There will be 2.3 million weddings this year in the United States. And it seems my wife and I were invited to half of them, not including the three weddings we’ll be attending in the next 18 months as parents of the bride or groom. Yes, three of our five children are engaged.
With the stakes so high – half of marriages still end in divorce – we’ve been thinking a lot about marriage, even though the conversations around us are all about weddings (venues, photographers, invitations).
Just last weekend, we were at a wedding where the minister addressed the married couples in the congregation directly, asking us to consider renewing our vows today, to recommit to each other as we move forward together on our journey.
He lost me at the word “journey.” That word sounds so self-helpish and new age-y. My mind was fast-forwarding to important questions like would the cake be chocolate or vanilla as my wife whispered to me, “Let’s review our vows.”
I said, “He said ‘renew,’ not review.” She smiled at me, that slightly crooked smile reserved for young children and thick-headed adults.
“I know he said ‘renew,’ but first maybe we should review how we’re doing.”
I liked the idea. We review restaurants on Yelp, books on Amazon, employees at work, and yet in the 17 years Rique and I have been married we haven’t had a single review.
Why renew without a review? If we’re having problems with some of the clauses in our vows, let’s not blindly re-commit without some course correction. The review lasted off and on all weekend. I highly recommend the practice.
We started with “for better and for worse.” There are lots of ways you can take this general clause, but we decided to think of the traits we each have that put us at our worst. It was refreshing to admit that I can often be short-tempered and condescending. And even more refreshing to be told that when I’m at my worst, Rique reminds herself of my better qualities and actually counts the ways she loves me.
We moved on to “for richer and for poorer.” So much to review here we could have used a spreadsheet. We’ve had four kids in college at the same time. We’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, we’ve been in debt and climbed out, and we’ve made it – if not to the mountaintop, then at least to a nice hill. Along the way we’ve learned a lot about each other – not all of it wonderful – but we’ve learned to talk about it all. We gave ourselves good marks on this part of the review.
We also gave ourselves solid scores in the “through sickness and health” department. We’ve both enjoyed relatively good health, but we included grief, angst, and malaise in the mix, which gave us a lot more to review.
One of the conclusions we reached is this: When you’re standing at the altar, you are taking a colossal leap of faith. No matter how well you know each other, you really have no idea what’s up ahead. You’re driving blind through a snowstorm. And not only that, but you aren’t always exactly sure where you’re headed, which turns to avoid, and what landmarks to look for.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We married couples – the ones the minister addressed – we could do a better job of sharing our stories from the front lines. We parents and aunts and uncles could spend less time helping the couple create a fairy tale wedding and more time telling stories that don’t begin with “once upon a time.”
Rique and I did take a vow that weekend – to be more honest with our children, to share more of what it’s really like to be married. Maybe it’s time we told them about some of the fights we so carefully hid from them – and how we got through them. What if we laid out some of the issues that divided us or that challenge us still? We could also tell them about some of the times one of us really sacrificed for the other.
Weddings always end with the pronouncement that the couple is now husband and wife. Yet to succeed, they'll also have to become friends, business partners, therapists, motivational speakers, advocates, even educational specialists. And if you have kids, you will quickly find out that they are not the patch you were looking for; they are the water that finds the cracks and crevices in your foundation – forcing you to come together to shore it up. The joy of being parents often lives in the shadows of exhaustion and bewilderment.
Let’s help our children understand that while weddings are all about you as a couple, marriage is about two people, figuring out when to come together and how to be alone. It took me two marriages to figure a lot of this out. I hope with a little help, our kids can figure it out in one.
Jim Sollisch is creative director at Marcus Thomas Advertising.