Time really does fly. We were looking forward to a significant anniversary—our 50th—in just a little more than a year. Like most couples, we'd always celebrated our anniversary—sometimes routinely, other times with more pizzazz. Fifty years, we agreed, deserved something special. So we decided to mark the occasion with 50 celebrations scattered over the 12 months prior to the "big" day.
That's a lot of celebrating! We wondered if we could come up with, or even afford, 50 celebrations in a single year. But we decided to put our reservations on the back burner and go for it.
After years of counseling married couples, we know that celebrations are at the heart of a lively relationship. Marriage researchers have found that for a lasting and satisfying relationship you need at least three or four positive experiences for every negative one, so you can't celebrate your marriage too often.
Frequent celebrations also add excitement to marriage—we always have something to anticipate. For example, one of our celebrations was a special evening of dinner and theater with our family. While the dinner was great and the play outstanding, a good part of the fun was planning the event and looking forward to how much we'd enjoy it.
Our experience turned us into zealous advocates of frequent celebrations as a way to add excitement and richness to our marriage. Here are some guidelines we discovered that make celebrations both doable and memorable.
Celebrations don't have to be expensive, elaborate, or exotic. To be sure, we had a few that were. Our final celebration involved taking an Alaskan cruise with our entire family. It was expensive. It required elaborate planning. And it was an exotic experience for all. However, many of our celebrations were quite simple and virtually cost free. Once we assembled a jigsaw puzzle together. When our kids were still at home, we often had a family puzzle in the works. So we decided to honor this tradition and try one as a couple. We ambitiously chose a puzzle that took a couple weeks to complete. Our struggle to find the right pieces gave us many hours to reflect and talk about our life together.
Another inexpensive celebration tapped into one of Bob's loves—cartoons. We took a recent issue of the New Yorker, which featured cartoons about marriage and relationships, to our local Starbuck's. While sipping coffee and munching cookies, we discussed the various cartoons: Why did or didn't we find them funny? Which two did we like the best? What did our choices say about our sense of humor? We had a fun afternoon and it cost little.
Make room for both planned and spontaneous celebrations. Many of our celebrations were planned. They involved scheduling, making reservations, or buying tickets. But we also enjoyed many spur-of-the-moment celebrations—such as the day we were about to fire up our computers and settle down to work when we both admitted we were feeling weary and uninspired.
"Let's celebrate by giving ourselves the day off," Jeanette suggested. I (Bob) agreed immediately, and we were off. We took a long walk, went to a movie, and out for dinner. It was a perfect celebration—an unexpected play day.
On another occasion, we were vacationing in Colorado Springs and had a free day with nothing special planned. Then we remembered the cog train that goes to the top of Pike's Peak. Bob confessed that for years he'd wanted to take this train. We enjoyed that day by journeying to the top of Pike's Peak and fulfilling Bob's dream. So whether planned or spontaneous—by chance or design—we celebrated.
Punctuate the fun times with celebrations that are affirming, inspiring, and helpful. To start our special year, Bob affirmed me (Jeanette) in a poem: "To Love and To Cherish." Later in the year, I celebrated Bob with a surprise love letter. In addition to affirming each other, we decided to acknowledge people who'd influenced our lives. We invited a couple who'd been key to our spiritual growth to join us for lunch. We told them the meal was an expression of our gratitude for what they meant to us, and presented them with a letter that detailed their contributions to our lives.
As another celebration we sent a check to an organization—Hope Unlimited—that rescues street children in Brazil. We regularly support this group but wanted to celebrate by doing something more. In our accompanying letter, we explained that this extra gift was in gratitude to God for our marriage.
Reminisce about your life and your future together. When we assembled the jigsaw puzzle, we recalled fondly how each of us and our three children would work on a puzzle individually or in pairs until it was finished. You can also plan celebrations that focus entirely on your relationship. Unearth your wedding album or wedding video and spend an evening remembering your early years as a couple. Over a special dinner talk about the difficult times you've had and how those times helped strengthen and solidify your relationship. And reserve time to dream about your future.
Create a journal and/or scrapbook of your celebrations. We wanted a record of our year of celebrations, so we wrote a short paragraph about each event, took a ton of photos, and collected menus, ticket stubs, copies of letters. We've saved all this memorabilia in an album entitled, "50 Celebrations for 50 Years Together." It sits on our coffee table to remind us of the joy we share and the need for continued celebration.
How about you? Rejoice in your relationship. Don't wait for milestone anniversaries. Celebrate now! Celebrate often! Find any excuse and revel in your marriage.
Jeanette and Robert Lauer are marriage counselors and authors of for Better and Better and True Intimacy (both Abingdon).
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.