Ever wonder what a marriage, family, sex and intimacy therapist might say to one of her children as they were about to get married? Let me give you just a little peek …
I recently had an extraordinary experience … a profound rush of feeling I could not explain. I was in the foreign territory of my first child getting married … (think groping in a dark room). I have long said, your oldest takes you to places never before traveled on the parenting journey … and once again, there I was, completely caught off guard by the strength of my emotion. This took the stretching pain to a whole new level. Six years ago he left to travel the world with his playmate … on this day he was going to marry her. Their relationship had been refined through years of travel, ups and downs, excitement and hardship, feast and famine … they were perfect for each other. I was beyond grateful.
After my children’s well-being, there was nothing I wanted more than for them to find a loving partner (should they choose to partner). My parenting centered on helping them develop the relationship skills of intimacy – good communication, emotional intelligence, good self-esteem, conflict management, sexual intelligence, integrity, a loving heart and the ability to discern quality friends. He was so much more relationally mature than I was at 28 … by a long shot!! So here is what I said about the journey of marriage and my hopes for he and his beloved:
My beautiful grown man, son –
You will wed today your extraordinary beloved, and promise to be at her side, and she by yours through whatever life may bring. This is a key moment. You are making one of the most important and life altering decisions of your life. It feels like a passage for me as well – tho I am not quite sure how to name it. I just know that I feel it in my bones and my body weeps. I only know it is big … and how proud I am of you … and how much I love you … and how blessed I am by who you have become … and how honored I have been to be your mom. That is all I know as these tears cascade unending.
And the snot … unending.
To love with your whole heart, with every fiber of your being is such a powerful thing … and such a risky thing. You give it all to each other trusting the other will care for the heart they now hold as their own. I am so grateful that you love deeply and well, and that you have chosen someone who also loves deeply and well. It is only this kind of person who you can trust to hold the weight of your heart and trust them to care for it as you care for theirs. Marriage is choosing well, then making that choice work, every day. And in this process of making it work, you learn more and more what it means to really love, and a little more about the nuances of God’s relentless love for you.
Love is both a feeling and an action – a noun and a verb.
It is patient and kind, not jealous, mean, selfish or rude. It believes the best in the other, even when they are struggling to believe the best in themselves. It is living faith, living hope, living love … every day … simply because on that day, all those days, months, years ago, you chose each other to be your beloved. Living your vows, loving each other, regardless of the circumstance, makes you a better person.
And when you both do this, it makes your love, unbreakable.
I so often wish I could have given you a better example of this … Lord knows I wanted to … but life, doesn’t always unfold the way one hopes. Ultimately it will always take two to get into a relationship, two to make it work, and one to end it. But all I learned and fought to survive … and all the love I poured into our family through all our ups and downs, made me a better person … and with God’s sweet grace, made us all stronger, wiser and a deeply grateful and loving bunch. We might be a motley configuration of a family – but we are a lovely crew.
Forgiveness and grace are real entities … and miracles do happen.
While you and your love have been building a life for over six years, you are about to embark on one of the most important adventures of the human experience. The commitment of marriage is both a clearly articulated promise and a ritual filled with mystery. You agree to walk into the forest together, willing to face whatever life brings, as a team, defending, protecting, loving, infusing hope. There will be times of darkness in this forest – blackness brought on by the density of life. There will also be darkness inside each of you which you will be invited to face. Each of these passages is another invitation to find the light within you and within your relationship to be the beacon through the darkness. Cling to each other, care for your relationship and take nothing for granted. Life and relationships are organic entities – they can be fragile and uncertain – they need intentional care.
Here are the seven things that over a hundred happy couples all had in common. I already see how you practice these things. Of all the things I see in you that make me feel like maybe I did a good job as a mom, it is seeing you demonstrate these things to and with your beloved. I am so inspired by you. But life will make these things harder and harder to do. In part because daily life can scream louder as time goes on, and the routine of life can conceal the needs of the relationship and each other. Your love, like a garden, will need seasonal care. If you ignore it, it will eventually let you know. Clean up is always worse and more painful than daily maintenance. Make tending a habit and your love will be the inspiration, confidence and security behind all your creative pursuits and life work.
Wisdom from the happiest couples:
They believe they are beloved. Happy couples are made up of emotionally healthy and independently happy individuals. These are people who take good care of themselves and who see themselves as valuable. They understand that how they treat themselves is an extension of how they treat their partner and their relationship. They are intentional in their self-care and self-love. People who see themselves as beloved, know that others are beloved as well and thus know how to forgive and extend grace in conflict. They are self-aware enough to be assertive but emotionally stable enough to consider the opinions and feelings of the other.
They are committed. Happy couples know that beyond a shadow of a doubt their partner will stand by their side. They know that when things get really hard, especially hard, the other will be there, fighting alongside them. Fighting for the health of the relationship and fighting for the health of themselves and the other. Inside this firm alliance is the freedom to be exactly who they are – to bring all their vulnerabilities, to take off all masks, to open their hearts and be fully naked. They are safe to be seen, known, loved and accepted.
They Trust Each Other. Happy couples have earned each other’s trust through countless interactions. They don’t worry the other person will undermine them or throw them under the bus. They have proven over and over again through their actions, not just their words, that they are their biggest fan and will come to their defense when needed. This trust is built through daily tasks agreed and done, speaking one’s truth and trusting the other to hear that truth, and living out whatever promises honor the fidelity and integrity of the relationship. Trust is built stronger through consistency and reliability. This is what builds the emotional security and ultimately the depth of intimacy experienced.
They are Intentional. Happy couples make their relationship a priority through daily loving actions. These are the couples that don’t allow ‘fly-by’ kisses or hugs, but instead will catch each other in the kitchen and hug for three minutes until they finally relax and can feel each-other’s love and beating heart. These are the couples that give at least one juicy 10 second kiss a day (unrelated to sex) and love to embarrass their kids by how they flirt. That leave their children behind to go away on a date regularly or away for a weekend. These are the couple’s that say “I love you”. They understand that their romantic connection and the fun that drew them together in the first place, can easily get overshadowed by the demands of life, and because of this, they are mindful to keep a pulse on that connection.
They Don’t Fight to Win. Happy couples understand that to fight to win or convince each other their opinion is right, is to always hurt the relationship. They realize that their relationship is an entity that can be damaged by how they manage and cope with conflict. These couples neither sweep things under the rug nor fight until there is a bloody victor. Instead they deal with conflict in a way that is mindful of the effect of their dealings on the relationship itself. They are willing at times to forgo their wants for the other to protect the relationship, knowing that when the time comes, the other will do the same.
They Seek to Understand the Point of View of the Other. Happy couples understand that sometimes in conflict the content that is being argued about is not exactly what is going on underneath. They know how to slow the conversations down and be truly curious seeking to understand what is really going on. They ask real questions to get underneath the complaint. They seek to know when and if they have hurt the other and listen reflecting back their understanding, apologizing for the hurt and reassuring their love. This is all long before explaining the circumstances of the event.
They are Kind. Happy couples are kind to one another. They don’t call each other names, they don’t tease in hurtful ways, they don’t criticize each other in front of others and they don’t cast blame. These couples are mindful that words can in fact hurt, affecting safety and trust. Therefore they manage their emotions and work very hard to think before they speak.
My lovely son, I am so proud you have chosen to walk this holy path of love and I am so very grateful that you were given such a perfect partner to walk this journey with. After your safety and health, who and how you would choose to love has been my most earnest prayer; so much more than what college you would go to or what profession you would choose. To be a man of emotional integrity and strength, to love well, takes more courage, self-discipline and fortitude than most other life endeavors. Generations of strong families are not built upon professional accomplishment as much as they are on the love and integrity of parents … and the child’s ability to respect and admire who their parents are in the world. You already are that man. You will be a wonderful husband as you have already been a wonderful life partner. Maybe someday you will have the scary, mysterious, powerful, amazing honor to pass that love on to your child. And the story will continue.
May God bless you and keep you – make his face to shine upon you – and give your love all it needs to nourish you both in all the days and years to come.
I love you!