About 13 months ago, I kicked off CatholicFamilyMen.com with a blog post sharing a good example from Blessed Frederic Ozanam on how to celebrate your monthly wedding anniversary. I immediately sought to follow his lead and over many months of putting his good example into practice, I discovered some valuable principles.
1. Remembering is Romantic
Why is there a running gag in our social consciousness of husbands forgetting their annual wedding anniversary? You know the one – husband forgets, wife extremely upset, husband franticly tries to make it up to her, etc. While it may be a tired trope, a quick Google search of “husband forgets anniversary” will show that this situation is quite real, prevalent, and often ugly.
Why is it such a big deal if a husband forgets his wedding anniversary because he is busy with other important things? It is possible for this sort of absent-mindedness to be a rather innocent mistake. Yet, the lack of forethought and action will likely direct his wife toward a deeper idea, regardless of whether it is real or perceived, that their marriage does not hold a high level of importance to him, and even worse, that she does not hold a high level of importance to him. This is where it can get ugly.
The positive flip-side is also true (this is where it can get beautiful). When a husband marks his annual wedding anniversary with an appropriate amount of effort, especially if it is in the midst of a busy season, it can communicate to his wife on a deeper level that he has a high regard for their marriage, and more importantly a high regard for her. This is romantic. Scale this idea out to remembering and celebrating your monthly wedding anniversary…even more romantic.
2. The Best Gifts are Both Desirable and Surprising
“She’s difficult to shop for” is pretty much synonymous with “I don’t know her very well.” Any gift given deserves some measure of gratitude, but when a gift matches the heart of the recipient it evokes a much greater response. Give her a gift that she truly desires and it shows that you know her, understand her, and really care about her. Pay attention and listen for the little desires she expresses on a daily basis. Match your gift-giving to these and she will be pleasantly surprised.
3. You Will be Taken for Granted. Excellent!
The first time you step out and celebrate your monthly wedding anniversary, you will likely surprise your wife, and maybe even shock her (in a good way) depending on how far outside of your comfort zone this sort of thing is. If you continue to celebrate your anniversary on a monthly basis, your wife will naturally begin to get used to it and her reaction will likely become less and less dramatic. This is normal. Expect it.
Remember point #2 above? After the surprise factor has worn off, a challenging, yet new and powerful opportunity follows. Only when you reach this point of being taken for granted does the opportunity emerge to demonstrate your consistency and perseverance. Most men would stop following-through when they are no longer receiving high levels of appreciation for their effort. This is your time to shine. Show her that your romantic action is not dependent on her response – you choose to love her for her, regardless of whether or not you receive any recognition in return.
After several months of persevering in this way, things will likely come full circle as your wife’s eyes eventually reopen with appreciation – recognizing the strong and steady love that your actions reveal.
4. Exit Your Comfort Zone Without Losing Yourself
Stepping out of your comfort zone to do something good for your wife can be both admirable and romantic, but there is a fine, yet very important distinction to keep in mind. Sacrificing some personal comfort for her sake is good, but trying or striving to be someone you’re not is bad. For example, if you know your wife enjoys dancing and you surprise her with ballroom dance lessons and agree to attend even though you really would prefer not to – well done, Romeo; however, if you downright despise dancing and taking lessons feels somehow like you would be betraying your very identity – seek another way to lovingly step out of your comfort zone for her.
Rightly understanding this distinction not only protects you from violating your own limits, but it also frees you from making empty excuses to avoid growing as a person. In other words, in some situations, when the action truly does transgress your authentic self, it is valid to say “that’s not me.” For other things, “that’s not me” is a cowardly escape. For instance, if you are habitually late to everything you cannot honorably say, “being on time, that’s not me.” Everyone is capable of learning how to be on time without it violating any bit of their true identity. But wearing the pastel and paisley shirt she bought you to go watch football with friends? Probably okay to say “that’s not me,” if it isn’t. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be.
If you know her well enough you will find other things you can do to leap out of your comfort zone and express your love, all without going beyond the core of who you are. She does want to see you stretch yourself for her, but if she’s honest and wise, she’ll never want you to go beyond the limits of your authentic self. Your uniqueness is good, and rather than go beyond it, you would do well to bring that uniqueness into the way you romance her.
Quick side note: This principle presupposes living within the moral boundaries authoritatively handed on to us from Jesus through His Catholic Church (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part III). For instance, you cannot hold firm to some particular sin because “it isn’t you” to give it up. Sin is never you. Real love and sin are completely opposed to one another. Every sin you commit is truly a step beyond the bounds of your authentic self. “Christian, recognize your dignity (CCC 1691).”
5. Our Pursuit Needs Purification
One reader commented on the Ozanam post with, “Does a wife ‘deserve’ romance?” It’s a good question, and while I cannot be sure of the motivation behind it, the deeper question I hear is “Do I have to?” Here’s how I answered it: “It seems foolish for a man to romantically pursue a woman until their wedding day and then cease to do so. I believe my wife deserves my ongoing romantic pursuit because the nature of our relationship is a romance that continues on.”
What is the goal of your relationship with your wife? Just to “get married.” If so, then you’ve already reached it and I suppose no further effort is needed. If your goal is to stay married, you have work to do. If your goal is to grow your marital love every day, your romantic pursuit will never have an earthly finish line until death do you part. Live your marriage romance. The goal of authentic married love is not simply checking boxes to appease your spouse, but rather a sincere and sacrificial gift of self that takes flesh every day for the good of your spouse. For us earthly sinners, our hearts and lives are always in need of further purification. We are wise to be mindful of this truth, remain humble, and drink deeply from the wellsprings of grace available to us.
Let us look to Jesus, the Bridegroom who loves His bride par excellence (Eph. 5:25). By encountering Him in the Sacramental life of His Catholic Church, we will emerge more and more as the champions ready to run the course (Ps. 19:5) of loving our wives with pure, actively engaged, and romantic hearts.
Even if you have never really thought in these terms before, you can romance your wife. Erase any strange images in your mind of what you may perceive romance needs to be. How to be romantic is not about becoming someone you’re not, in fact you have a unique brand of romance all your own. Embrace it.
Simply be more mindful of your wife: her desires, her cares, her preferences, the beautiful memories you share, etc. How well do you really know her? There’s more. How can you bless her in a small and unexpected way today? Do it. Increase the time you think about and consider her, seek to know her more deeply, show her your love in action, and draw strength in prayer. You can do this. Choose to.