Happily Ever After Starts at the Beginning

Happily Ever After Starts at the Beginning

I have performed hundreds of weddings and have come to the conclusion (completely unverified) that you can tell a lot about the dynamics of the marriage by how the couple behaves while getting married. One wedding I performed involved a couple that already had a child. While the groom focused on his friends in the audience, the bride focused on their baby and neither of them appeared to be aware of the other. Their marriage only lasted a few years. Sometimes the bride and groom don’t appear to have any awareness about what they are saying as they repeat their vows with a glazed-over look is in their eyes. One bride once accidentally said: “‘Til debt do us part.”

Since wedding season is right around the corner, here are some wedding—and marriage—tips that can help:

Remember that this is a sacred ceremony—not a performance. Weddings often seem more like a highly rehearsed performance than the creation of a powerful union. Do your best to be focused on what is happening between you and your partner, rather than the audience or immediate surroundings.

Be in the moment. Notice what your partner’s eyes are like while you are saying your vows. Notice the meaning of the words being said. Take note of your senses—what do you smell, hear, see, feel as you share your vows? These are the memories that will not be forgotten.

A wedding is not a photo shoot. While everyone wants beautiful photos of their wedding day, a beautiful experience is even more important. If you are focusing all your attention on whether your pictures are going to look good, whether your hair is in place, and whether the ring is showing up properly, you are going to miss the moment. Let your photographers know that you are willing to pose for your pictures after the ceremony if they aren’t able to get exactly what was needed during. Then, relax into the authenticity of the moment with your partner. One bride kept interrupting the ceremony to talk to the photographer. She exclaimed over and over, “My makeup is running, stop. Don’t take that photo, I’m sure I look horrible. I’m ruining my pictures.” Respectfully speaking, she wasn’t ruining her photos—the worst of which could easily be deleted—she was ruining her ceremony—a far more important experience.

Be cognizant of what you are agreeing to—be sure that the vows truly reflect the meaning of your commitment. For better or for worse doesn’t mean, until you cheat on me. And in sickness and in health doesn’t mean, I’ll stay with you as long as you are young, attractive, healthy, and active.

So, if what you really mean when you get married is that this is a conditional agreement, be clear about it. If what you really mean is “I’ll be with you until you break our vows” or “I’ll be with you as long as it is fun and easy” or “I’ll love you until you gain weight,” discuss this with your partner and make sure that marriage is what you really want to do. After all, there really isn’t a lot of point in getting married if you aren’t serious about doing the work.

And if you have valid conditions (and yes, there definitely are some), be clear going in as to what they are. “I’ll stay with you as long as we are both contributing to a low-drama, zero-violence, harmonious, and respectful, drug-free household” may actually be more in alignment with what you really mean.

Take responsibility for the quality of your relationship. Doing “the work” in a marriage doesn’t mean, “tolerating you until one of us dies.” Rather, it means putting some time and energy into making sure that you have some relationship skills, are responsible for your own self-esteem, have discussed the “big issues” and are in agreement on how to go about solving problems.

As I say when officiating, “This commitment is the alignment of your words, which speak boldly of your intentions, and your actions, which speak louder than your words.” This holds true in the wedding ceremony and the marriage itself. Align your words, thoughts and actions with your goal of creating a harmonious, loving relationship. Be clear about what you are and are not willing to do. Take responsibility for what you bring to the table. Be present and aware.

When the couple is really aware during the ceremony, there is a sweet, “goose bumps” feeling that is tangible and an honor to share with them. If they continue to be present in their relationship, that sweetness can permeate a lifetime together.

Intellectual Foreplay Question: What does marriage mean to you?

Love Tip: Marriage is not a romantic fairy tale and happily-ever-after may require a lot of work. The work, however, is not on your partner; it is on your own clarity and self-mastery—right from the start.

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