How we’re renegotiating our marriage with our yearly “relationship summit”

Guest post by Cassandra Complex

Let's meet at 12:30 to discuss our relationship! (Photo by: marc falardeau - CC BY 2.0)
Let’s meet at 12:30 to discuss our relationship! (Photo by: marc falardeauCC BY 2.0)
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.

Comments on How we’re renegotiating our marriage with our yearly “relationship summit”

  1. My husband and do something similar on New Year Eve or New Years Day, every year. We talk about and make a list of what we want to accomplish over the next year personally, things we would like to work on together and then things that need attention around our home.
    We don’t get to everything on our lists but it can help us stay focused on the things that are truly important. We usually print the list off and pin it up in our house so that it gets reviewed and then we can cross some things off as they are taken care of or it is a good reminder of jobs or goals we want to accomplish. From year to year we can change what we want and talk about why something has changed for us.
    I love that we take the time to start out each year with a plan.

    • My partner and I do a mini version of this on a weekly or monthly basis. We are in a long distance relationship so we try to find interesting ways to stay close, keep communication open, and make sure we’re on the same page about things. We send each other “life goal” lists that we continuously update, change, organize, erase, etc. It’s a great way to see our progress and remember what we were thinking about when we made the goals. My list has things like pet a tiger, ride in a hot air balloon, finish my degree, go sky diving, etc. It’s awesome to see so many things checked off that we accomplished together (like traveling out of the country, and getting scuba certified (me) and scuba certifying someone (him.)

  2. My 9th grade English teacher turned me on to this idea of an annual re-upping of your marriage contract.
    Six years into my relationship with my husband and I am eternally grateful to her (and surprised my 14-year-old self paid attention and took heart to such an offhand conversation).
    I think we don’t take anything for granted when we’re so acutely aware of how finite our relationship might be.

  3. This is WONDERFUL. I’m not married so I might be talking out of my ass here, but it seems that a lot of divorce comes about when people go into marriage thinking they’re going to be in love for the rest of their lives, or that they’re going to want to stay married for the rest of the lives…but for most human beings, this just isn’t possible. Your yearly summit idea takes the pressure off of that idea and makes it WAY more reasonable! What’s wrong with taking a marriage in yearly increments?

  4. This is an interesting idea, but I’m curious – do you have mini-summits throughout the year?

    I’m a newlywed, but I’ve known my husband for 10 years. We started connecting because we would lay on a couch/bed close together and talk quietly, intimately about our feelings and issues bothering us. We’d talk each other through solutions and come to compromises.

    We still do this – but usually it’s a smaller fight that spawns it. It’s productive, but I hate that it starts off on the wrong foot.

    Right now, we’ve had a lot of dramatic changes in the past month – and I can’t imagine waiting a year to talk stuff over.

    • I would not wait a year to talk something through. We have a no drama policy in our relationship and that includes bitchy blow ups. Our rule is that you must speak up about something that is bothering you before you blow up about it. That does not mean it is going to get resolved right away but we try to come up with a solution and talk it through. We are both very pretty relaxed people as well so the fact that we have not had a fight in the 7 years we have been together might be connected to being relaxed but I feel like going into it with a no drama policy really helped.

      • We have a no-drama policy too. We’ll celebrate our 18th anniversary in March! In all, we’ve been together 20 years. We had a lot of struggles in the beginning – dirt poor (seriously), I had problems with my body (another long story) – and unlike most of my married girlfriends my parents lived on the other side of the country. I couldn’t run home to my mom and dad when I was upset. We had to work it out.

        Then we got couple’s counseling somewhere around our 5th wedding anniversary. And that helped us talk to each other even better.

        In the last year we really started to figure out even better ways of talking about things. It’s not like we have a lot of problems we just have a couple that need constant work (he clams up, I want to talk blah blah blah).

        I like the idea of the summit as well as “mini-summits as needed” because it can bring the couple together and set goals and such for the next year. I like this. And it can spark even more conversation as the year goes on.

        Great post! (And good luck, newlywed! Just remember to always communicate when you’re not angry.)

  5. My husband and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary and did something similar. I made an annual review where we ranked each other on the promises we made in our wedding vows and added a comment section where we added marriage objectives for next year. There was also a highlights suggestion where we each wrote our favorite memories from our first year of marriage. It started as a bit of a joke but it was good to see where we were succeeding at supporting each other, and where we would like our marriage to improve.

  6. Our pastor recommended something similar to this during our wedding counseling. It was more of a marriage contract (his words), where we would write down:
    1. What I wanted in the next year.
    2. What I wanted for my husband in the next year.
    3. What I wanted for our kids in the next year.

    We are to both write down our ideas, and share them afterwards for discussion. I love that it gives us attainable and reasonable goals to work for, giving us focus for each year.

  7. I’m sure that you talk about these things day to day, and work things out as they come. I can totally see the value of periodically taking a step back to say “What are our goals? How are they progressing?” but for my husband and I, these talks are daily or weekly, for the big stuff (career decisions, thoughts about having kids some day) and small stuff (the dirty dishes on the counter!). I’m having a hard time imagining what kinds of issues would be best discussed only once a year. But that’s just me, and I’ve not even been married a year yet, so perhaps I’m just in a different place than you, OP!

  8. This was one of my favourite ever comments on Offbeat H&L, so I’m really glad to see it on the front page! My husband and I are totally adopting this strategy, because while we are generally really good communicators I find the really big stuff very difficult to bring up. Unless I’ve had a few drinks, and of course that makes the actual problem solving part of the conversation that much harder.

  9. My husband and I have had SOTTUA’s since we started dating too! At first we had them monthly…then 6 months…we’ve been slacking on the regimen lately but we still do it. It’s great.

  10. Just talked to my manly thing about this and we decided we’re going to pick up this habit! We’ve been together six years now and sometimes correct communication is still hard for us. Maybe this will help a bit!

  11. This might help me stop getting lit up like a Christmas tree on fire when one little thing sets off all the big things I’ve been bottling up. Joy!

  12. Love this post, and the “it really is optional” linked post too. Made me feel relieved, which probably sounds funny. I was married at 22 and divorced at 26. A particular Facebook page I follow frequently posts anonymous fan questions about relationships, and if I can offer advice, I jump in…but the number of militant anti-divorce commenters makes me not post sometimes. They’re strangers and I shouldn’t give a crap what they think but sometimes the “you are a lazy moron; you took the easy way out” retorts sting. Divorce is easy? Really? o_O

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