I’d like to start from where I left off yesterday… So, on to weddings!
It seemed during my years as a pastor that I had to preach about 6 funerals for every wedding. Needless to say, weddings for me took on almost the nature of a reward for all the hard work of absorbing grief — because in many ways that’s what a good friend does for those who are grieving.
One of the first things I realized about weddings and about couples in love is that every single one is unique to itself. You might think of couples as lovey-dovey and young and demonstrative but the truth of the matter is that they come in every different age, every different temperament, and with every different reason for getting hitched that you can imagine.
The couples I married all agreed to 6 pre-marital sessions — I never wanted to call them “counselling” because I never saw what we were doing as counselling. Much of the time was spent with them talking to each other, and me not being much more than a fly on the wall. They also agreed to give me a list of their own composing describing for me the things about their future spouse that they least liked. I really wanted them to go into their up-coming marriage with their eyes at least partially open to the realities of married life: your partner is never perfect. I think it helped, so the best of my knowledge, none of “my” couples has divorced. But maybe I shouldn’t say that lest I jinx what seems to have worked all these years.
I cannot emphasize too much how important the aspect of uniqueness is to marriage. If I might use my wife and I was examples, we are both from small families and neither of us grew up in a house with yelling. In fact, the one thing I can guarantee will put the both of us off is raised voices. We do not argue — even though we talk a lot and even though we are pretty open about always making agreed-upon decisions. By contrast, some of the couples I married actually thrived on disagreement and argument — it was just their way of communicating. Some couples had a strongly dominant individual who seemed to make most of the decisions, but they all had ways for a less forceful partner to get their way, and get their point across. None of them were 50/50 partnerships — I don’t honestly think such a thing exists. We all go through times in life when we are weaker and when we are stronger. Expecting that your partner is exactly going to participate precisely 50% of the partnership is a formula for frustration and failure. We have to be willing to ebb and flow with life’s surprises. One partner gets sick — the other one helps out. One partner loses a job, the other partner chips in. One partner wants something the couple really can’t afford, one partner gives in and agrees to wait a while. These are just random examples but the real “list” of exceptions to the 50/50 idea are as long as life and just as complicated.
I have to say that the thing that always troubled me about some couples was when they were paying more attention to the “wedding” than they were to the marriage. Not many of “my” couples had elaborate weddings. There were some large weddings but I didn’t move in circles with super rich people nor with folks who were big on putting on airs. Still, I saw a couple where the emphasis was so much on show and prestige that I did have my concerns about their ultimate success as a couple.
Which brings me to the whole idea of marriage as an institution. In youth we aren’t really very good about seeing members of the opposite sex as being great people — our humanity tends to want to focus on their suitability as a mating partner. I’m not telling any secrets here. Listen to popular songs — Well, maybe listen to the older popular songs that have coherent lyrics — the emphasis is so often on looks and how appealing the person being sung about might be. But life and marriage is about so much more than just bringing children into the world.
I was never asked to marry a significantly differently aged couple. I’ve known a few and it always struck me how limited their conversation frequently turned out to be. Too many years difference in age often leaves a couple without common ground and no matter how attractive someone might be there comes a time when you actually have to talk to each other. Still, we both know couples of significant age difference who have gotten along famously for a long time. Difficulties can be overcome when a couple wants to do so But like everything else, both parties have to want to do so.
You know, this whole idea that no partner is perfect is really important. Peg & I are best friends and we are going on our 52nd year together. As much as I love and like her there are moments when a little thing here or a little thing there can really annoy me. But the secret is not in letting a little thing over come all the big things that are right. Same with me. Knowing my personality I’m sure there are at least as many times for her when I drive her up the wall with some one of my many quirks — still she finds a way of discounting the failures in favor of the successes. All of those things are conscious choices. Which is what marriage is all about: making the conscious choice a thousand times a day to spend the rest of your life with one person.
I’m glad that I got to enjoy the marriages mingled in among the funerals. In their own way I enjoyed both. But getting to know a new couple who had love in their eyes and in their hearts and who were setting out upon a lifelong journey together, with ideals and hopes, and ambitions — that was special and even now — all these years later — I thank God I had a part in their lives.