Wednesday, June 6, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Milestones

This week my wife and I celebrated our tenth anniversary. It's kind of hard to wrap my head around. We've been married for ten years. That's an entire decade. Next year I'll have to use my toes to keep track of my marriage. This called for something special to mark the passing of the first of many decades. And naturally, that involved the spending of a bit of money.

But before you think this is a rant against being forced to spend money for made-up occasions (that's Arbor Day) I was more than happy to splurge for one simple reason. In relationships, we need to mark the milestones. We need to take time to look back at where we've been so we can then look forward to where we are going. Celebrating birthdays and anniversaries is very important to the life of your relationship. It's also important to celebrate the fact that you still have a relationship.

When relationships are just starting out, you're often not thinking about anniversaries. And by you, I mean the guys. Often it's your girlfriend who will be the one to remind you that tomorrow is the three month anniversary of the first time you both held hands. For you, it's another day, but for her, it's something you two better celebrate or else. And yes, that was a threat.

I realize that it's a common cliche that men are always forgetting these important occasions, because I know just as many men who are more than happy to celebrate any and all anniversaries and special occasions. Women can be just as baffled by the notion of taking time out of a day to celebrate something that happened a while back that she's already forgotten about but he apparently didn't. Either way, whatever the gender of the baffled partner, it's important for everyone to understand the need to celebrate an anniversary.

It's no different than when we celebrate New Year's. We look back at the previous year, marvel at all that happened, then look forward to the next one and hope it's even better. (Or at least not worse.) An anniversary, or any milestone in a relationship, is a moment when you both have a chance to take stock of the situation and appreciate this relationship we're in.

It could be the anniversary of your first date, first kiss, when you got engaged, when you both spent that night in jail for something you still don't remember clearly but you're sure there's pictures on the internet somewhere.  For married people such as myself, it's the date of the wedding. (For those of you married more than once, make sure you remember the most current wedding date.)

On those days, we look back on how it all started. We try to remember who we were back then and how much has changed about us, our lives, and our relationship. We remember the good times and bad, the struggles to stay afloat and those incredible moments we will treasure forever. Most of all, we celebrate one thing: we survived it all and are still together.

As hard as relationships are, as difficult as it seems to keep a marriage together, celebrating your relationship's continued existence should be a priority. It's like soldiers gathering together at the end of a long and brutal campaign. They may have been to hell and back, but they're still there and ready to party. They want to celebrate how far they've come and look forward to better days. And yes, I am equating a long-lasting relationship to surviving a war.

After all, every day the two of you face battle for your relationship. You might have to fight for time together because your jobs, families, friends, and hobbies all seem to want all your time and you've none left for each other. You have to do battle when disaster strikes, be it financial or mother nature. You might have to do battle with family members or friends who are more interested in causing trouble for your relationship than in seeing it succeed. You may also have to do battle with yourselves, your baggage, inner demons, faults, neurosis, and every other issue that threatens to break you two apart.

But you fight back, you tackle each problem, you make your relationship a priority and endure those tough times because you know that nothing is more important than each other. You make sacrifices, you learn to be a better person, you change in grow in ways you can't even imagine. You survive the dark times and enjoy the good times. You learn to live in the moment and plan for the future.

And you realize something. It never stops. You never stop fighting for your relationship. You never stop learning and growing. This is going to continue until either you call it quits or one of you dies. Yes, that's what "happily ever after" looks like.

Sometimes we can get so focused on keeping the relationship strong that we forget why we're doing it in the first place. Why do we fight? Why do we endure so much for this person? When we take time out to celebrate, when we commemorate another year, it gives us a break, it gives us time to remember that we do love this person, that we want to spend the rest of our lives together, and all the work and effort is worth it.

It gives us a chance to celebrate that struggle and experience the spoils. Our celebration is a reward for a job well done. It's a time to appreciate that it's not always tough, it's not always a fight. We do the work so that we can have these good times together, so we can enjoy being together and experience life with someone we truly love.

We can also take stock about where we want to go. We've gone this far, be it a month, a year, a decade, or even longer. Where do we go from here? Are we getting more serious? Do we have any long term goals? Do we want to travel? Is it time to start thinking about a family? Or increasing the family you already have?

Whether it's a breather, a celebration you are still together, a time to reflect back or look ahead, your anniversaries are important milestones that you should observe. They matter, and it's worth it to go to some effort to commemorate the occasion. Whether it's a big celebration with family, a quiet getaway, or both, it's a great way to close the first part of your relationship and open the second.

If you have an anniversary coming up, and that would be all of you, start thinking about how to make it special. It's more than worth it.

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