Today’s question comes from Stevie. She writes: “Marriage is one of the most holy and sacred of sacraments. What do you want to know about a couple before you officiate at a wedding?”
Marriage is truly one of the most holy and sacred commitments two individuals can enter into with one another. While it may not be a sacrament for Protestants – as it is for our Catholic sisters and brothers – we treat it with the ultimate respect.
So, what do I want to know about a couple before I officiate at their wedding?
There are two things. Let me take a moment and back into the first thing.
In the congregationalist tradition in which I serve, one of the most important theological concepts is that of covenant (or promise). Our lives are built around those series of sacred promises we make that range from our baptisms to our marriages. Those promises involve three parties: ourselves, our Creator, and those with whom we live.
One of the most important covenants we enter into is marriage. And while many think the promises which are made involve just the two individuals getting married, I believe they involve far more. A Christian marriage ceremony involves promises the individuals make to God, to one another, and to their loved ones. That’s why the wedding ceremonies in the tradition in which I serve often begin with a statement by the couple’s loved ones promising their support of the union.
With this said, then, the first thing I want to know is if the two individuals understand that web of promises. Do they appreciate, for instance, that by inviting a spiritual leader into their ceremony, they are intentionally bringing God into the midst of their marriage? Do they understand the depth of the promises they make to their spouse? Do they understand the ways in which their marriage will affect the lives of their loved ones as well? Before I officiate at a wedding, I want to make sure the answer to all those questions is, “Yes!”
The second thing I want them to understand is the effort that crafting a successful marriage takes. In order to demonstrate that understanding, I ask the couple to do three things.
First, I ask them to complete a Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory. The purpose of the inventory is to ensure that each member of the couple understands both her/himself and her/his partner. A person can’t effectively work to meet a loved one’s needs if a person doesn’t understand what those needs are.
Second, I ask them to complete The Five Language of Love assessment. This test helps each partner understand the way she/he (and her/his partner) communicates thir love. Some individuals, for instance, communicate love best by giving gifts; others communicate love by extending quality time; others use words of affirmation; others use acts of service to communicate affection; others use physical touch. It’s crucial that each partner understands what her/his preferred way of communicating love is (as well as her/his partner’s).
Third, I spend time exploring what’s called Family Systems Theory with the members of the couple. What this means (in the simplest terms possible) is that most of us think that the dynamics we saw in the household in which we were raised were “normal”. Consequently, we assumed every family should operate that way. If we grew up in a household where our father handled the money, for instance, and our mother did the bulk of the domestic chores; then we assume that’s the way things will operate in our household. That approach works fine when partners grew up in households with similar dynamics at play. If the partners grew up in radically different households, then real problems can arise.
If couples are willing to hang in there and do some of this basic relationship work in the pre-marital counseling sessions, then I am happy to officiate – because it shows me they are willing to be introspective and do the important work needed to make their marriage work. If they are not willing to do this work, then I know I’m not the right officiant for them.
Those are the two things I need to know before I do a wedding. So what issues does Stevie’s question raise for you?