Bob and Laura Smyer were ready for their special anniversary celebration. They had booked a fancy hotel and were eager to get away and enjoy each other’s company. The one thing they hadn’t considered was the dress code.

As soon as Bob finished his night shift, the two drove to the hotel. “We were wearing old shorts and ragged clothes, and our stuff was packed in Walmart bags,” Laura explains. When they entered the resort hotel, “Everybody was decked out,” she says. “It was embarrassing.” 

They tried to salvage the trip by going to a movie, but Bob could hardly keep his eyes open.

“Do you want to just skip this?” Laura asked him.

“No, it’s fine,” he said. “I’m enjoying it.”

Laura could tell that wasn’t the case. “We were about halfway through the movie when he started snoring,” she recalls. 

Maybe you’ve also experienced a disappointing anniversary. Your babysitter bails, the restaurant loses your reservation or your spouse catches a horrible cold. Anniversaries don’t always go as planned, but you can still celebrate your marriage by expressing your thankfulness for each other and for what God has done in your marriage. 

Making thankfulness one of your anniversary traditions is a great idea for many reasons and brings value to your marriage, says Dr. Greg Smalley, vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family. “Thinking about what you’re thankful for draws your heart toward your marriage” he says. “Anytime you can think about what you appreciate within your marriage, it reinforces that it’s valuable.”  

Thankfulness has other benefits: With a grateful attitude, you can improve your relationship as you follow God’s will (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). According to the article “Giving thanks can make you happier,” studies reveal that “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.”

What are you thankful for in your marriage? Consider how these four longtime couples express their gratefulness for each other and for God.

Thankful for each other

Ron and Pat Smyer have been married for 59 years. “We’ve had a good life and have been blessed and peaceful,” Pat says. “We’ve always gone to church and followed the Lord. I’m thankful that God gave me the man that He did.”

Ron was raised in a Christian home, but he wasn’t attending a church when he first met Pat. “Pat was good to stand by my side — she encouraged me when I failed.” A few years after they married, Ron began praying and started going to church again. “I’m very thankful for Pat,” Ron says. “Without her, I don’t know what I would have been.”

Steve Schmit credits his wife, Roxann, for helping him become a Christian. “The thing I’m most thankful for is that my wife actually led me to the Lord,” he says. “We went on a date here and there, and the next thing you know, I was going to her church.” The Schmits have been married for 31 years.

Diane and Roger Ingolia have been married for 44 years. “I’m thankful that he (Roger) has helped me to be even more than I thought I was, because of the words of encouragement he gives me,” Diane says. “I hope I’m making him a better person by encouraging the gifts and talents I’ve seen God place in him.”

Thankful for God’s help

Anniversaries are the perfect opportunity to reflect on your marriage and consider how God has guided you throughout the years. How has He helped you through specific hardships during your marriage and the past year? How has He provided guidance? As you think of these times, you can add thankfulness to your anniversary traditions and “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” 

Steve and Roxann know a thing or two about trusting in God during hard times. The couple relied heavily on God after their infant son died in 1997. “We were planning on coming home with a baby and ended up planning a funeral instead,” Steve explains. 

After their loss, Steve felt alone. Roxann needed medication in the hospital that made her unresponsive, so Steve was left to grieve on his own for the first few days. “I had friends and family nearby, but God got me through it,” Steve says.

The two learned firsthand that God is not only with them in the good times but in the heartbreaking times too. “We never had that feeling that God had His back turned for a moment,” Steve says. Now, 24 years later, the couple continues to thank God for His faithfulness in their lives. “God has just been an integral part of our marriage,” Roxann says. “I cannot imagine not having Him there during the things that we’ve had to walk through.

Thankful for what God does through them

Ephesians 2:10 says that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Some of those good works are by-products of your married lives.

For example, Steve and Roxann have been able to use their story of loss to touch many people. Roxann explains, “Everywhere we go, we have a testimony of God’s working in our lives.” When they returned home from the hospital after their son died, the couple says that their neighborhood was expecting to see a healthy baby. Of course, that wasn’t the case. But instead of retreating angrily into their house, the two did something much different. “We had a worship service. The whole neighborhood could hear us,” says Roxann. “It’s just a testimony of our faith.”

Diane and Roger have been mentoring marriages for over 38 years. The two believe that God has used them and their experiences to strengthen other marriages and help couples grow in their relationships. “If you are willing to give away the good, the bad and the ugly of yourself, it’s amazing how magnetic that is to others,” Diane says. 

Talking about how God has blessed others through your marriage is another way to make thankfulness one of your anniversary traditions.

What are your anniversary traditions?

If your anniversary plans go wrong, being intentionally thankful can save the day and the celebration. Not only does the Bible say that “it is good to give thanks” for what God has done and provided (Psalm 92:1-2), but studies show that people who consciously express gratefulness end up feeling happier. According to Smalley, “When you’re focused on what you’re thankful for, it makes you feel good about your relationship. The better you feel about the relationship, the more you’re going to invest.”

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