Marriage Involves Conscious Efforts

howardIn every wedding ceremony in which I officiate I recite this quote:

“Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.

I don’t recall where I found this quote, although I do know that the attribution goes to Rabbi Barnett Brickner.

The quote reminds me that in marriage, as in life, the goal is not simply to reach a destination, but rather to travel the route in a thoughtful way. For example, I have learned that the more I clearly communicate, the more it encourages those around me to communicate. A second example is when I am fully present rather than multi-tasking, I offer more of my complete self and, in return, others are more willing to be fully present for me.

I have learned that when I am leading a Sabbath service and let myself be vulnerable or show emotion from the pulpit, my openness facilitates congregants to be more open. Crying in front of others (at least here in San Francisco) isn’t seen as a sign of weakness, but as a sign of emotional strength.

So to ‘be a right mate,’ we need to model those behaviors we would like to see. I think of how children tend to replicate what they observe more than they simply follow what they’re told to do. If we model the behaviors we would like from our partners, we are more apt to foster those behaviors in them.

A quote I recently came across from Erich Fromm’s book, The Art of Loving:

“To love somebody is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?”

I plan on incorporating this quote into future wedding ceremonies, as it encapsulates my understanding of marriage. Marriage involves conscious effort. Partners cannot be on autopilot and expect their relationship to flourish. Love and marriage are not like a business partnership. As much as on-line dating sites try to standardize the process of human connection, a “strong feeling” is still involved. And, we have to be ready to commit ourselves and our lives to be inexorably linked with another. That is what couples are doing when they stand before me, their family, and friends and say their “I Do’s.”

Howard M Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.SFHoward.com.