Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Marriage Anniversaries Deserve More Attention

November 26, 2001

What did you do for your last anniversary? Do you remember?

In our marriage and family we do a pretty fair job of celebrating birthdays, Christmas and special holidays. One area of neglect has been our anniversary. We haven’t put it in the limelight for ourselves, for our children or our friends to recognize.

We got off to a bad start. During graduate school and afterwards, it seemed like we were apart for our anniversary more than we were together. Even when our summer routine was somewhat coordinated, we scrambled at the last minute, acknowledged the day privately, and celebrated without much imagination or verve.

This coming year will be different. Thanks in part goes to a talk by William Doherty at the Smart Marriages conference held this past July in Orlando, FL. We are also using ideas from a chapter in his book, "Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart."

Honoring marriage. Doherty emphasizes the importance of regular rituals as a way of strengthening marriage. The biggest ritual to honor marriage is the anniversary date of the marriage. Most people put effort into the big anniversaries like the 1st, 25th or 50th. Doherty recommends that every anniversary stand out as a private, family and cultural symbol of the importance of marriage in our lives.

Doherty and his wife Leah had the same pattern of neglect toward their anniversary as do the majority of us. Then he and his wife became quite intentional and deliberate in developing new traditions and rituals as a part of their anniversary day. This celebration was no longer ordinary but "over the top" in terms of intensity and imagination. They made the celebration of their anniversary a public statement about the importance and honor they give to their marriage. They liberally share their anniversary plans and experiences with children, extended family, friends, and with members of their religious and work communities.

Anniversaries aren’t the only days to celebrate marriage. Valentine’s Day, New Years Eve, birthdays, and anniversaries of first meetings or first dates are other times when couples intentionally honor each other and their relationship. Valentine’s Day is important because that is when our whole culture takes time to recognize love, romance and marriage.

Tips for celebration. Here are some of Doherty’s suggestions on how to put spark into our anniversaries.

- Plan in advance. Be flexible in scheduling the date. The actual celebration of the anniversary doesn’t have to be on the exact date. Just as many families learn to be flexible around Christmas and other holidays, the anniversary celebration can be moved to a convenient time to allow for logistics and creativity

- Make it memorable. Plan a special date or an anniversary getaway trip or weekend. Spending extended time together away from job and family pressures revitalizes marriage. With forethought, the day can be special and full of meaning and memories.

- Remind others about it. Let others know what you are doing and the specialness of how you have celebrated. Many times children are too busy and wrapped up in their own lives to notice or care about their parent’s anniversary. They need to be made aware of the effort that goes into marriage. Likewise, telling others reaffirms the value you place on marriage and how central it is to each partner’s life and happiness.

- Use multiple ways of celebrating. Pull out all the stops with well chosen cards, hand written sentiments, verbal appreciation, a special embrace, toasts and well thought out gifts. The more reminders the better. Ritualize the day and re-enact them every year. Ritualize the day and repeat certain activities every year.

- Take turns expressing appreciation for your spouse and marriage. Anniversary celebrations aren’t meant to be one-sided - planned and carried out by one partner only. Monitor your level of shared responsibility. Defining and agreeing on the rituals of the day helps the event to be a proportional and shared experience. Don’t surprise your spouse. He or she needs to be equally prepared to match your effort. With time for preparation, the sentiments expressed can be heartfelt and eloquent with the right things being said.

- Use the time for reflection and sharing dreams. Share favorite stories from your history of marital history. Discuss your hopes and dreams for the future. Don’t discuss problems or try to resolve conflict. There are plenty of other days for that. Your reflections should be about the positive things you have created together.

- On occasion, share anniversaries with other couples. Share how you met, honeymoon adventures, special anniversaries and some of the landmark events that have endeared you to each other. Faith communities can help bring couples together to share stories of each other’s marriages and learn how distinctive and special marriage is and can be.