“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” W. Somerset Maugham
Few, if any, things will prove to be more important in your life than your relationships, especially your most valuable ones. There a small handful of people in my life that really counts deeply over the long run. For me my family holds a superior place in my landscape of meaningful relationships. My wife, Pam, and my son, Austin, are undoubtedly the most important people to me.
But powerful, long-lasting relationships don’t just survive “willy-nilly.” They require an intentional sort to of love that surpasses almost anything else I do. By intentional I mean that there are certain things I do and ways I behave that are thoughtful, caring, loving and supportive.
For nearly our entire thirty-three year of marriage Pam and I have honored two annual traditions that indeed make a difference and neither of them requires anything more than a couple of joyful endeavors.
I’d like to tell you about these traditions so that you might consider them.
Tradition #1: Letters
We have created a habit of writing letters on three special days each year: Christmas, Birthdays, and Valentine’s Day (and sometimes on an anniversary). Our letters are not long exhausting tomes—one-half to one page. They consist of telling the other person why they are so special on that particular day. Undoubtedly, the Christmas letter seems to be the most important because we rehearse all the loving and caring behaviors we have so adored and appreciated by the other person over the past year.
Although he received letters from an early age, Austin joined in the letter writing process at about twelve years old and has continued for fourteen years. Since we all write letters to each other Austin and I have a competition to see who can make mom cry the most. This year he was the champ and I am so proud of him for doing so.
Our letters have truly become our most treasured gifts on Christmas morning. We always save them for last.
Tradition #2: Annual Relational Inventory
For all these years Pam and I look forward to our annual tradition of going away for two to three nights for fun, uninterrupted alone time, and for taking a “relational inventory.” What I mean by this is we go where no man has dared to go. We actually ask each other, “What kind of husband/wife was I last year?”
Believe me, when we are candid these have been both joyful times and very, very heartrending times of honesty. They are sometimes incorporated with tears and a “slap in the face” of a reality that generally goes undiscussed until too late. However, with each of us desiring to make our marriage last we each realize this tradition is essential.
This habit is far from an annual goal-setting process. It is personal and evocative. We have learned one question to wrap up our discussions that I now feel is essential. We DO NOT ask “what can I do better,” because experience has told me that creating such a list is more disruptive than it is helpful. How about this instead, “What do you need from me this next year?” That question allows for dialogue to come up with a solution that is acceptable to both of us.
FYI—In addition we spend a bit of time on budgets and potential vacations.
Finally, it’s still not too late for you to do an annual inventory on 2018 to lead to a rich 2019. Our two traditions have proved to be most impactful for all our family members. And there is nobody I would rather please and serve Pam and Austin.
Wishing you a rich 2019, filled with love and support.
You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know…
Until You Ask
Photo courtesy of Pam Hedges