When I was in my 20s I went to acting school in NYC. I had a terrible and abusive teacher whom I ended up despising. Despite that, she mentioned something one day that had a great influence on me. She was approaching her 35th wedding anniversary and offhandedly said that she and her husband renegotiated their marriage each year on their anniversary.
I loved the idea and 13 years later, when I started dating my husband, incorporated it on the anniversary of our first date.
So for our anniversary we have our “relationship summit” or our “State Of The Union” address. We talk about where we are and what we want and if changes need to be made. This can be anything from “I don’t want children, and if you do I love you and don’t want to deprive you of them, so maybe we should part ways” (dating anniversary #2), to “pick up your socks” (somewhere around wedding anniversary #3 or 4), to “I see recurring patterns that cause you suffering. And even though this isn’t about me, I don’t want to get to old age and still see you suffering. Will you please think about getting some counseling, for the both of us?” (last year).
But what’s more important is the time when we come to “I want to stay married to you for another year.” It really is optional. A few years ago when mid-life crisis hit my husband and I was afraid he was thinking about leaving I reminded him that he had re-upped for at least another 10 months and he owed it to me to hang and see if we could work it out. We did.
We shared this practice at our wedding, which was on our anniversary (which happens to be Valentine’s Day). We even had a wedding “intermission” where we went off into seclusion to do the summit. It was a great opportunity to be alone for 15 minutes and to really center ourselves.
I remember once talking to a younger person about it in our early years and he said “That’s great. That means you actually talk about stuff.” It may seem like an artifice but we do, indeed, talk about stuff. Usually over a nice dinner (before drinks). And it’s not just limited to that once a year.
A few weeks ago, after I had a disturbing dream where my husband told me he was leaving for greener pastures, I talked to him and said “I don’t want to be just the greener pasture, I want to be the greenest pasture. And I want you to think about it for our next summit.” These are the big issues. Ones that can’t be solved when things are heated and doors are slamming. Ones that won’t resolve themselves with makeup sex.
So even though that teacher wasn’t great she did teach me som’n. Wasn’t about acting but it was about life. And though I still wouldn’t thank her to her face I will spread her lesson. Think about it. It works for us. We’ve been together for 19 years now and married for 13 and I see a long future ahead. One that we’ll live without feeling terminally trapped but with freedom of choice.