Anniversaries provide the perfect opportunity to reflect on our lives, our relationships, and our current circumstances. Reflections vary depending on the type of anniversary –partnership, birth, new job, relocation, graduation, illness, death. Questions emerge: Am I happy? If not, what needs to shift to increase happiness, satisfaction, and pleasure? What have I learned? What are my next steps? Have I come to terms with what is unchangeable?
When we take the time for reflection, our relationship to the anniversary, to the meaning, and to the people around us deepens. Sometimes the reflection is natural and smooth, other times not so much….
The weeks leading up to our anniversary were packed with activities: a joint vacation in Austin visiting family and friends, a solo weekend trip to be with my brother and Dad as we said good-bye to our family home (sold after my mother’s death), my son’s acceptance into his-first-choice college. The night before our anniversary we hosted a sit-down multi-course dinner for eight, which took all day to prepare. Needless to say when Sunday dawned, I was exhausted and looking forward to a quiet day at home with no responsibilities, no heavy conversations, no decisions, the opportunity for a yoga class and perhaps a nap. The fact that it was our anniversary completely escaped my radar.
I returned from yoga in the early evening to find Kelli upstairs wearing make-up, great-fitting jeans, grey sweater, and a necklace. “You’re all dressed up! Are you going somewhere?” “Maybe” came her coy response. Moments later she handed me a card that I quickly opened, still not registering the significance. “Oh god, sweetie…” was all I could say, followed by a quick “Thank you! Happy Anniversary to you, too!” Lame. Guilt and shame washed over me as I thought that I was now one of those inconsiderate, insensitive and dispassionate partners who forgets birthdays, anniversaries, and date nights. Kelli sat next to me on the futon, while we talked about how we felt and dealt with feelings of disappointment, regret, and sadness.
What I found remarkable was how we both sat with our emotions and each other and didn’t over react. Yes, forgetting our anniversary was a big deal – to both of us – but it provided an opportunity to ask and answer important questions together: What distracts us most from our relationship? What can we both do to avoid or minimize those distractions? How can we deepen our connection even in the midst of trying times, inevitable disappointments, conflicting opinions and competing desires? Do we still want this relationship? Fortunately, both of our answers to the last question is “Yes!”
Though the content of the conversation was hard in many places, the way we had the conversation wasn’t. Some of our previous ‘relationship’ conversations have been longer, more difficult, and more emotionally draining so it’s clear our communication is improving. When the conversation ended I noticed I didn’t want to run away to soothe any wounds, as I’ve sometimes wanted to do. I felt better about myself and about our relationship, realizing that Kelli loves me and can manage her own disappointment, which draws me closer to her.
Valentine’s Day reminded me that our anniversary was approaching soon. In the wake of travelling, together and apart, and planning a monthly dinner party, that date was sitting in the back of my mind. Anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays have always been significant markers for me and times to reflect and evaluate where I am in relation to self, others, and situations. I tend to not forget those dates – my blessing and my curse.
I woke up on Sunday remembering it was our anniversary. I, too, was tired from a long weekend of preparing for, experiencing, and then cleaning up after the dinner party. I knew that a lot was going on for Dorothy, so rather than jump up immediately and announce our anniversary, I gave her time to settle into the day and ‘remember.’ When she went to yoga in the early evening (and no mention of our anniversary), I knew I had a few choices: feel resentful that she forgot, perseverate on thoughts of whether or not our relationship was meaningful to her, ignore our anniversary, or get a card and plan a date…i.e. take the high road and choose to celebrate in the midst of her forgetting.
The conversation after her yoga class was, for me, similar to Dorothy’s experience. We did it well and were able to be with our feelings without being pulled away from each other. We didn’t have a significant celebration and I had to sit with my disappointment. However, we did celebrate how our relationship was growing and how good we felt with each other amongst all of life’s competing responsibilities.
Dorothy and Kelli speak
Beginning an intimate relationship at midlife has provided us with ample opportunities to harness our strengths and meet life’s challenges and complexities head-on, with as much grace, compassion and wisdom as we can muster. Compared to our younger days, we have more responsibilities, more of the past impacting our present, more life lessons influencing our choices, and generally less physical energy… We also have more wisdom, more tools, more patience, more experience with success, and more reflective growth. It is the wisdom we have accumulated over the years that allows us to not overly react to disappointments – like forgotten anniversaries – and to naturally be in the experience, to use the disappointments as an opening for deeper intimacy, greater self-awareness, more empathy, and quite simply, love.
Our Relationship speaks
Kelli and Dorothy have committed to remaining close and mindful in the midst of challenging circumstances and conversations. This requires them to be honest with themselves as well as with each other, to carve out time for conversation, connection, play and romance, and to recover gracefully when one of them forgets a meaningful date, a significant event…an anniversary. Their commitment to growth in their partnership allows for mistakes and mishaps, knowing that their intention to shift where needed to support the relationship remains.
Kelli Williamson holds a Master of Arts degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling from The School of Leadership and Education at the University of San Diego. Kelli has extensive experience working with couples, children and families. She has worked in private practice and held leadership positions in non-profit organizations directing counseling services, supervising staff and interns, and providing training in child and family therapy. In addition, she consults with non-profit agencies providing organizational development and leadership training.
Dorothy (Bosteder) Emerson graduated from the University of California at Davis with a degree in Economics. She is a Senior Product Manager in the banking industry and has served on the board of directors for non-profit agencies serving women and children. Dorothy has expertise in building relationships by facilitating communication and collaboration while navigating complex systems. Dorothy is also the mother of two teenagers and she offers clarity and focus on listening to and following one’s heart as a parent.
Dorothy and Kelli can be reached at email@example.com.