The Heart of the Matter

It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow, so the papers are full of stories about love.

This one – from The Observer – struck me as particularly worth sharing because it gives some valuable insights into a question I ask all my couples to think about; how do you keep love alive in a long marriage?

There are no ‘one-size fits all’ answers. As psychotherapist Philippa Perry says, “I cannot give you a fail-safe recipe for lasting love”, while Neil Gaiman – in a speech he wrote for the wedding of friends – puts it another way.

“So this is everything I have to tell you about love and marriage: nothing,

like a book without pages or a forest without trees.

Because there are things you cannot know before you experience them.

Because no study can prepare you for the joys or the trials.

Because nobody else’s love, nobody else’s marriage, is like yours,

and it’s a road you can only learn by walking it,

a dance you cannot be taught,

a song that did not exist before you began, together, to sing.”

I think we all know that what works for one couple won’t for another, which is why this exercise is part of the ‘LoveWork’ I ask my couples to do long before they attempt to write their ceremony.

They’ve allowed me to share some wonderful, insightful realisations over the years.

I married Kevin & Kellie just before Hogmanay, almost ten years ago, back in 2013. As they wrote, “we share a spirit of adventure and slightly foolish lack of self-preservation, hence anniversaries and birthdays normally involve pushing each other off bridges attached to elastic bands, rolling each other down hills in giant inflatable balls, running away from zombies in underground nuclear bunkers, or flying around the Caledonian canopy on zip wires. 

Of course, long after the dust settles on such adventures and the thrill of courtship, wrinkles have set in and gravity gets the better of us all, love endures the decades.  From the very beginning, although we might not have spoken openly about it, we both felt that our relationship was special, that it had an inevitability. Beneath the bubbling surface with all of the thrill-seeking and opulence, there was always an understanding that these lovely bubbles were the froth on a strong, steady current which would reliably carry us through to a future together, come what may.”

To David and Jen, whose wedding I conducted last summer, marriage is a choice meaning family, patience, laughter, resilience and understanding. As I said on the day, “the basis of everything they do is teamwork, and knowing that it’s not always going to be 50/50, but that relationships are like a set of scales and having a sense of balance – and a sense of humour – is key.”

A few years ago, I realised that at every wedding, there are usually a few people who do know the answer to that question; those people who have been married for many years. They might be your parents or your grandparents; they might be your long-married friends. They might be – like Gareth and Matthew, the gay couple in the now classic film, Four Weddings and a Funeral – couples who have never married, but whose partnership embodies all the strengths that an ideal marriage represents.

That’s why I now suggest you take a moment to ask those people that all-important question. Not only will they be surprised and delighted to be asked, but it will make them a part of your wedding in a way that few of them ever imagined possible.

You might invite them to speak their words themselves, as Sofi and William did, or you might do what Struan and Ami did, and put their words into envelopes, number them and hide them under the seats, to be read out at the appropriate moment by the person who finds themselves sitting there.

Or you can of course delegate that to me, as Steph & Steven’s granny Janette did.

She had been widowed for five years by then, and her advice was never to go to bed angry with each other; always talk about it and sort things out. She also told us that George never said no to her and he always did his best to let her get nice new things so she could have the house just as she wanted it. He knew that was the way to keep her happy and content and – as the saying goes – happy wife, happy life!

That may not be what philosophers call ‘a universal truth’, but it was Janette’s truth and I remember how proud she was to have been such an important part of Steph’s big day – as the iPhone snap I grabbed at the time shows.

So, whatever you’re planning, I hope you have a wonderful, and very happy Valentine’s Day!

PS – The beautiful illustration at the top comes from today’s edition of The Observer, and the illustrator is the very talented Danae Diaz

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