It's wedding season on the Island and yesterday I spent quite a bit of time with a delightful couple and their families, preparing for their wedding today on a bluff overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We had met initially months ago to begin this process and I was struck by their earnest and sincere desire to create a marriage that would nurture both of them and each of them.
I always ask a couple a lot of questions about their relationship, how they met, what they love and admire about the other person, and so on, in addition to the details about the wedding they want-------you know the drill, if you are a clergyperson. I don't make any effort to do deep premarital counseling because I'm simply not trained to do so, but I want to be able to refer them for counseling if I detect difficulties in the relationship. I want to know them as well as possible before the wedding, since many of the couples who come to me are not members of my congregations, and I have a mental list of red flags that help me discern the health of their relationship.
Yesterday, as we sat and had breakfast together, I thought back to a moment in time 30 years ago, when my boyfriend and I decided we would marry and made arrangements with a local judge to do the ceremony. We weren't affiliated with a church at that point and his boss was a judge, so we decided that he would officiate. Leaving all the incipient problems with that decision aside (like why didn't we ask my dad the Baptist minister to officiate?) along with their awkward explanations (like how would I tell my dad I no longer felt Baptist?), I recognize now many of the red flags that would have been revealed had my boyfriend and I been asked these questions.
I don't regret for a moment the 13 years I spent married. I learned life skills I could never have learned alone. I have an incredible and loving son who is getting ready to marry his sweetheart next summer. My former husband and I are friends and, in fact, I officiated at his re-marriage several years ago (boy, can that act cut the ties that bind pretty definitively!). Even after our divorce, I was included in his family openheartedly.
But I wish, oh how I wish, that we had been asked to tell it to the judge: "how did you meet?" "what drew you to the other person?" "what do you love and admire?" "how do you talk about the hard things?" "what will you as a couple contribute to the world?" "what will marriage change between you?" "what will marriage change about you?"
We went into our marriage without a clue, except for the examples of our parents' marriages----long term, 50's style, loving but unequal in overt power. I thought he would be like my dad, affectionate, strong, unselfish. I'm sure he thought I would be like his mom, taking care of his every need. But that kind of marriage was not in the cards for us; neither of us was able to meet the expectations and needs of the other, particularly with the times a-changin' as they were in the 60's and 70's.
And so a crisis tore us apart, we separated and divorced, trying to keep our son afloat during those difficult times, weathering the storms of resentment and loneliness that plagued us both, and gradually learning who we were as individuals and what we needed for ourselves and within a relationship. Our son survived and gradually came into his own as a young man. We each took different paths and mine led me into the ministry.
Today I, a woman who has been single for 26 years, counsel and marry couples embarking on their own life journeys together. I sometimes wonder what wisdom I have that gives me the authority to tell others how to nurture a marriage, how to talk about the hard things, how to keep a relationship healthy. And yet I do have something to offer, if only the wisdom obtained through years of searching, wondering, watching, listening, hearing, seeing what I was unable to do that others succeed in. What I offer, I think, is the voice that asks the questions. I don't pretend to have the answers, only the questions that I wish someone had asked me, 30 years ago.