33

Paper 2
Canova, Luigina, Anna Maria Manganelli Rattazzi, and Paul
Webley (2005), “The Hierarchical Structure of Saving
Motives,” Journal of Economic Psychology, 26 (1), 21-34.
Carter, Travis J., and Thomas Gilovich (2010), “The Relative
Relativity of Material and Experiential Purchases,” Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (1), 146-59.
Ksendzova, Masha, Grant E. Donnelly, and Ryan T. Howell (2017),
“A Brief Money Management Scale and its Associations
with Personality, Financial Health and Hypothetical Debt
Repayment,” Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning 28
(1), 62-75.
Kumar, Amit, Matthew A. Killingsworth, and Thomas Gilovich
(2014), “Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of
Experiential and Material Purchases,” Psychological Science,
25 (10), 1924-931.
Ryan, Richard M. and Edward L. Deci (2001), “On Happiness and
Human Potentials: A Review of Research on Hedonic and
Eudaimonic Well-Being,” Annual Review of Psychology, 52
(1), 141-66.
Tully, Stephanie M., and Eesha Sharma (in press), “Context-
Dependent Drivers of Discretionary Debt Decisions:
Explaining Willingness to Borrow for Experiential Purchases,”
Journal of Consumer Research.
Xiao, Jing J., and Franziska E. Noring (1994), “Perceived Saving
Motives and Hierarchical Financial Needs,” Financial
Counseling and Planning, 5 (1), 25-44.
Xiao, Jing J., Benoit Sorhaindo, and E. Thomas Garman (2006),
“Financial Behaviors of Consumers in Credit Counseling,”
International Journal of Consumer Studies, 30 (2), 108-21.

Paper 3
Dew, Jeffrey (2007), “Two Sides of the Same Coin? The Differing
Roles of Assets and Consumer Debt in Marriage,” Journal of
Family and Economic Issues, 28 (1), 89-104.
Fletcher, Garth J.O., Jeffry A. Simpson, and Geoff Thomas
(2000), “The Measurement of Perceived Relationship Quality
Components: A Confirmatory Factor Analytic Approach,”
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26 (3), 340-54.
Mogilner, Cassie (2010), “The Pursuit of Happiness: Time, Money,
and Social Connection,” Psychological Science, 21 (9), 1348-
Rick, Scott I., Deborah A. Small, and Eli J. Finkel (2011), “Fatal
(Fiscal) Attraction: Spendthrifts and Tightwads in Marriage,”
Journal of Marketing Research, 48 (2), 228-37.
Smock, Pamela J., Wendy D. Manning, and Meredith Porter (2005),
“Everything’s There Except Money”: How Money Shapes
Decisions to Marry among Cohabitors,” Journal of Marriage
and Family, 67 (3), 680-96.
Vohs, Kathleen D. (2015), “Money Priming Can Change People’s
Thoughts, Feelings, Motivations, and Behaviors: An Update
on 10 Years of Experiments,” Journal of Experimental
Psychology: General, 144 (4), e86-e93.
Vohs, Kathleen D., Nicole L. Mead, and Miranda R. Goode (2006),
“The Psychological Consequences of Money,” Science, 314
(5802), 1154-56.

Paper 4
Algoe, Sara B., Shelly L. Gable, and Natalya C. Maisel (2010),
“It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for
romantic relationships,” Personal Relationships, 17(2), 217-
Aron, Arthur, Elaine N. Aron, and Danny Smollan (1992),
“Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale and the structure of
interpersonal closeness,” Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 63(4), 596.
Belk, Russell (2009), “Sharing,” Journal of Consumer Research,
36(5), 715-734.
Boothby, Erica J., Margaret S. Clark, John A. Bargh (2014),
“Shared experiences are amplified,” Psychological Science,
25(12), 2209-16.
Caprariello, Peter A. and Harry T. (2011). Perceived partner
responsiveness minimizes defensive reactions to failure,’
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(4), 365-372.
Caprariello, Peter A. and Harry T. (2013), “To do, to have, or to
share? Valuing experiences over material possessions depends
on the involvement of others,” Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 104(2), 199-215.
Durkheim, E. (1912). The Elementary Forms of the Relligious Life:
New York: Free Press.
Goffman, Erving (1967), “On face-work,” Interaction ritual, 5-45.
Kumar, Amit and Thomas Gilovich (2015), “Some “thing” to talk
about? Differential story utility from experiential and material
purchases,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2014),
Household Saving Rates. http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/
Ramanathan, Suresh and Anne L. McGill (2007), “Consuming
with others: Social influences on moment-to-moment and
retrospective evaluations of an experience,” Journal of
Consumer Research, 34(4), 506-524.
Rusbult, C. E., Martz, J. M., & Agnew, C. R. (1998). The
investment model scale: Measuring commitment level,
satisfaction level, quality of alternatives, and investment size.
Personal Relationships, 5(4), 357-87.
Spoor, Jennifer R. and Janice R. Kelly (2004), “The evolutionary
significance of affect in groups: Communication and group
bonding,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 7(4), 398-
Xygalatas, D., Mitkidis, P., Fischer, R., Reddish, P., Skewes, J.,
Geertz, A. W., .Bulbulia, J. (2013). Extreme rituals promote
prosociality. Psychological Science, 24 (8), 1602-605.