He asks, "Will you marry me?"
She says, "Yes. Yes!! YES!!!"
He asked her to live with him for now and forever and she said, "Yes, I want a wedding!!!"
A couple came to see me for premarital counseling boldly wearing high hopes and little else -- nor did they need anything more. High hope is why people get married, and has everything to do with why they will stay married. But a wedding is not a marriage.
Who stays married? Everybody stays married. While some couples are together for short stints and others longer, all couples begin a marital history that stays with them for the rest of their lives.
If you are marrying this June, you are joining many others in the sacred union of marriage. Couples who marry today generally stay together longer and spend more time together than couples in past generations when men typically lost a wife or two to childbirth and women lost husbands to military service or work-related incidents.
Unremarkably, people who are together in small spaces can become bored with each other. Shocker, right? Think of how many times some people change college roommates, dorms, or even colleges.
So, what does it take to persevere?
1. Respect. The couple with high hopes demonstrated respect for each other. When the one spoke, the other actively listened. They demonstrated this by looking at the other, waiting for them to finish speaking and often referring to what the other had said. I had the impression that they would follow this pattern in their marriage as well, allowing them to continue this comfortable conversation for the rest of their lives. In essence, they were easy to be around.
2. Reverence. Another couple I know married over 30 years ago and still seem to be in awe of each other. But things weren't always perfect. About 20 years into the union, they hit a trouble spot. Although they lived under one roof, their children, work and social commitments had breached the space that was only theirs and separated them. He was the one who called me. I was impressed. Husbands don't usually call, but he had exceptional humility about him.
He said, "I can't lose my family."
I said, "You must lose your family and find your wife."
He stopped everything and went to his wife and told her how much he missed her, had missed them, and asked her to forgive him for letting her get away.
They came for one session, and I asked them to recall their first impressions of each other. They each said that back then they had thanked God for finding the other. I asked them if they would like to do that again, and through date nights and daily talks, they did.
3. Responsibility. I assume that people getting married are in love -- if not with each other, then at least with the romance and potential pomp and circumstance of the ceremony. Love won't keep them together though -- responsible behavior will. Couples need to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries from others for the relationship to succeed.
Initially, boundaries define who the individuals have become. These were two people who separated themselves from others, chose to became a couple and eventually get married. Their signatures on that piece of paper, and friends and family who attend the ceremony, are witnesses to their legal union. Though the couple may not feel any different, the photographs and associated announcements are documentation that they are married.
Definitive aspects of their relationship are closed to others. However, unlike the rich Dead Sea, which allows nothing to exit or return, couples may have other types of relationships. The boundaries are not solid, nor the walls torn down, but include space for others.
Couples new in their marriage define these spaces. Newly married couples can sometimes undermine their reliance on each other. Lack of communication with others and social activities can cause the couple to become enmeshed. Couples need to spend time together, but healthy couples spend time apart as well, but not so much that they become artificial singles. In their absence from the other, they speak fondly of the other, smiling and saying, "He said" or "She said."
The couple has the responsibility to define, for themselves and others, the acceptable boundaries. Will they tolerate name-calling? Will they promise never to go to bed angry? Without the other present, will they keep their promises?
From the moment they say "I do," the couple's definition of themselves establishes their placement in the world. They will reminisce together through the years about the people whom they have known. They may not be able to recall the names, but their own relationship is their constant. History shows that this couple was married on such and such a date. They remind each other of what the other has forgotten. One would not be who they have become without the other. Through time, people came and went, yet this couple who long ago held hands saying "I do," has remained.
Remember, a wedding is not a marriage, but a wonderful celebration that marks the beginning of your life together. So, yes! Get married. Yes!! Celebrate your anniversary for many years to come. Yes!!! Stay married, and always show respect, reverence and responsibility to one another.
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