meaningful relationships

When the Party Ends

I recently officiated a wedding ceremony for the very first time. When I heard the news that my husband’s cousin had asked me to preside over her ceremony, I was honored. I told my husband I would need to become a notary public, to which he responded “I’ve been meaning to become one as well. I might as well get it done.” That gave me an idea.

“What if we both married her?”

After all, my husband adores his cousin. It felt so symbolic for the two of us—who have an extraordinary marriage—to pass the torch to this young couple.

We completed the requirements to become notary publics and prepared for the ceremony. As the day approached, there was so much we wanted to say—so much advice to impart, but the couple was clear about what they wanted at their wedding: “Keep it short, sweet, and fun.” The ceremony was being held outdoors and the wedding day was cold and windy by Florida standards. The bridesmaids’ dresses were sleeveless and the couple wanted to be considerate of them and all the guests.We obeyed. The ceremony was short, sweet, and funny.

One of my favorite moments was the sand tradition. The bride and groom each took a vase with a different colored sand. They poured the sand from each of their individual vases into one vase as a symbol of their union.

Even though the ceremony and reception were beautiful, the real marriage begins when the party ends. It is in the years to come that the words “I do” actually mean something. Though I am not a marriage expert, I felt compelled to share what little I know about it with the newlyweds. This is my open letter to them:

Dear Amanda & AJ,

Thank you for trusting Orlando and me to lead your wedding ceremony and participate in the exchange of your vows. We are thrilled to see how much you love each other and how excited you were about tying the knot. As I said at the ceremony, it takes two extraordinary people to make an extraordinary marriage, and you both have that foundation. But even the happiest couples face challenges. Please accept these unconventional nuggets of wisdom I have gained over the years from a person who was raised through lots of divorces and who’s maintained a special marriage for over a decade.

Seek Therapy. When Orlando and I were newlyweds, we had an argument and I told him we needed to go to therapy. He didn’t understand why. Couples argue and they get over it. But I insisted, and he acquiesced. After our first therapy session, we got into our car and I started crying. Looking at me like I was crazy, Orlando asked “Why are you crying? The therapist just told us there is nothing wrong with our marriage and we don’t have to go back to see her!” It may sound crazy to you, also, but that was why I was crying. My parents divorced and so did my husband’s. I knew that the odds of us divorcing were high. And I understood that little problems become big problems when you don’t have the tools to handle them adequately. I wasn’t looking for a therapist to tell me my marriage was “fine.” I was looking for a therapist who would give us the tools to handle conflicts and differences. If you wait until your marriage is broken and then try to fix it, all you’re doing is making the climb steeper. Orlando and I didn’t go back to that therapist, but we tried others over the years until we found one who understood why we were there and what we needed. We don’t go to therapy often, but whenever we need help communicating, we make an appointment. Our therapist gives us a neutral space to discuss our feelings and find solutions, and we are stronger for it. Preventative therapy is a powerful tool that helps us stick together—keep your therapist on speed dial.

Be Friends; Have Friends. It’s wonderful to know that your relationship began as a friendship. It is important to share common interests with your spouse, laugh together, and enjoy each other’s company. It is equally important, however, to have other friends. One of things that has helped me in my relationship is the knowledge that no one person can fill your every need. Different people in your life fill different needs, and that’s ok. Why put unrealistic expectations on your partner? You may love to run, but what if your spouse is a tennis player, or a couch potato? Asking your spouse to be your accountability partner as you train for a marathon will be unduly burdensome. Having a running friend or group will help you fill that need without forcing your spouse to do something they don’t want to do. There are certain needs that only a spouse should fill (you know what those are), but outside friends make your life fuller and happier. Embrace this and enjoy it by building your marriage on trust. This will allow you to be grateful for the things your spouse does to enrich your life, instead of focusing on the things they don’t.

Marry the family. When you marry your spouse, you marry their family—their parents, siblings, and family members. Treat them with the same love and respect you do your spouse, and do your best to unite your families. When you treat your spouse’s family this way, you create a loving environment where everyone can thrive. But when they feel torn between you and their own family, everyone loses. In the case of blended families like yours, you marry the children from your spouse’s first marriage and it even means you marry their ex.  Why? Because coordinating events, pickups, drop-offs, holidays, and decisions about the children will always involve their other parent. You can’t control how the other parent will behave toward you, but you can control your actions. Be kind. Be inclusive. Be accommodating. Be respectful—even when its’ hard. Likewise, set boundaries, establish clear expectations, and demand respect as you do with your spouse. Ideally, all relationships should function this way.

Love Yourself. You already know you have to love your spouse; that’s a given. It’s easy for us to get lost in loving our partner and our kids; we want to make sure our family is cared for and protected. But it is much harder to love ourselves. You may find that you don’t have time to exercise or get a massage or take a dance class that you love. Life’s no longer just about you so you’ll make sacrifices for your family. But the biggest gift you can give your spouse and kids is to love yourself, also. You’ll be happier, healthier, and more fun. Eat well, exercise, nurture your mind and soul, do things you love. If you have an issue like anger management or addiction or anything else that can be destructive to you or your family, get help. When you love yourself, you allow the best of you to show up for everyone else—and they deserve the best of you as much as you do.

Be There. Living in the same house does not mean you are present. And yet you can be there even when you’re not physically there. Maybe one or both of you work long hours or travel often. You’ll have the kids half the time and the other half you won’t. Whether it’s with the kids or with each other, you will deal with the complications of being separated. Decide that every day you will communicate love to each other and to the kids. When you are together, be together. Spend time with each other. Talk about your day. Kiss often. Hug. Eat dinner together. Say, “I love you.” When you are apart, call each other. Surprise each other. Send postcards. Say, “I love you” again. These daily promises create unbreakable family bonds—and that will make all the difference.

As time goes by, you will evolve and change and go through different phases. Like the sand from your ceremony, your marriage will be messy and a combination of both of you. But the key is that you always keep the vase intact.  Keep it safe and the sand will always be together, like you two. Wishing you a lifetime of blessings and love.

With love, Caroline

What about you? What advice would you give these newlyweds? Please post your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any couples you think would benefit from this post, please click share!

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