I don’t ask couples why they’re getting married. Should it matter to me as their officiant? Some tell me that they want to share the love they’re feeling with family and friends, so they’re having a wedding. I’ve known couples who want to raise their children with a partner, and others who have gotten married for the legal or financial benefits. And some couples have me include words regarding the political aspects of marriage.
Now that couples of whichever genders can legally marry in California, the process of getting the marriage license can seem perfunctory. A couple appears at the county office, answers some factual questions, provides their I.D. and the fee, and receives their license. There’s no test, no blood test and no compatibility test. Some clergy will require a couple to participate in pre-marital counseling. As I don’t have my own congregation, nor a background as a therapist, I don’t require that of my couples. I do suggest couples consider counseling with a trained professional. I choose to discuss with couples the most typical arenas in which disagreements arise: financial, child-rearing and family interactions.
I am fortunate in that all the couples whom I have had the honor of marrying appeared to be in love. At the risk of stepping into Tom Moon’s area of expertise, I would like to offer some thoughts about love and successful relationships.
Years ago, I was sharing with a friend that I broke up with my (then) boyfriend. I was questioning my actions, since it felt so easy being with him. My friend responded by saying that I shouldn’t stay with a guy because it was easy to live with him, but rather I should stay with a guy whom I feel I can’t live without.
Over the years, I have come to believe that there is no such thing as a perfect mate. Rabbi Barnett Brickner said, “Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate.” I would elaborate by saying that the search isn’t for the perfect lover, but rather to love to the best of our ability.
The foundation of a strong relationship is built on trust and communication. My relationships have flourished when my partner has encouraged me to be, and do, my best. Sometimes in a loving relationship we decide to prioritize the relationship over our personal/individual desires. A relationship can be nurtured even in times of disagreement if the discussion focuses on moving things forward rather than tearing our partner apart. As humans, we might say something in the heat of the moment, which we later regret. At those times, the adage of not going to bed angry comes in very handy. The two-word phrase “I’m sorry” can be a great start to repairing whatever damage was made.
People’s needs and expectations around love and relationships vary. “We have to teach our partner to love us and not expect them to read our minds,” sex and relationship expert Dr. Tammy Nelson states. “You know you are with the right person when they tell you what makes them feel loved and you are happy to generously lather them with whatever they need. And they do the same for you.”
It’s said that we won’t find love while we’re searching for it. What do we do in the meantime? If you are hoping to eventually find love, I encourage you to work on building a strong foundation for your own life. Participate in activities you enjoy. Learn new skills. Engage with the world. Don’t look for another person to complete you. It is easier to create a strong bond with another person once we feel grounded ourselves.
Lust is wonderful, but most often temporary. Love, however, is a decision, which we reaffirm every time we decide to commit to being with our partner through better or worse, when the road is bumpy or smooth.
Being a wedding officiant is an honor and a pleasure, as I get to be the one person standing in between a couple on the day they declare their love and embark upon their lives as a married couple!
Howard M. Steiermann is an Ordained Ritual Facilitator based in San Francisco. For more information, please visit www.SFHoward.com