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Holiday Cards Reveal Secret Truths

(Photo: U.S. Air Force.)
(Photo: U.S. Air Force.)

The reason Shutterfly offers festive blue New Year's card layouts next to the red and green Christmas card layouts is for slackers like me.

Oh, I talk a good game. In December, I always swear that if anyone wants to know that much about our family, they should Facebook us, Google us, come on over and ring our doorbell.

It is only in the cool, gray light of January that I sit down to really read those cards. I end up loving all those pictures of kids we knew as babies. I end up relishing newsletters about deployments completed and marching bands joined and college applications sent. I end up jumping on Shutterfly so that I, too, can be part of that whole holiday thing.

Because even though you've got the folks who use their Christmas card to describe (in detail) the death of their cat, the majority of the holiday cards sent by our military friends reveal the same secret message: We are moving forward.

We are meeting our goals.

We are, in fact, dare-I-say-it? Happy.

I want to be happy like that. According to the dynamic goal theory of marital satisfaction, meeting the goals of the marriage -- seeing forward movement on these goals -- is the most essential determinant of marital satisfaction.

I can see that is true in all these holiday cards. Here are brides in white and grooms in uniform. Here are scrunchy little babies and their proud big sisters. Here are new drivers and grown skateboarders and retirement (already?) ceremonies. Here is the yearly accounting of goals met, of checks in the blocks. No wonder that is a source of marital satisfaction.

The thing that dynamic goal theory points out is that our goals for our marriages keep changing over time. We reach one set of goals, we pass one set of mile markers, and daunting others pop up in their places.

When we were first married, our goal was to spend as much time in bed as possible and, apparently, make babies.

Then our goal was to get through an actual deployment and meet on the same pier at the end.

Then we just wanted to avoid debtors prison and do just enough nose wiping and diaper changing to avoid visits from Child Protective Services.

Now our goal is to launch those kids and make enough money to buy a new roof and stop spending so much time alone on I-95.

Or at least I think that is what our goals are. I should probably ask my husband what he thinks our new goals are. Or maybe the asking was already done when we put together our New Year's card and spent an afternoon signing and addressing and stamping together.

Maybe that is why we military folks keep writing these cards in an age of constant social media. Maybe we put holiday cards together as a way of making ourselves notice where we are. Which goals we have agreed to pursue. And why we are still married.

Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, D.C. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at jacey@jaceyeckhart.com.

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Contributor

Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at Military.com and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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