Serious relationships can sometimes get caught up in normal, everyday routines, which is why it's so important to take time to celebrate each other and the milestones of your life together. This can be anything from saying “I love you” for the first time to exchanging apartment keys to celebrating your anniversary. So, what happens if your boyfriend or girlfriend forgets your anniversary? In the moment, it can be extremely hurtful.
When it comes to celebrating your relationship, Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, says that it's crucial for both you and your partner to intentionally honor those special occasions. "Celebrating anniversaries, marking relationship milestones, [and] making the relationship a priority is critical to the survival of the relationship," he says. "Making sure that the relationship is nurtured is the responsibility of both partners … That means making the effort to honor the relationship by not missing big milestones like anniversaries."
So, clearly it can feel painful if your girlfriend or boyfriend forgot your anniversary. What exactly does it mean? The answer isn’t always simple, and while it’s likely just to be an honest moment of forgetfulness, considering the mistake’s context will let you know when it’s a red flag.
Context Is Key
“Forgetting is human,” says Klapow. He recommends looking at the situation holistically before jumping to any conclusions about the fate of your relationship. "The meaning of this forgetfulness can range from a true accident to a lack of priority around the anniversary date to a lack of priority around the relationship itself," he explains.
Similarly, Anita Chlipala, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Relationship Reality 312, teaches all her clients to interpret and understand the significance of context. In the case of a partner who doesn’t remember your anniversary, it’s incredibly important to consider the circumstances.
“If it was a one-time deal, I would not get too caught up in it,” Chlipala says. “But after you’ve been specific and clearly stated that celebrating an anniversary is important to you, and they dropped the ball for the third time in four years, then I think it could be indicative of something that's more problematic in the relationship.”
Your partner forgetting your anniversary might be a red flag if you recognize it as part of a larger pattern. Has your girlfriend forgotten important dates before? Is your boyfriend just bad with remembering dates, or is he being neglectful? By answering these questions about your partner, Klapow says you can come to a better understanding of what's going on in your relationship.
"The key here is that missing an anniversary in and of itself doesn’t mean something terrible is happening in your relationship," Klapow says. "The reality is that at some point in a long-term relationship, there is a chance that one or both of you will forget [your anniversary]." He adds that it's rare for someone to forget an anniversary within the first five years of your relationship, but after the first decade, it could be entirely possible. Even people with the best intentions have their forgetful moments sometimes.
It’s More About The Response Than Anything
In addition to context, Chlipala impresses the significance of content. Oftentimes, she says, it’s the response to the situation that matters more than the situation itself. Even if your partner misses your anniversary by a day or has to be reminded by you, if they are apologetic about their mistake and want to make it up to you, that can signify that it was just an accident. Being empathetic and sincere is a clear sign that everything is okay, says Chlipala.
When it comes to discerning if the mistake is a red flag or not, Klapow says that it becomes problematic when they don't respond apologetically with empathy and care. It's concerning if your partner is dismissive, defensive, and doesn't apologize sincerely when you explain that their mistake hurt you. If they show no remorse or feelings of guilt surrounding the missed anniversary, it could mean they don't place enough significance on your relationship.
Communication in a relationship is a two-way street, though. If celebrating significant dates deeply matters to you, make sure to verbalize that to your partner. "At some point, it is important to let them know that while it may not be important to them, it is extremely important to you," says Klapow. Your partner can’t truly know how you feel until you tell them.
“Be honest but gentle, and give them the benefit of the doubt,” Chlipala says. “You could even just start by saying, ‘Look, I really just want to share my feelings around this. It did hurt my feelings. I don't need you to get defensive, but I just need you to understand why an anniversary is important to me.’”
Even if your partner is apologetic after you relay the importance of anniversaries to you, they should be sincere in their actions, too. "Apologizing is great, but if it is important to you and you express that to your partner, they shouldn’t forget repeatedly," Klapow says. Part of loving someone is making them a priority in your life, and you should feel confident that your partner does this for you.
If your partner missed your anniversary, it's definitely valid to be upset. If something is important to you, then it’s important to you! End of story. Hopefully, you’ll be able to discern if your partner's forgetfulness is a simple mistake or a reason to have an important talk with them. Either way, always remember you are a valuable person and partner, and you deserve to be treated as such.
Joshua Klapow, Ph.D,. clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show
Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Relationship Reality 312
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