As a couples counselor, I think a lot about love. Who we love, why we love and how love morphs over time from that passionate first encounter to a steadier thrum with peaks and valleys. There is that moment of “will you spend the rest of your life with me?” and then there are the years that follow. How can love – such a small word, really – be strong enough to tie two people together forever?
If a wedding were only a private matter, there would be no need for a carefully planned ceremony, bouquets of roses, crisp white invitations. But it is not only the two people standing up front who make a promise; it is everyone in the room with them. As witnesses to their marriage, we are also promising a lifetime commitment to their partnership. We are making a promise to be there for them – for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. This weekend I’m headed out of town to a wedding of some dear friends and I look forward to joining with the rest of their community to not only honor their love but commit with them to uphold it
John Gottman, a couple therapist in Seattle, has done extensive research on what causes some partnerships to thrive and others to fail. He writes that one key factor is keeping strong (and fond) memories of falling in love, courting and the wedding day. Couples who are able to recall details of these events, and the feelings they had during them are more likely to have strong successful relationships.
Life rushes in post-ceremony, the years go by, people grow apart and sometimes it’s a struggle to remember what initially drew them together. So next time you get an invitation to join a couple on their wedding day or for their commitment ceremony – as you sit in the chapel, the field, the synagogue, the living room – pay attention to the details. Record each moment in your memory because someday – in a few years or ten or twenty – you might be called upon to help your friend or family member – your community – to remember this day. Take your role as a witness seriously. Participate with all of your being in the joy of this day but mark also the weight of it and what your presence means. You are there because two people chose you to commit with them to their partnership, now and in the future.
I am an optimist and a romantic. I also know firsthand the incredibly hard work required to keep a marriage or partnership strong. It takes more than just two people in love. It takes all of us being willing to hold each other up, lean on each other when times are hard and remembering to reach back to that moment when we as a community said – I Do.