My wife, Erin, and I have been married for 25 years, 27 days and about 14 hours (give or take). The year was 1992, and we were married on May 30 — missing America’s most popular marriage month, June, by just two days.
Although June continues to be the month-of-choice for brides, it’s the wedding budget that has changed the most. Today, the average bride and groom (and their average, understanding parents) spend $26,720 on their wedding. I understand that extravagant ceremonies balloon that figure a bit and most couples pay out less than $10,000 — but that’s still a lot. So we reason that it’s an important day, right?
If the wedding day is so important, then how important should the following anniversary days be to a husband and wife? What do we typically do for a run-of-the-mill anniversary — not a biggie, like 10 or 25 years, but, say, seven or 17? A card? A small dinner? Do we remember it at all?
We need to change that. Celebrating an anniversary shows that our marriage is a priority in our life. It gives us a chance to pull back from the daily grind and relive a moment that changed our life forever.
Marking the date helps us remember the past in a positive light. Believe it or not, our memories change over time. Our past is colored by our present. We convince ourselves to remember some events and forget others. What we choose to focus on can have a huge impact on our marriage.
Anniversaries also help us create new memories and traditions. Some couples might make a sort of relational pilgrimage back to where they took their first date or shared their first kiss. Others might adhere to the traditional anniversary gifts (giving something made of paper for your first anniversary, cotton for the second, etc.) These rituals take on deeper meaning as time goes on — and they can become memories and milestones that couples lean on when times get rough.
So what might a great anniversary celebration look like? Let me give you a few suggestions:
Woo your spouse all over again. Do something different and make it special. Act like it’s your first date and you’re gunning for a second. Take the day off work. Make plans or reservations ahead of time. Dress up. Put on some cologne or perfume. Flirt. Show your spouse that he or she is truly the love of your life.
Spend money. Our spending choices often reflect what we truly value: Show that you value your marriage. Take a trip. Stay at a nice hotel. Buy a special gift. Be a little lavish. Show your spouse that he or she truly is more precious to you than gold (or greenbacks).
Reminisce. Remember a romantic walk in the rain? Being carried over the threshold of your first house? The birth of your first child? Anniversaries are the perfect time to remember the precious times you’ve spent together. Tell stories. Watch that grainy wedding video. Look at old photos. Dance to your favorite songs.
Reminiscing isn’t just about honoring the past; it’s about the present, too, because it points out just how far you’ve come as a couple and how good you are together. It can also inspire you to anticipate a brighter future — hope that more special memories await just around the corner.
Get gritty. Anyone who’s been married for any length of time knows marriage isn’t solely filled with rose-colored memories. The Bible explicitly tells us that problems are a part of marriage: 1 Corinthians 7:28 (NIV) says: “Those who marry will face many troubles in this life.” As annoying as those troubles are, they give your marriage “grit” — the ability to weather obstacles as a couple. Ask each other how your marriage is stronger because of what you’ve been through together. Remembering difficult times can also remind you that God’s been with you, and that your relationship is a part of God’s divine story line. Even those trials are part of that story, and hopefully they’ve helped — and are helping — you both become more Christ-like.
Affirm each other. Tell your spouse why you’re so grateful that he or she is a part of your life. Explain how marriage has helped you. Describe what you value about your spouse — the things that make him or her so special. Do you love her eyes? Do you like how he hums when he makes coffee? Do you value how she never crumbles under pressure, or how he knows just what to say when you’ve had a bad day? Whatever is praiseworthy about your spouse, tell him or her. Anniversaries are a time for praise. Focus, too, on each other’s positive growth — how you’ve worked hard to become more compatible over time. That effort should be honored, especially on an anniversary.
Show gratitude. This is closely linked with the point above, but there is a subtle difference: Affirmation would say, “I love the way you make me feel after a hard day at work,” while gratitude would add: “And I thank you for that.” Thank God for your spouse, too.
Inspect. The old axiom “If you’re not growing, you’re dying” is also true for marriage — and anniversaries can be great opportunities to reflect on whether you, and your relationship, are growing. Review the previous year. Ask each other, “What did we do really well last year in our marriage that we should keep doing?” “What should we change?” “What would make our marriage stronger?”
Bring in the family. We often think of anniversaries as just time for husband and wife. And yes, alone time with your significant other is critical. But don’t forget how important your children and your extended family are to your relationship. Set aside a time to celebrate with them, as well. And while you’re at it, encourage them to answer questions like, “What are your favorite things about our marriage?” Or, “What do you see in our marriage that you might want to imitate someday?”
Anniversaries can be truly special times for married couples. When you take the time to celebrate with your husband or wife, you’ll help ensure many more anniversaries to come.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.