This past week has marked the seventh wedding anniversary for me and my partner. It came just a few days after our second baby turned a year old. To my surprise, most people reacted strangely to me saying that I feel a strong need to acknowledge and celebrate this milestone. They either congratulated us on avoiding relationship problems so far or mentioned a “seven-year itch” with a knowing smirk.
We did not wait to pass this specific milestone to let out a sigh of relief and say — well, we made it to seven years! Everything from now on is going to be peachy, because we managed to avoid this mystical “seven-year itch” of which everyone is so terrified. We celebrate every year on this day. We celebrate our family frequently and independently of the calendar, but it feels good to have a day set aside every year which we dedicate to each other and reflect on our relationship and all the wonderful things it brings into our lives. The number seven has always resonated with me for whatever reason: there are seven notes of the musical scale, seven chakras in the body, seven colours of the spectrum. I felt that celebrating this anniversary was important to me, and I think that is the best reason to celebrate anything. We need to create ceremonies meaningful to us for events that matter in our lives, not anyone else’s. And so we have planned this day in a way that nurtured our relationship.
It puzzles and saddens me that a healthy desire to acknowledge and honour a relationship is somehow perceived as a declaration that we “managed” to stay together thus far. This trend to state things from a negative point of view is rampant in our culture. “So, you’ve survived to seven years – congratulations, many do not.” Why bring that up? Should it make me feel superior to those who do not? Should I dwell on all the dysfunctional relationships and broken families, instead of focusing on celebrating my relationship?
“Are you pregnant? I had the worst labour imaginable!”, followed by a lengthy horror birth story. Why on Earth would a pregnant mama dwell on someone else’s negative experience instead of preparing herself for her own birth positively. We do this with regards to children’s milestones too. “Is the baby breastfeeding well? Wait until she gets teeth!” Why cannot I be happy that the baby is breastfeeding well now? Why would I rather dwell on possible challenges that might arise in the future when she starts teething?
No wonder we are so stressed all the time! Many of us are so engrossed in imagining all the terrible alternative realities and future difficulties (usually making them out to be much worse than anything realistic) that any feeling of happiness in the present gets drowned out. We keep hauling around this negative baggage and don’t miss an opportunity to load it onto someone else. And we walk away from these conversations with a sense of fulfilment of our duty to enlighten and warn others of all the possible negative repercussions of their situation.
We are the narrators of our lives and of the lives of the people we know. We evaluate and judge each event, and whatever label we put on it will colour our memory of the event and help shape our perception of the event’s participants, the society at large, and, in the end, our perception of ourselves. If I keep thinking of myself as someone who cannot dance, I will convince myself that I cannot dance and will never try, because my inability to dance will become a part of my identity. If I keep thinking all people are out to take advantage of me, that will become the world in which I live. If we keep telling our child they cannot draw, they will become convinced that is the case and might never let their creative side unfold fully.
If I keep telling myself I’m insignificant, I will be making decisions that always put other people’s wishes before mine, eventually causing other people to do that too. This latter train of thought is a dangerous one, as women who get trapped in abusive relationships can be convinced that they are not worthy of any other treatment, which enables the abuser to keep up the physical or emotional violence. We define who we are. When we cannot control the circumstances, we can still control how we perceive them and react to them.
If your life experience tells you that most relationships do not last past a certain number of years or break up from difficulties of early childrearing, you will perceive your relationships and those of the people around you through the lens of suspicion and with an expectation of failure. Partners celebrating their relationship would translate to you into people trying to save a family that is falling apart or congratulating each other on surviving the years together. From that vantage point, it is very hard to see a wedding anniversary celebration as honouring the relationship, recalling the good times, acknowledging the challenges, and appreciating the other person for walking this road with you.
It is not always a smooth road — life rarely is — but we can focus on the positive aspects of it and strengthen the relationship. It is too easy to take things for granted in a relationship — meaningful ceremonies remind us of all the wonderful things we bring into each other’s reality. So let us celebrate! And the next time a friend shares with you news of something good happening in their life — hold off your warnings and just be happy for them.