The Blueprint

A key element of a traditional Christian wedding is the scripture reading. In a Cathedral or a predominantly Catholic ceremony there will be a few readings. There could be an Old Testament reading, a reading from the Book of Psalms, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading, taking the words of Jesus as a blessing of the event and a charge moving forward.  The scripture reading can be meaningful to couples, even if there are not particularly religious. It still holds weight or at the very least reflects personally held values or the values of their family.

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One of the most popular wedding readings is 1 Corinthians 13. If you have been to a wedding, you have heard it. The Love Chapter. It begins, “Love is Patient, love is Kind…” It is a classic reading and should be remembered and recited often. When I get frustrated with anyone close to me, I begin muttering under my breath and shaking my head, “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not rude, it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs…” While it can be a daily prayer and a perfect reading for a wedding, it may be more appropriate for a couple teaming up to assemble a piece of furniture from IKEA or heading to the relative’s house for Thanksgiving.

Trying to be different, I searched for other readings. The Apostle Paul wrote something in the book of Romans on how to relate to others. And if applied to couples, it can be a blueprint for marriage. In Romans, chapter 12:9-13, Paul writes:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. Take care of God's needy people and welcome strangers into your home.

Let’s take a closer look.

1.      Let Love be Genuine.

In just a few phrases, Paul uses three different words for love. He first uses the Greek word agape, the Greek work for higher level love. It is genuine or real love that puts the other person first.  When I first meet a couple, I ask them to describe their journey and I listen for certain elements.  

·        Time. Real love takes time.  It is not quick infatuation, but a strong patient process. It is unfeigned, authentic. In general, I like to see couples together for two or more years before they get married.

·        Tested. The couple has gone through some trials together.

·        Confirmation. Real love is seen by others.  Early love is seen by the couple. Others tend to say, “settle down, it’s only been a few weeks. Let’s see what it is after 6 months.”

·        Unique. Real love feels different than other relationships. Go back to time. If this feels like all your other relationships, maybe pause for a moment.

 

2.      Hate What is Evil, Hold Fast to What is Good

Good vs. Evil sounds big and epic, but this just speaks to values for a couple. What is good? What is bad?  Religion, health, finances/ debt, intimacy, boundaries, relationships with family, conflict resolution. A couple needs to have clarity on these issues.

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3.      Love One Another With Mutual Affection.

Paul uses two more words for love. The first one is philostorgos. It means tender, close affection. The second love word (mutual affection) is philadelphos. It is the root behind the word Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. It describes family love: a love that works together and has a common goal.  Mutual Affection is small on “I” and big on “we.”  

There are three stages to relationships. Dating, Engagement and Marriage. Some date for a while and fizzle out. And that is probably a good thing.  But then main goal of most relationships is marriage. Is this person the one? How far a depends on how they change the pronouns. In the beginning, people describe relationships with personal pronouns “I” or “Me.” We hear things like:

·        “I like her.”

·        “I think he is cute.”

·        “I can see myself with this person.”

·        “I have never felt this way.”

·        “I want to be with them.”

That is natural. In the initial stages of a relationship, there is a chemical called Oxytocin. Michele Solis explains, “Oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, activates feelings of trust and attraction between people when it is released in the brain, and it rises in the early stages of romantic love.”[1]  This is the high romantic love phase, and it lasts for about 6 months. This person you met is perfect, there are no issues, etc.  Eventually, the Oxytocin wears off and there needs to be more than just physical attraction or romantic feelings that binds the couple together. The “I” needs to become a “we.” The two need to become “one.” While physical attraction is always important, what needs to begin taking shape is the idea of partnership or mutual love.  In the most boring terms, marriage is the merger of two companies. We are in love, sharing affection, and all of that, but we are also joining families, assets, debts and most importantly a common life goal. If these bonds do not develop, then the couple usually doesn’t make it.

When a couple moves from “I” to “we,” there is a shift. It is no longer “I am going to this school,” or “I am taking this job” or “I am moving to this state.” Some of the most beautiful stories are when a couple moves because one of them has a great opportunity. And they realize they are taking this opportunity together.  Mutual affection becomes a “we.”  It is the recognition that the wedding is not the end of a journey, but the beginning. Mutual affection does not mean equal or fair; that is a roommate or a business partner. Mutual affection is becoming one.

4.      Outdo One Another in Showing Honor.

Paul challenges us to outdo each other in honor.  Jesus and Paul are fond of “one another” statements. Love one another, serve one another, submit to one another. This is my favorite line in the reading. Out honor each other. Out love each other. Live a life of service to each other.  That is truly a beautiful thing. It can be framed like a game. A daily contest. Who can out love the other person more?

In addition to officiating weddings, I also do marriage counseling. When engaged couples come in, they are always in a good place, looking forward to the future. When couples come in for marriage counseling, it is a different story. One or both do not want to be there. Though every couple is unique, there is a pattern that every struggling couple gets into. They are playing a different game. They are not trying to out honor each other, instead it is the “I’ll change if you change” game. Or the “I will keep track of everything you have done” game. Or the family favorite, “it is all your mother’s fault” game.  It is a lot easier to learn the Out Love/ Out Honor Game during engagement. It is much harder to start it eight years into a marriage.

5.      Do Not Lag in Zeal, Be Ardent in Spirit,

Do not lag in zeal or in other words, don’t let life wear you out. Now what could wear you out during the engagement season? Engagement itself! Unless you or your partner is a professional event coordinator, most engaged couples are not ready for the 10-15 a week that is sometimes required to plan a wedding. Venues, dresses, tuxedos, apps, seating charts, vendors, and that does not even address family and friends.

Once the wedding is over, it gets better, right? There is some relief that comes from being on the back side of a huge event. They made it through. But often, the year after a wedding is spent catching up on all that was left to the side during the engagement season.  Family is still family; work is still work. The trick is life just keeps coming. The beauty of the wedding is that you now have each other to help with that. Facing it together is doable.

6.      Let Your Hope Make You Glad.

Have hope, let your hope make you glad. The main idea about hope is that it is a future oriented word. We can get through the present with the hope of a better tomorrow. A couple with hope is an amazing thing. A couples that sees things as hopeless is very hard to fix.

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7.      Be Patient in Time of Trouble

Be patient. Just getting a couple to the wedding is an amazing thing. It is an example of patience. Every aisle is paved with obstacles, and it takes patience to navigate it well. But past the wedding, there will be challenges. The events and experiences of your life do not often solve problems, they simply help you prepare for more problems.

8.      Never Stop Praying.

Never stop praying. Period, full stop. We could all leave on that note. But for couples, prayer is an interesting concept. Even if you are not particularly religious. Prayer can a powerful tool in marriage. Counselors and researchers suggest that prayer has positive benefits. One study looks at the issue of prayer specifically, even introducing prayer as a tremendous counseling tool. [2]They recognize that it is hard to argue with your spouse if you are at the same time praying for them. Prayer helps people regain perspective, shifting the focus from themselves back to the relationship. It also helps calm people or the situation. Through prayer, they can continue the discussion, in a way, without talking to each other. Prayer can remind us to continue certain behaviors or stop others. Simply put, prayer can be good for a relationship.

Take Care of God's Needy People and Welcome Strangers into Your Home.

One of the hallmarks of today’s generation is the idea of meaning. Specifically, living with purpose. People are no longer looking just for jobs. They want their work to make a difference, to have purpose. This translates to marriage as well. Does your marriage have a purpose? It cannot just be about you as we discussed above. But it is not even just about the couple. What are you doing as a couple for other people? Volunteer together at your local church or nonprofit. Your day-to-day problems grow very small when you are working on a Habitat for Humanity house or serving meals at the Salvation Army. Your budget should include a portion for giving or charity. Making a difference might actually make the difference in your marriage.

These are all big concepts, so take them one at a time, but in the spirit of building something that will last, use this blueprint and get to work.

[1] Michele Solis, "Oxytocin, the love hormone, also keeps people apart," Scientific American  (2013),https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/oxytocin-love-hormone-keeps-people-apart/#:~:text=Oxytocin%2C%20the%20so%2Dcalled%20love,early%20stages%20of%20romantic%20love.


[2] S. R. Beach et al., "Prayer and marital intervention: A conceptual framework," Journal of Social Clinical Psychology 27, no. 7 (September 2008): 641-69.

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