The Guaranteed Marriage

Marriage Guarantee Sticker“How do we guarantee that our marriage will be ok?”

It’s a question often asked of Austin Weddings Unlimited, and the answer isn’t exactly what you want to hear.  There isn’t a guarantee. There is no such thing. In fact, there are no perfect marriages either.

We hear a lot about guarantees in this culture; on TV, for our big purchases, for our technology, finances, and so forth. People marketing these products want us to feel that our purchases have real, long-lasting value. The idea that what we buy is going to last indefinitely. So with the high cost of a wedding, and all the many fabulous trimmings we buy – including the ceremony itself –  it is, in fact, quite easy to start thinking we have bought ourselves a guaranteed, life-long, loving relationship.

But think about that for a moment. Shoes wear out, as do cars, computers, and TVs. So what are we to think of this idea of a guaranteed marriage? First, don’t trust it. Don’t make the fatal assumption about marriage that now the wedding is over, the good life stretches out decades ahead with nothing left for us to do to make things work but enjoy the love.

Take a wise, forgiving, and introspective look at your current relationship. What habits and choices are different between you and your partner? Does he keep neat and tidy dresser drawers? Does she pay the bills regularly and on time and know the balance in the bank account? Which one of you seems to always make the best choices, and why? Is one of you right, and the other wrong about things? If you’ve taken a wise look at your marriage you have seen that each of you brings certain strengths, habits and choices to your relationship that are essential, respectable and of value.  Not necessarily right or wrong . . . just different.

Forgiveness is essential. Look into yourself and see where you have consciously forgiven your partner for whatever fault or failure might have occurred. If forgiveness is operative, effective, and real you will see that you feel better for having forgiven them; that your marriage is stronger because of that act of forgiveness you made.

There are certainly some circumstances and behaviors that happen in marriage, as in life, that demand you seek outside help. Physical abuse and self-destructive or life-threatening addictions are two.

Life is difficult. No doubt about that. But there is hope. Marriage isn’t perfect. But there are good marriages. Really good marriages have been built over time and people recover from all manner of difficulties, thereby allowing for nuptial joy to survive well beyond the excitement of the wedding day. So take the time to take a wise, forgiving and introspective look at your relationship. Enjoy the love, but don’t be naive about it.

Konking and the Secret Language of Marriage

“In token of my love and devotion/I place this ring on your finger/I konk you.”

I choked on the water in my mouth. The beautiful customized vows my younger sister and her now-husband had written had been going so well. And then . . . “I konk you.” Say what?

Customizing vows is not an uncommon thing. In fact, I assist in customizing vows or guide personal statements for couples more often than not. It’s a fantastic way to truly articulate what “for better/for worse ” looks like and sounds like for a couple. Some of my couples insert humor. Other couples insert deeply meaningful references. And some send me cryptic lines . . . like my sister. In all my years, I must admit – it was my own sister who’d left me speechless.

I believe every couple has their own language. And a couple’s language definitely develops over years of their relationship. It’s the funny turn of phrase which references a private joke. Or an anecdote that belies a level of comfort and intimacy. Or a coded way to say something to the other. For my sister and her husband, “I konk you” was just that – a code. But as it sat in the first draft of their wedding ceremony text, it did not translate.

I emailed my sister: “You cannot say that in a wedding!” She replied, “Oh, but we have to, Sarah. It’s non-negotiable.” She began to unpack “konking” for me. You see, my sister and brother-in-law aren’t prone to public displays of affection, so touching their foreheads was their way of connecting in public spaces. It was a way to connect deeply without overt affection — an action they came to dub “konking.” Once explained, I found it deeply touching and beautiful. Of course they should incorporate it in their wedding. After all, they even engraved the phrase into their wedding bands. But while marriage has its deeply private and intimate spaces and secret languages, weddings are a public affair. This phrase, I explained, would require translation.

Let me repeat myself: Marriage has its deeply private and intimate spaces, but weddings are a public affair. This is to say that we do not live our marriages out solely in our own space. Our marriages live in communities; of friends, of families, of neighborhoods and cities. So, the marriage story is told not just by the two people in a marriage, but by the community. Marriage is not just a give and take between two people, a nurturing of their shared space, but also a nurture of the space they occupy within their broader world. Sometimes translation is required. Sometimes checks and balances are necessary. Marriage – not just the wedding – is a public affair even with its private spaces.

My sister, her husband, and I crafted an explanation of konking. Instead of making it a mere line in the vows, the first action they took after their consent and vows was to konk. That is to say, the first act of their marriage was this beautiful private language in a public space. And I deciphered.  I translated their konk for our community, and we, their lucky witnesses, were able to honor their space and language, as well as their love through our understanding.

So, I am curious: What is the private language you and your partner speak? And does your community know how to honor it?

P.S. The parents of three beautiful girls, konking now belongs not just to my sister and brother-in-law, but is a shared family ritual. The story of their marriage is now the story of their family.

Canada, Oh Canada!

One my favorite things about my husband is his ability to make me laugh.  He is really funny and goofy.  (This actually may surprise some people who know him professionally.)  One of our best-loved memories goes back to our pre-children years (those special pre-children memories are their own blog) when we took a trip to Disney World.

Disney World exit signWhile visiting Canada in Epcot’s World Showcase area, we watched a beautiful film exhibiting the sweeping landscapes, beautiful people, and world cities that make their country so special.  The song includes one line that says “Planet Earth.” But what we heard rhymed with Canada with a make-up word, “planet-a.”  We exploded in fits of laughter.

Now this may not seem particularly funny, but even as I sit here and type it, I am laughing all over again. I actually found the clip on the internet, and sent the link to my husband at work.

At the time we first heard it, we barely made it out of the theater before we were doubled over in hysterics. You know . . . the sort of laughter where you cannot breath, tears are streaming down your face, and people are staring at you like you have three heads? I recall park guards walking by – I am sure they were about to haul us off as drunk or disruptive or a general nuisance.  But it’s just the best kind of laughter. And now, it’s a shared joke and a family phrase.

There is something about this sort of laughter that fuels companionship. It feeds a relationship. Lucky for me, this is not a rare moment for us, nor for our family. We can be pretty silly, and we laugh often. The jokes don’t always translate well, as they are in some ways the private language of our marriage and our family. And frankly, that’s ok, if not wildly appropriate. It speaks to an intimacy that we have both birthed and then nurtured.

And while the jokes may not be the same from marriage to marriage or family to family, laughter is, indeed, a medicine. It’s a balm for the sticky parts of life. It’s a release for the stress we all manage. It cuts anxiety off at its knees. Laughter is a way to renegotiate or reposition us when we are stuck in certain habits or perspectives.  It can literally rework breath and thus, inject oxygen into stagnant space.

Now, I don’t think laughter has to be at the center of every marriage. There are other elements and dimensions to marriage that can certainly be strong anchors:  companionship, study, safe space, kindness, shared dreams, and even sex all come to mind. But oh, what a good thing laughter can be for any marriage.  What have you laughed about lately?

And Canada?  Well, I do love you and I thank you . . . even with your silly lyrics, you unknowingly made us better.

Beyond Valentine’s Day

Well, it’s the day after Valentine’s Day. The balloons are deflating, the chocolates are eaten, the flowers are wilting and now the real love begins. Valentine’s Day is a sugar rush of fun but it’s only one day, and now, on February 15, it’s time for the rest of the story, the other 364 days of the year!

I’ve been officiating weddings with Austin Weddings Unlimited for 20 years now and what I’ve learned throughout this time is that just like Valentine’s Day, a wedding day is full of the promise of love, not the life of love: the actual union, the commitment, the ups and downs of living life together as a couple.

For this reason, I think it’s important to spend time in reflection about how you and your spouse relate to each other beyond the sugar-soaked frenzy of February 14 or the dream-come-true experience of your wedding day. What are some ways that you can take the euphoria of your special days together and move that into the life of your marriage? Spending some time on February 15 thinking about this question will sweeten the life of your love beyond one day a year.

Because as we all know, life is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get.



The Gift of Connection

The views at Mo-Ranch.

Every marriage experiences moments of stress. What holds couples together during times of intense pressure is the strength of their shared story, or organizing principle, that binds them together. In the upcoming couples retreat that I’m facilitating at Mo-Ranch in a few weeks, one of our sessions will be devoted to helping couples identify this unifying concept that supports the health of their relationship.

In my own marriage, Connection is our watchword. I’ve seen this concept of Connection help my husband and me weather difficult experiences together instead of pulling us apart.

A few years ago, my daughter ended up in the hospital with a bone infection. In the end (which was several months later), all was well. But the first few hours and days, were critical, and we were in crisis-mode.

In hindsight, I learned some things about myself. One big a-ha moment was understanding how I function in crisis. For me, managing crisis is a matter of putting my head down, focusing, and getting through it step by step. In crisis mode, I do not see the big picture. I exist moment to moment. The upside is that I am relatively calm and centered in a crisis. The downside is that my world becomes teeny tiny and my memory short-term. Example: at one point during my daughter’s stay, I literally walked past the parent of a friend of hers and did not even acknowledge their presence. Thankfully, they were the understanding type, as I truly did not process their presence.

After it was all said and done, I did, of course, look up and around me. My world expanded again, and I was overwhelmed by the amazing community of friends and family surrounding us. Lucky! I also looked up and found my husband. For over ten weeks our sole interactions had been coordinating shifts at the hospital, intravenous infusions, doctor meetings and appointments, and rehabilitation. It was all we had discussed. Seeing him once life calmed down again was like walking out of a dark movie theater into the sun. We were strangers in some ways, our marriage had wilted in some ways, and we needed to reconnect.

What does this have to do with why you should come to a couples’ weekend away? Good question! Connection and reconnection are the guiding themes of my marriage. It is the DNA of our particular relationship. We know this about ourselves and our marriage. As we re-emerged from crisis, we knew what we needed, and how to do it. We have a little cabin that is our sanctuary, so we planned a weekend away. Once there, we were able to process all that had happened, to rest, laugh, eat, and reset. In short, we resurrected our marriage over our watchword: Connect.

Some of you may already know what makes your relationship tick. Some of you know exactly how and why you are a couple. Some of you may have no clue what that core DNA is just yet. But, whatever that core of your relationship is, it is worth discovering and rediscovering. Marriage requires nurture. It requires attention. That is hard in our busy world. And it is the reason why I invite you to a couples’ weekend away. Sure, a weekend away is a luxury. It is a gift. Maybe this year is the time, and maybe it’s something you plan for in the future. But, a chance to discover or rediscover why you are a couple is imperative to the life and health of your relationship. It’s a chance to just be the two of you; to play, to rest, to dream, to relax, and to reset.

To sign up for this couples retreat weekend on February 15-17, visit the Mo-Ranch website. I look forward to seeing you there!

Mo-Ranch Couples’ Weekend Retreat

Mo-Ranch in Hunt, Texas

Every married couple has been there. Life goes from the exciting questions like,”What great new restaurant should we try?” to “What’s for dinner?”  and “Did you figure out where you’d like to go on vacation this weekend?” to “Did you pick up the dry cleaning this week?”
Probably not exactly what you were thinking life would be like during those first moments of your relationship. So now, a few years or a few decades into your marriage, as you stare down the day-to-day, or even if you are wanting to get your marriage off on the right tempo, it’s time. It’s time for a weekend to dream, plan, and reconnect.  It’s time to get back to those fun questions, belly laughs, and simple pleasures (if you call zip lining a simple pleasure!) with your loved one.
Any of this resonate with you and your partner? I am about to make your life easy:  how about spending a weekend away in the beautiful Hill Country west of Austin to discover or rediscover the DNA of your relationship at the Mo-Ranch Couples Retreat. I am honored to be serving as the retreat’s facilitator and am looking so forward to getting to know each couple that attends and helping them craft the story of their marriage.
Wait – what?  What is the DNA of my relationship? Good question and thanks for asking! I cannot tell you what that is, but after years of marrying couples, and living in the world of marriage, I can help you discover that DNA.  Simply stated, though, I think of the DNA of a relationship as that core element, watch word, experience, or agreement that will help you get through all of the good and the tough times in life.  It’s the bones of your relationship.  It is, perhaps, the very spark that lit between the two of you.
For my husband and me, it’s connection.  Given our personalities and backgrounds, we could easily lean into being highly independent people, but long ago – in the beginning as they might say – we found a comfortable connection that honored who we were as individuals, where we came from, and what we visualized for our family unit in the future.  So, this watch word – connection – guides our decisions and lives.  We vacation together, we are often up in each other’s business and faces.  We have inside jokes, play board games together, value brutal honesty, and show up for each other.  We already anticipate big shifts in our family connections as we anticipate our oldest flying from the nest next year. So, we are already explicitly talking about about connection and reconnection next year.
Are you already thinking, “Hmmmm, maybe our DNA is about [insert some words]?”  Good.  I hope so!  That means I am doing my job. As a long-time wedding officiant in the Central Texas area, I help couples marry every weekend, and use the concept of Marriage DNA to craft beautiful and authentic wedding ceremonies. Through pre-marital coaching and pastoral work, I help couples that are just getting started or are decades into their couplehood figure out their marriage’s DNA, or redefine it, or even bury it and start again as a way to live into this strange and beautiful story of marriage.
I hope you will join me for this adventure at Mo-Ranch! We will be zip-lining, hiking, canoeing, having a nice dinner, painting wine glasses, sleeping in, bird-watching, and reading books at MoRanch’s Couples’ Weekend.  We will be discovering and rediscovering your couple-hood along the way, too.  Come kick back, have some fun, and raise a toast to you. The cleaning can be picked up another day, after all!  Cheers!

To sign up to attend, visit the Mo-Ranch Couples Retreat website or send me an email with any questions.

Let’s get married!

Joe’s proposal to Sarah. New Orleans, September, 1993.

I’ve heard some pretty amazing engagement stories through the years: on top of Hawaiian volcanoes, at family events, over a quiet cup of coffee, London, Paris, a bench in Germany, after years together, on a third date. They are all such good stories. I could listen to them all day long; not just for the story, but also to just watch my couples as they share their stories with me.  The bright eyes, choice of words, the laughter, and the depth of emotion shared in a gentle touching of hands?  Well, it’s magical.

I was engaged over 25 years ago in New Orleans.  My now-husband and I had been discussing marriage, but he actually did catch me off-guard.  While milling around  Jackson Square in the heat in early September, he convinced me (after some cajoling) to sit to have my picture sketched.  When he turned the picture around it was not me, but my ring and his proposal.  My husband, as you might guess, is a romantic.  My answer, as you might guess, was yes.

What I love about my story – and every story I hear – is how each story is at once unique and universal. Of course, each story is a unique chapter in a specific couple’s story.  It is a glimpse into a couple’s relationship, their language, and their love.  At the same time it is a universal story of human love.  It’s the story of how we are all somehow drawn to each other by a force that is bigger than us, a force that creates all that is grand and beautiful in this human saga, and frankly, makes it all worthwhile.

At Austin Weddings Unlimited, we’ve made telling each of our couples’ stories the hallmark of our business. And not just because we love to hear the stories ourselves, or our couples and their family and friends long to hear those stories, but because it is important to weave those stories into the bigger tapestry of love and humanity. We feel it is a huge privilege to share time with our couples not just because we love to tell the unique story, but because we love being a part of what we truly believe makes the world a better place.

So, in this season of engagements, we’d love to engage with you and hear your love story.  Let’s get married!

Creating a story arc . . . and a marriage

Ancient text, Turkey, 2013.

When people find out I am a minister, they will often ask me, “What’s your favorite scripture?” Even though this is not the first time I’ve been asked this question, I often fumble to find an answer. My first response is to quote something from Harry Potter, my favorite text. In fact, I was asked the same question in my final assessment for ordination. I knew better than to quote Dumbledore! I am sure it is no shock I fumbled: I am a better writer than speaker in many ways. I deliver beautiful weddings. But remember, in those moments I am not speaking off the cuff. I have carefully planned and written the wedding ceremonies. Nothing I say is a surprise to my couples.

Even now, my favorite scripture? Not sure. I suppose it depends on the day. Some days I need a good lament from Psalms or Lamentations. Other days, I like a quippy piece of wit from Ecclesiastes. I might be a bit of an outlier among my colleagues, but I love Paul, and Peter annoys me. And of course, digging into the Gospel is always a good chance to challenge my way of being in the world, and ask myself some hard questions. Some days I am game for the challenge, and other days I try to dodge the Gospel (at my own peril).

But overall, it’s a story arc I love. Or interplay among stories. For example, I love the story of the magi. It has long been a favorite of mine. But I don’t love the story in isolation. Rather, I love what the story became for me when I read T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” at a critical point in my teenage years. I love the journey from Jerusalem to Rome in Acts of the Apostles when read alongside the epic journey Odysseus makes from Troy to Ithaca. Or the trio of Ron, Harry and Hermione next to the Ramayana’s Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita. And the women nestled in the texts: Mary, Lily, Hermione, Penelope, Lydia, Sita, and Hannah. They beckon me to listen to the rests between the musical notes, to the voices in the back of the room, to the whispers, or even the silences.

Now, what does this have to do with marriage you might ask? Well, an awful lot. Marriage is a story arc. There is a beginning. There is or will be an end. And there will be favorite chapters, painful chapters, hard chapters, easy chapters, and boring chapters. If we write our marriage story well, it is a story that will no longer belong solely to us. I hope my marriage story is one that other couples will read alongside their story. Even more importantly: my husband, Joe and I hope our story is one that our children will use to shape their stories, and tell their children. I hope our story is long story, and one where the ending chapters are not even written by Joe and me.

Part of my job as a wedding officiant and a minister is to equip my couples to enter a story arc. I try to help discern key themes in their dating, and use those themes to anchor the couple’s narrative. Or maybe it’s that I help articulate a thesis statement for them – something they see in themselves, and something they wish to become. I try to help narrate a movement that is marriage; from “you and me” to “we.” I want their favorite verse, their favorite chapter, their favorite story to be . . . them!

The Mess of Marriage

Hey! This amazing couple is not the couple I am blogging about in this story. Just wanted to make that clear! Photo credit: Dandy As Lions Photography

Note: this story is shared with explicit permission from those involved.

A colleague (and my colleague’s spouse) landed in a marriage counselor’s office. My colleague claimed he was not there to save his marriage. Rather, he decided that in order to end the marriage in a most tidy way, he had to check the box “sought counseling.” The meeting with the counselor was perfunctory. At some point during their first (and supposed final) session, the counselor asked what he did for a living. According to my colleague, he actually sobbed declaring, “I am a marriage counselor! Imagine that!” Then he laughed through the tears. Oh the irony.

It turns out it was not the final meeting. He and his spouse are still married. And me? I like this story about marriage for many reasons, some of which I can share, and some of which I am bound to hold in confidence. For what I can share, I will say that I love the messy in this story. The laughter in the midst of gasping sobs. The desperate flailing from someone who is the supposed expert in their field. I love the easy silence of the counselor entrusted with the whole story. In the Disney version of marriage, we get all the complications during courtship. Then it’s happily ever after. But I’ve yet to meet one couple that lives Disney. That’s not life, and it sure isn’t marriage. Marriage is messy. Life is, too. Maybe that’s the point.


The One and Only Love Boat

Once, in the presence of my marriage counselor, I told my husband that I’d never marry again. My husband was insulted. While our counselor placidly listened, he said the comment hurt his feelings. I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings, but it is the truth. I’d never marry again. One “I do” is enough. Not because our marriage is bad or wrong or hard or unhappy. We’ve had bad, wrong, hard and unhappy. But we’ve also had thrills, excitement, sheer joy, goodness, luck, adventures, and ease. We’ve had more of the latter than the former. But marriage is a big deal. And covenants are a big deal. I do not take lightly the “I do” of marriage. And I wouldn’t do marriage with just anyone. It isn’t for the faint of heart.

In my age demographic, I sit with as many divorcees as I do married-types. Probably because of my work, marriage often comes up in conversation. While peeling some crawfish the other day, a friend of mine – divorced – stated she wouldn’t ever marry again. She was happily surprised when I agreed with her. She said her realization was something she wouldn’t have welcomed just after her divorce. But several years later, she valued her independence, her discovered resilience. Her dream was to retire to a cruise ship, wear all sorts of glittery costume jewelry, enjoy shows, people watching, and seeing the world through waves of water.

I’ve been on one cruise, so I found her story especially delightful. Maybe that’s why it stuck with me, and I kept thinking about it. When it comes to cruise ships, we all board around the same time, haul in about the same amount of luggage, and eat the same meals. Similarly, my friend’s life was not so different from mine: college, marriage, kids, careers, sailing towards retirement. She had added an extra chapter titled divorce, but that didn’t lessen her other chapters, nor make my story better. In fact, we reached similar destinations: one marriage! And for me, while I loved it, one cruise is probably enough for me, as well. I’ll let my friend have my share of sparkly jewelry and cruises! Bon voyage!