When was the last time you looked at your wedding day photos? It’s truly a trip down memory lane and an opportunity to transport yourself back into the moment. These beautiful images make two things very clear to me:
- We look like babies. Oh wow, we look so young.
- We had no idea what marriage was and what it would take to make it work.
This month, George and I will be married for 20 years. There were fleeting moments in our early years when I thought, “How can we keep doing this? We are so different.” And while we’re still different in many ways, now I say, “Well, we’re going to have to work through this.”
I view each anniversary as special as the first because it reminds me of what we’ve accomplished together. Year after year, we’ve built a ritual of reflecting and adjusting to keep us focused on one another. We reflect on what the purpose of our marriage is and how we can continue to nurture our relationship. Just because we hit 20 years doesn’t mean we’ve made it and can hit cruise control. Instead, each anniversary reminds us that we managed to love each other for the past 365 days.
We work together to have a healthy marriage, and that is worth celebrating.
Your anniversary is a good milestone to reflect on why you are together.
Flowers and cards are great to celebrate your anniversary, but this milestone is also a powerful time to reflect on the purpose of your relationship. Research findings (Ungar et al, 2021) suggest that couples who have joint goals (e.g., share a purpose) were linked with higher relationship satisfaction – it is important for couples to check in to see if they have shared goals and purpose. When was the last time you and your partner discussed your relationship’s purpose? Often, we get distracted by the busyness of life that we seldom pause to reflect. Remember, your relationship deserves attention and pause — use your anniversary as a time to reflect on why you’re together and identify areas that could use some attention.
If you attend one of our in-person or virtual couples workshops, you’ll hear George and I talk about Viktor Frankl. He was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor known for a bestseller book called Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl’s work illustrates that purpose makes a tremendous difference in our lives. Purpose influences our motivation and can help us endure some of the most difficult experiences. As you reflect, what is your purpose for finding someone to share your life with? Maybe you intuitively know that life is full of challenges, and while tough, there is comfort in knowing you don’t have to endure your hardships alone.
When it comes to being in a long-term, committed relationship, it is guaranteed that you and your partner will endure hardship. If you lack meaning in why you are together and what you are striving for, it will make it much more difficult to get through the hardship together. However, if you are mindful of your purpose of being together, you are more likely to be prepared when tough times happen. Your purpose provides a life preserver for hardship and helps deepen your relationship connection.
The relationship my husband and I have built is far from perfect, but it’s ours. This acknowledgment from us, two couples therapists, has never been more critical. We’ve put the work in and will continue to put in the work because each year we reflect on our purpose of being together and doing life side-by-side. And along the way, we’ve leaned into a few yearly anniversary questions that help us reflect and adjust.
6 questions to ask your spouse on your wedding anniversary
These six anniversary questions will guide you and your partner to define and evaluate your purpose together. There are multiple benefits to asking these questions, and your anniversary is a great time to do so. This is an excellent opportunity to tune in and listen to each other, hopefully distraction-free. You might be pleasantly surprised at the little ways you excite your partner!
These anniversary questions can also highlight your relationship’s strength and resiliency during the past year. Lastly, these questions are meant to foster gratitude – you can do hard things together, and love isn’t the only thing your relationship is made of.
Ensure that you can fully concentrate on each other with minimal interruptions. This means ensuring that kids are either asleep or under the care of a babysitter, putting your phones away, and not being at a sporting event. Begin by dedicating the first 10 minutes to individually review the questions. You can jot down notes or organize your thoughts in your mind, as this will prepare you for the next step where you’ll share your responses with your partner. Once both of you have had the opportunity to reflect on the questions, turn your attention towards each other and proceed to discuss each question together, taking turns discussing your answers.
- How have we changed this year?
- What obstacles have we gone through individually, and how has our relationship weathered them?
- What hardships have happened in our relationship? Did we resolve them? Or are there things we still need to work through?
- What turns me on about you after all these years together?
- What do we want to accomplish individually this next year? And as a couple?
- What three things do I appreciate about you?
Take notice of any sensations or gut reactions you have as you think about these questions. Try to describe those sensations and reactions to your partner and ask them what they are feeling, too. What feelings or sensations do you have in common? Are there some questions that you find more challenging than others to discuss with one another?
Reflections are meant to put your critical thinking skills to work. If, however, you feel stuck or these questions feel painful, that’s an important indication that your relationship may benefit from the support of a therapist.
When therapy can strengthen your marriage
It’s common for couples to get to a point in their relationship and wonder how they got there; it’s like driving to work on autopilot. Your attention can easily and understandably shift to other priorities — your career or otherwise. However, there are risks to not having a clear focus on and purpose for your relationship. Not having a clear purpose could increase feelings of disconnect. Over time, the disconnect can begin to feel unbearably lonely.
A licensed couples therapist can help you and your partner create a clear and concrete purpose for your relationship. Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started.
Footnotes: Ungar, N., Michalowski, V.I., Baehring, S. Pauly, T. Gerstorf, D, et. al. (2021). Joint goals in older couples: Associations with goal progress, allostatic load, and relationship satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, (12).