Weeks before our 7th anniversary, my husband and I discussed how we should celebrate. We thought it would be nice to involve our children, aged 5 and 3, since they were more aware of what weddings mean.
“How about doing a renewal of vows, with the exchange of rings again?” I suggested.
“Are you going to wear that beautiful white dress, Mama?” my daughter asked pointing to our wedding photo.
“Probably not, but how about putting flowers on our hair?”
“Yes! Yes!,” she said.
“Me too! Me too!,” our son chimed in.
“Sounds like a good idea. Might be fun to have dinner by the river. Let’s think about it. But I do feel we should decide to do something, otherwise, it will just be like in previous years where we didn’t do anything at all,” my husband said.
The weeks rolled by. One thing came up, then another. My husband felt out of sorts. I felt that I was to blame. We crabbed at each other. We fought. We felt miserable and disconnected from each other. As our anniversary neared, celebrating was the farthest thing from our minds. I suggested to my husband to just call the picnic dinner off. What’s the point? No, he insisted, we must do it or we’ll regret it later.
On the day of our anniversary, the weather was perfect. Still, I dragged my feet in putting our meal together. We didn’t get flowers for our hair (thankfully the kids did not bug me about them) but what we lacked in celebration accoutrements, the kids made up for with the sheer excitement of having a dinner picnic by the river, something we have never done before in the three years we have lived in the countryside.
That afternoon, my husband came home from work. We all dressed up. He borrowed our neighbor’s wheelbarrow and loaded all our stuff in. He also threw in these ridiculously long bamboo poles with paper flowers on them — something we got from a local matsuri or festival a couple of nights ago. We made quite a sight. When we got to the riverside, the setting sun rendered the skies a luscious mix of pink, purple, orange and red. The place had never been more beautiful. We laid our mat, table, dinnerware and all the rest of our stuff.
My husband brought speakers and played the the very same songs from 7 years ago when we walked down the aisle. Our kids held a funny yellow pillow with crazy prints of Japanese anime characters. We stuck pins on the pillow and put our rings on it. I read to my husband something I wrote in between cooking that day.
This celebration is turning out to be far different from what I have originally imagined. But more than the superficial details like flowers on my hair and R’s hair, an elaborate dinner menu, decorations, and all that, I didn’t expect how I’d feel the past few days leading up to this day. We’ve said many times, “I don’t feel like celebrating our anniversary.” And indeed, it would seem a lot easier to forgo this celebration than to try to summon up the happy emotions expected for a day like today. But there have been many times in the past in our marriage in which if I merely depended on how I felt, I would or might have chosen differently. What has led us to today, to 7 years together is us choosing differently even when we don’t feel like it, even when the easier choice is to simmer in our righteous anger alone. Some of the most beautiful and memorable moments of our marriage were when we didn’t plan or control things but simply opened ourselves up, made ourselves vulnerable to each other and said yes even when it would have been easier to say no, and even when things were not perfectly clear. And so I renew my vows to you. I promise to always turn towards you, even when it is hard. I promise to hang in there through tough times. I promise to allow myself to be vulnerable to you and to say yes to you, and to this family we have created together.
My husband renewed his vows to me. As we called our kids to give us the rings, I saw my daughter shyly wipe away the tears from her eyes. “When Mama and Dada was talking, I did a happy cry,” she said.
Evening descended. My husband and children’s faces looked luminous and radiantly beautiful in the soft golden glow of our candles. My heart ached with tenderness. Here we all are, enjoying each other’s company under the canopy of stars, with the burbling river in the background. I cannot be happier or more in love with my husband.
“This is just so wonderful. Why didn’t we think of doing this before?,” my husband asked.
I am glad that we marked our anniversary with a ritual. Dr. John Gottman, who has behind him more than 40 years of solid, scientific research on marriage and relationships, recommends having “rituals of connection” for couples to “create shared meaning.” Rituals can mean different things for different people but the hallmarks of a “ritual of connection” are: That they are intentional, they are meaningful, and that they reflect and reinforce your sense of togetherness. During the ritual, the members know that they have each other’s complete attention and are fully present to each other.
In the midst of our marriage funk, I asked, What’s the point? Is this all there is to marriage? I couldn’t help think about the seven-year itch, that popular term for the decline in romantic feelings, relationship quality, satisfaction and happiness over time. The term has also been associated with when infidelity usually occurs and when the grass seems especially greener on the other side of the fence.
What we’ve learned the past 7 years though is that “the grass is greener where you water it” (from the lyrics of Justin Bieber’s As Long as You Love Me). I don’t think there is any juju to the number 7 itself, although the term “seven-year itch” may have been responsible for some self-fulfilling prophecies. Maybe the seven-year itch is more of a seven-year gradual neglect. As couples move through marriage together, they must work harder and make more effort to create and find meaning together. There is more to marriage beyond having a stable home, steady jobs, raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. Call it the spiritual dimension of marriage, and it does not necessarily mean something religious. Rituals are those daily, weekly, monthly, yearly ways we honor each other, our values, our dreams, and our relationship. They may be as simple as coming together and sitting down for dinner, or the tickling, banter, joking, and laughing before going to sleep in our family bed. Then there are the rituals to remember family milestones. Through rituals, we tell and retell the story of who we are and the great team we have become, despite all the odds and all the people who believed our marriage wouldn’t have worked.
The night of our seven year anniversary, the grass on our own lawn has never been greener, more lush, or more vibrant.