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    Happily Ever After Usually Comes with Fair Fights

    reverendSince couples come to me, almost universally, for a wedding only and not for pre-marital counseling, I usually don’t have a lot of input as to what will make their marriage successful.

    Now I will say that most of the couples I marry arrive at my door already having done a lot of the work of “pre-marital counseling.” That is, they have talked at some length about what is important, what is likely to make a strong permanent marriage, and what they are willing to do to make their marriage to work. Some even write these aspects of their commitment directly into their vows.

    The most common element most couples seem to agree is essential is good communication. But the phrase “good communication” by itself seems too broad, too generic, and not specific enough to inform each partner through all of the stuff that life brings. For instance…

    What about when you are totally shocked by an idea your partner has, something completely unexpected, and not anything you would ever think of?

    What about when you’re pissed as hell about some idiotic thing she or he has done?

    What about when you stand on completely opposite sides of the fence?

    What about when either of you are in the heat of jealousy?

    What about when you can’t seem to get over being mad, when you simply can’t see his or her point of view and you’re so sure you are right?

    And how about when your two families have taken totally opposite viewpoints in your controversy?

    Or when you know you completely screwed up and cannot stand to admit that?

    Or when disaster strikes when you least expect it?

    Healthy responses to these sticky situations probably won’t be included in your vows. But discussing how you’ll approach one another when you feel like you can’t communicate at all will go a long way toward knowing what to do when you find yourself in these choppy waters.

    What does it mean to “fight fair?” (See Tom Moon’s piece on anger vs. abuse on page 10.) Does this mean that there’s to be no name-calling? Telling the truth as you see it, and at the same time, not saying things in a hurtful way? Listening patiently without interrupting? An agreement to be able to walk away for a time and come back to the discussion when everyone has cooled off? The answer is not set in stone.

    No matter how deep your love or how solid your commitment is, you are going to have disagreements, even “fights.” Set some loving ground rules, so you can both survive these battles with your teeth and marriage vows intact. If you can do this, the rough seas may test your marriage, but they won’t sink it. Your home will likely be both happy and harmonious.

    Rev. Elizabeth River is an ordained Interfaith Minister based in the North Bay. For more information, please visit