“The concept of two people living together for 25 years without a serious dispute suggests a lack of spirit only to be admired in sheep.”
A. P. Herbert (1890-1971) English novelist and playwright.

We have been hosting a wedding.

Our nephew and his fiancé decided that they wanted to have their wedding ceremony at our home in France, as well as going through the legal process in New Zealand, so we have had them and both sides of the family with us here for the last week.

As well as hosting the wedding here, I was asked to act as the wedding celebrant, which meant that I had to sit down and think about how I would handle the event and what advice I should give to the newlyweds, as is traditional in most religious wedding ceremonies.

Weddings that I have attended over the years have generally involved the minister, rabbi or priest waxing lyrical about the beauty and sanctity of marriage. Whilst I felt a bit humbled by the prospect of officiating at a wedding ceremony, I did feel that I probably had more experience with the institution of marriage than say a Catholic priest, as I had at least gone beyond the theoretical view.

I found it an interesting exercise to prepare my part of the ceremony, and realised that one of the problems is that after you have been married for quite some time, it is easy to forget how you actually felt at the time that you yourself got married. It is not that your love has diminished, as in marriages that survive the test of time, the love can actually grow as the friendship develops, but the feelings that got you to the altar in the first place tend to dim with the passing years.

George Bernard Shaw summed it up when he wrote “When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”

Author: User:Daimler pics; via Wikimedia Commons

People still seem to go into marriage with the belief that this merging of two souls, whose love and passion makes Romeo and Juliet look like a couple of pen-pals, will result in a union of bliss, tranquillity and harmony that will be a showcase for mankind. This belief exists despite the fact that we had all, as single people, often seen married couples around us, including our own parents, fairly regularly move from amicable heated disagreements to outright warfare.

However, we all tend to believe that that we will be able to handle marriage differently.

As the current divorce rate in western countries is that roughly one couple gets divorced each year for every two that get married proves that most of us are wrong about being able to handle it differently, despite the fact that we obviously still have some faith in the whole institution of marriage.

I once heard marriage described as a crystal ball that gets another chip in it every time the love gets submerged by anger and hurt, until ultimately all that is left is a worthless lump of glass that has no value.

Author: Eva Kröcher; Free Art License; via Wikimedia Commons

On the other hand, I believe that any strong relationship has less to do with the lack of anger and hurt than it has to do with how this gets handled, and what happens afterwards. Passionate people have passionate relationships that can create volatile and sometimes explosive disagreements. It is only in a marriage where one partner is submissive that these can be avoided, as it is unlikely that equals in a relationship will feel the same way and as strongly about every situation every time.

Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) American author said it better than I ever could “No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”

Taking all this into consideration, here is the core of what I had to say in the ceremony:

“Someone once said that the key to a successful marriage is to fall in love 1000s of times, all with the same person.

I feel that the most important thing about any marriage is to remember that despite the hardships, the disagreements, the volatility, the ups and downs and the challenges that come with any close relationship, you never forget this love that you feel for each other today.

Marriage is rarely about tranquillity, and great marriages are based less on calm and more on how you handle the tempests together.

Accept each other for what you are, as marriage is not about seeking perfection in each other, but in living in the comfort of one who loves you and one whom you love, because you add joy and meaning to each other’s lives. It is about being thrilled with the image you see of yourself reflected in each other’s eyes.”

I wish them both a life of pleasure, passion and pride in each other.

Author: Ildar Sagdejev; via Wikimedia Commons



  1. Thank you very much for this insightful blog. I would put it this way:
    A successful partnership is about falling in love once more than falling out of love.

  2. Stuart says:

    Les, I found this a pretty apt summary of 33 years! All one has to avoid is the perfect storm. If it is a strong relationship then you will find your way through any tempest, even to the point where the calm feels not quite right.
    I am sure you were a magnificent celebrant with this level of research.

    • leshayman says:

      Stuart, I believe that you can even survive the perfect storm as long as you can remember how you felt before it started. I believe that indifference is a bigger threat to a marriage than any violent disagreeement can ever be. les

  3. sdbirdsall says:

    Excellent blog Les. Thank you. A newbie with only 21 years in marriage, I can certainly attest to many of these points. In particular, the most important and relevant quote to me is “It is only in a marriage where one partner is submissive that these [how one deals with anger and hurt] can be avoided, as it is unlikely that equals in a relationship will feel the same way and as strongly about every situation every time.”

    Swallowing pride yet retaining passion is great advice! Basically, know your partner’s passions and support them unequivocally.

    • leshayman says:

      Steve, I have also found that you should never compromise as neither gets what they want. It is better to “honestly” agree on who feels stronger about the issue and let them have their way. Les

  4. Dick Wilkinson says:

    Were you allowed to keep your shoes on?

  5. Dominic Wakefield says:

    Still the best intro I have had from an officaiting priest and his reflections to the happy couple was along the the lines (in his opening statement):’ you are now sitting next to the person who is, statisically, most likely to murder you’….. He then went onto expound the virtue of good communication!

    • leshayman says:

      Dom, I love it. I have always thought that a priest talking about marriage was like a Greek talking about taxes… all theory. I find their willingness to discuss statistics much more realistic and definitely funnier. Les

  6. Paul O says:

    Thanks Les; a lovely and well-timed post (yesterday Diane & I celebrated 35 years of wedded mostly-bliss).

    • leshayman says:

      Paul …. Congratulations. If you can say “mostly bliss” after 35 years it is a wonderful achievement. Victoria tells me that after 30 years all anniversaries are diamond ones. :-). Les

  7. Husband says:

    I came across this in a Google search for my own blog (I’d lost the address as a bookmark) and I’m glad I found this. What you say is wise, and although my wife and I haven’t been married that long (year and a half), I hope we remember advice like this when hard times come.

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