L ast night, Bobby and I exchanged anniversary cards – nearly a month late. With good reason, though! While we didn’t exchange cards on our actual anniversary, we did gift each other with 6 short essays all contained in this plain-looking but precious journal:

Since we were so busy writing in the journal, the time to write loving cards escaped us – which was more than fine because the journal has become key to our yearly celebration. We were both thrilled that we were able to attend to the important ritual.

If you’re questioning how in the world essay writing could contribute towards anniversary romance, I don’t blame you. Allow me to explain.

Our amazing friends, Maren and Benjamin, were married a year before us. I always enjoy talking to them about marriage because they embrace intentionality. They actively seek to establish traditions that will enrich them as a couple and I LOVE that. The second Maren told me about their anniversary questions, I knew that we were bound to be copy cats.

Here’s how it works: there are 6 questions that get to be answered every year. Both Bobby and I answer them separately in our special journal and then we share our answers over our anniversary dinner. I gifted the journal to Bobby for our 1st anniversary and we’ve been adding to it for the past 3 years.

Here are the questions (again, thanks to the Telseys for being the original curators!).

I gifted this journal in hopes that Bobby and I could document some of our most precious life events – a sort of time capsule to capture our thoughts and feelings during each anniversary along with other cherished times from that year of marriage. Births of future children, new jobs and cities, graduations, heartaches and triumphs…my head swims with anticipation of what we may be able to place on these pages as the years progress. Three years into the tradition and it’s already a treasure.

If YOU think you may want to try this out (and I can’t recommend it more highly), I’ll offer a few logistical insights we’ve had since instituting this tradition. Trust me, our trial and error with it will make it more doable for you.

1. Start filling out your answers to the questions at least 2 weeks prior to your anniversary.

Trust us on this one. We have tried all the variations with different degrees of success – this method was FAR AND AWAY the best. For our first year, we started about 3 days prior to our anniversary. I sat down one night and powered them all out. Then Bobby sat down the next couple night and did the same. Six questions in a row. Between the two of us, we filled up 21 pages. This is just asking for it in terms of writer’s cramp. It also makes it feel more like a chore which is pretty much the opposite of how you want this to be.

For our second year, neither of us planned ahead enough and we didn’t have anything written in the journal when we went for dinner. It was fine because we had both reflected on our answers ahead of time and were able to talk about them at length. But then a lot of time slipped by before we wrote our answers down. Bobby took hold of the reigns and finally filled in his answers in time for my birthday (in February that following year…a full 8 months later) and then I started to fill in my answers after that. I didn’t get my 2nd anniversary questions finished until…wait for it…April of this year. We had basically lived through nearly another whole year of marriage before I wrote my answers. While I think I did a pretty good job of reaching back in my memory and writing from what I had said during our anniversary dinner, it was far from ideal.

This year, we developed a system to avoid the pitfalls from year one and two. Two weeks before our anniversary this year, we brought out the journal. We alternated nights and wrote our answer to one question per night. While one of us sat at the table and wrote, the other cooked dinner. Then we switched the next night. It worked beautifully and was a life-giving experience. Far superior to some of the speed bumps we had encountered the first two years. We will definitely institute this system again next year.

2. Don’t look at each other’s answers until your anniversary dinner.

I’m all about good surprises. Since we’re writing in the same journal and picking up on the next page, it was SO TEMPTING to glance at what Bobby had written before I started writing my answer. I’m proud to report, however, that I didn’t peek, not even once. It’s so much more fun to answer the questions on my own and know that my thoughts haven’t been influenced by what Bobby wrote down. (To successfully carry this out, I had to take a blank piece of paper and put it directly on top of his answers. I slapped it on the second I opened the book because I just KNOW my eyes would have wandered over.)

We also didn’t talk about our answers at all until our anniversary. This would be like opening presents before Christmas Day. It’s not as special. When you’re putting this much effort into a tradition, you want to max out the specialness.

3. Really delve into your answers during your anniversary dinner.

One thing I LOVE about Bobby is how good he is at expressing his love and appreciation verbally. This tradition caters to both of our strengths in different ways – I tend to write pages and pages while Bobby’s answers usually hover around a page. When we get to our dinner, though, he expounds on his reflections so beautifully. We bring the journal with us to dinner, but it’s mostly just to glance at our answers to jog our memory. Then we reflect aloud and take turns gifting each other with our words. I’ve teared up on more than one occasion (okay, I’ve basically teared up with every anniversary dinner we’ve had so far) because it’s so affirming to hear what Bobby has to say.

We’ve really tried to settle into the questions and allow them to fill up the conversation for the majority of our dinner. We love how purposeful it is. Taking time to sincerely reflect has brought about new insights and appreciation. It makes us look forward to our fancy dinner even more.

Answering these questions provides a gift for each another unlike anything that we could order online or find in a cute boutique.

Documenting our love story is one of our favorite things. This anniversary journal has become a vehicle for us to do that in a vulnerable, real, permanent way for one another – and it will only become more treasured as we continue to fill the pages with each passing year.

It takes some planning and effort but it’s been SO WORTH IT. If it resonates with you, give it a try! And even if you’re past your first anniversary you aren’t too late – you could start this at any point and I promise that it will become a keepsake. Or I think a journal with these questions artfully written in the front could make for a thoughtful wedding gift.

Do you have any anniversary traditions? Please share, I’d love to hear them!

If you want to see pictures of our DIY vintage-inspired wedding, you can visit this wedding post (Part I) and this wedding post (Part II).