Roni Beth Tower
Source: Roni Beth Tower

Few activities earn as much relationship mileage as celebrating together. Recognizing one person’s blessings or moments or achievements, those of the other, or ones created within the relationship itself, honors all who participate.  The first day of a new year brings a perfect opportunity to look more closely at celebrating as a way of showing love.  We look at what to celebrate, how to celebrate, and why celebrating nourishes a love relationship.  In general, couples often think of celebrating in terms of what and how — but the why provides a frame of reference, texture, an angle through which creative expressions become easier to invent.

Personally, my husband and I celebrate everything — the arrival of morning, food on the table, a kind interaction, a beautiful sunset, making an effort, you name it.  Life is too short to not be filled with celebration.  Even challenges offer opportunities to celebrate, as they are met and eventually conquered.        

What to celebrate? 

  • Beginnings and endings.   One of our earliest experiences of celebration probably accompanies a “first” — a first step, a first word, a first day of school, a first date.  Later, a first kiss, moment in a new home, or birth of a baby or a business.  Similarly, endings call for celebration, a marking of the passage of an experience — whether through a change, graduation, even death.  Cultures naturally pay tribute to transitions that are meaningful through formalities — times designated to be set apart, rituals prescribed, a shared acknowledgement of moments to be set apart.
  • Achievements. Making it through a serious disagreement or a marathon run; welcoming guests for an impromptu evening or paying a condolence call; curbing one’s temper in the face of frustration or finding a way to transcend differing points of view — all can deserve celebration.  The achievement need not be enormous; perhaps mundane accomplishments — remembering an important date or selecting your lover’s favorite flavor of ice cream — are the most momentous in a relationship.
  • Traditions.  Celebrating an event that bears the weight of tradition can bring the comfort of ritual and the reassurance of continuity.  Holidays, reunions, moments in which one routinely pauses to pay tribute to historical or recurring events.  A meaningful morning and evening ritual of greeting and saying goodnight can renew the connection in a relationship each day, when expressed with mindfulness.
  • Gratitude.  To me, to celebrate means above all else to say that I am grateful.  I am grateful for these hours or days or moments;  I am grateful for these opportunities or challenges that have permitted growth.  I am grateful for this human being who has shared the experience or the journey or the efforts.  I appreciate the trials and the triumphs.  This is celebrating at its most profound. Gratitude can thus be used as a touchstone in considering HOW to celebrate — what are the ways in which you can express your gratitude most effectively?  Through which paths does the person to whom you are grateful most feel appreciated?

How to celebrate?

  • Alone or together?  Many people assume that celebrating requires a shared event, two people toasting each other or their relationship, a roomful of friends sipping champagne, a crowd feasting at a party.  But celebration can be meaningful to both members of a couple if it honors what is most meaningful to the one in question — and that might be a quiet and solitary morning spent in meditation, taking the time to prepare a meal with mindfulness, offering to cover a chore more commonly completed by the other.  One of my favorite ways to celebrate is to take a walk together along a waterway or to attend a yoga class taught by a favorite teacher.  For my husband, food and drink, both in moderation, are inevitably involved.  They can be simple but, if prepared with love and presented with care, he knows they show “I love you”. 
  • With an event or entertainment?  A party for fifty of one’s nearest and dearest may be precisely how one person prefers to celebrate — but someone else may prefer a quiet dinner for two.  One couple may want to celebrate by reaching out to others and sharing joy by honoring them; another might prefer to take in a gift the world can offer, through the nourishment of entertainment or travels.  Introversion and extroversion are real, as Susan Cain has effectively argued, and the style directs preferences.
  • Actively or quietly?  A massage or a gathering, an invitation for a stroll or to a rowdy concert, attending a religious or spiritual ceremony or a parade, lighting a candle or lighting up an entire home — all are means of celebrating and all are valid.  
  • With a material gift or one of the spirit?  Gifts are often offered in celebration. To one person a gift selected to make a statement of indulgence will evoke delight;  to another, it will scream misplaced generosity.  That person might prefer a donation to a favorite charity be made in his or her honor or time be taken to create a card, a meal, a romantic evening together.  Try to match the gift to sources of delight for the recipient.
  • Expressing or directing energy?  We are always regulating the energy in ourselves and in our relationships.  Most commonly thought of as “regulating distance”, the underlying dimension is about finding a balance between giving and receiving.  As in Barbra Streisand’s song, “just by giving and receiving comes belonging and believing”.  The exchange can be the source of a mystical synergy.  But the exchange needs to be freely given or a sense of filling a well of neediness can quickly deplete and resentment can override the positive. 

Why celebrating works

  • Good feelings can be contagious.  Above all, an effective celebration — one in which people mark a moment of gratitude in a personal way — generates joy. It shows appreciation.  Being appreciated generates good feelings which then  “play a role in the maintenance of romantic relationships.” (page 257.) .  And happiness is contagious – witness the Bodhisattva in the metro – bringing the blessings of delight to others, including those one loves. 

  • Giving is its own reward. Adam Grant and his colleagues have amply demonstrated that the effective offering of appreciation assures people that they can, indeed, make a difference to others.  This work documents the overriding motivating power of being able to feel connected in an altruistic way.  Thus not only does the relationship benefit, individuals do also by knowing they can make a positive contribution to something larger than themselves and to someone other than themselves.  Creating and sharing a celebration reminds people of their power to brighten for others, and the blessings that can bring.  Altruistic love is reinforced. 
  • Our uniqueness is honored, validated, reinforced.  And, finally, celebrating invites people to consider another as a unique individual and to imagine ways to share pleasure with that person.  In a later post, I will write about “pleasing” – but for now, let’s just note that this is a powerful way to show I Love You.

What have you done to celebrate that has been especially meaningful?  How have you expressed loving through creating a special celebration?  Do you have thoughts about why celebration amplifies feelings of love?  Please share your stories, thoughts.

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

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