For my nephew and his bride on the eve of their wedding

My dear nephew and his bride,

Your wedding is tomorrow. You won’t have time to really read and take this in today, but it’ll be here when you do.

It’s hard to imagine that the little blond baby I fell head over heels in love with at the hospital not that long ago is ready to take a bride, but the two of you have declared your intentions to walk together from now on. Your new life as husband and wife begins tomorrow.

To wish you well along your journey together, I’ve asked some friends to share their advice with the two of you. I’m including some of my own thoughts, as well as some “white wedding-y” flower photos, all taken since you two first met.

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You may hear, especially this first year, that the first year of married life is the hardest. That may be true for you, as your final year of college will bring its own special kind of stress and difficulties. But don’t get complacent after you’ve made it through the first year: it’s not necessarily true that the first year is the hardest. Marriage will always take effort. Expect ups and downs throughout your marriage. There will be good days and bad days, good years and tough ones. Agree from the start that you will weather these together.

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Marriage is not a contest or a competition. At times, one of you may bring more to the relationship than the other. Accepting that you won’t always contribute 50-50 will save you from many tears and frustrations.

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You are at the same time still young but also grown and ready to make life-changing decisions. Know that you will both change—possibly a lot—in your twenties. Your hopes will change. Your dreams will change. Your goals will change. May you grow stronger together as you encounter these inevitable changes.

Because you are marrying now, before you have figured out your vocations and avocations, you will likely have to make sacrifices for the happiness of your spouse. It may feel too hard sometimes to put your personal dreams on hold, but expect there to be times (maybe years at a time) when your personal goals and dreams do not get to come first.

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I know it’s hard to imagine not wanting to be together all the time, and you should enjoy each other’s company and enjoy many of the same hobbies and activities. But also give yourselves time and space to cultivate interests that you don’t both necessarily share. Think of this space in your marriage as a way to bring out the best in each other. As counterintuitive as it may seem, these differences can enrich your marriage and make you stronger together.

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Your marriage isn’t all about you. You are part of something greater than just the two of you. I hope you’ll find a way to bring your strengths as a couple to share with those around you. And I hope you’ll lean on your faith to help you learn how you are to love yourselves and others as fully as possible. Henri Nouwen wrote it beautifully:

… I have love to offer to people, not only here, but also beyond my short, little life. I am a human being who was loved by God before I was born and whom God will love after I die. This brief lifetime is my opportunity to receive love, deepen love, grow in love, and give love.

Finding My Way Home, 139-40

Speaking of faith, I hope you won’t ignore its importance in your relationship. God’s love is a perfect love and can teach you how to love each other even when you don’t really much like each other. A faith community is also a vital way to grow together, develop abiding friendships, and find mentors and other couples who can hold you accountable for your actions within your marriage. Many of my friends who married young attribute their successful marriage to a strong faith and the communities of faith that have supported them in difficult times.

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I could ramble on, but I’ll stop here. I wish you joy. I love you. I pray you will, together, be exceptional.


As promised here is some advice from friends across the country. Some have had long and happy marriages. Some have learned hard lessons in divorce and remarriage. All have walked the road ahead of you and have wisdom to share with you.

On changing (for good and for bad)

  • “My grandmother told me when I got married (at 19 years old) that whatever they do when you get married they will keep doing. Whatever they do NOT do, they will continue NOT doing. Don’t expect people to change when you get married.”
  • “We are always developing as individuals and as couples. Never stop trying to ‘get to know’ your partner. You are both new people every day.”

On inevitable fights

  • “Using slogans such as ‘How important is it?’ would have resulted in fewer stupid arguments and less resentments resulting from the petty stuff we might notice when we are younger.”
  • “Pick your battles. Everything is NOT worth a disagreement. This advice has helped us to have almost 20 years of happiness.”
  • “I think the word ‘blame’ should be eliminated from the vocabulary. The idea of blame is intrinsically crippling. That is why it is spelled B LAME.”
  • “My mantras: 1. Accept and embrace imperfection, in myself and others. 2. Refrain from personalizing—other people’s feelings are usually not due to you. They are feelings. 3. Pause before reacting. 4. Choose encouragement, not criticism. 5. In discussions, say ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You should’ 6. Approach your days with kindness, savoring and gratitude. 7. Give as you would like to receive. (an iteration of the Golden Rule, of course!) 8. Let go. Let love.”
  • “You don’t always have to be right. In 35 years it won’t matter anyway. When we got married our theme was ‘Divorce is not an option.'”
  • “My advice is to be honest and truthful but not hurtful in the process. Remember, the person you are speaking to holds the other half of your heart. So treat it with care.  There is a gentle way to address all situations and you can NEVER take back words said in spite disguised as honesty.”

On compromise

  • “Marriage is a compromise where things don’t turn out like she or he wants, but instead how the couple, as one, wants. It’s worked for 32 years and counting. There’s no more you and me; it’s now us and we.”

On your future together

  • “Talk about money, and save money together. Start now, not later.”
  • “Do not hurry to have children.” [I would add: be willing to revisit your decision not to have children, as your desires may change over time. They may not, but be open to an honest conversation on this huge decision.]
  • “Make time to do things together. Plan mini vacations.”
  • “Remember that in marriage there are many ups and downs. There will be days you wake up and are so in love with your spouse and others you can’t seem to stand to look at them, but these times are normal and will ebb and flow. It doesn’t mean the love is gone; it returns! Stay patient and work and remember it isn’t always easy, but with God in the center of your marriage, you can conquer all!”

On luck and blessings that will keep your marriage going

  • “I know this isn’t a very Christian perspective, but I feel extremely ‘lucky’ that our marriage has been what it is. We were so young and naive.”
  • “These are the only things I can think of that are authentic and sincere: May you laugh together every day, find things you love to do together and separately, and grow up together.”

To all the rest of you reading this, what advice, blessings or well wishes would you add to send off this young couple into their marriage?

Somebody’s something

I’m a newcomer to the BBC’s wildly popular Downton Abbey, and have worked my way through Season 1 and 2 on DVD. If you haven’t made it through season 2 yet, let this serve as your spoiler alert (but come back and read this post after you’ve caught up on the series).

Toward the end of Season 2, Lady Grantham receives a letter from her daughter Sybil with news that she’s expecting her first child. Lady Grantham is thrilled, but Lord Grantham is not, for the simple reason that he never approved of the marriage between his daughter Sybil and the household’s Irish chauffeur, Tom Branson. He threatens to disown Sybil because of her decision to marry someone outside of her class, but because he really does love her and is generally a decent chap, he softens his stance, and the marriage takes place.

Lord Grantham sounds resigned as he says that Sybil’s fate is sealed now that she’s pregnant, as if before her pregnancy, she could or would have undone her marriage to Tom. Lady Grantham’s response to him is that it wasn’t the pregnancy but the marriage itself that set Sybil’s life on its current course. (She further cements her place as one of my favorite characters by assuring Lord Grantham that she won’t be kept from her first grandchild simply because Sybil’s marriage doesn’t fit with conventions of the day.)

Lord Grantham isn’t alone in his thoughts that children are the cementing element of a marriage. The term “starter marriage” became popular in the late 1990s, and I remember some coworkers teasing a newlywed among us that she could have a starter marriage (as several of them had already had): a short marriage that ended in divorce and never produced children. How sad it is to me that there’s even a term for such a marriage and a prevailing attitude that the end of such a marriage can be taken lightly because it doesn’t matter as much as one that produced children. Continue reading

The best and worst thing

Several of the women I interviewed spoke of relief after becoming an aunt, because it provided their parents (or in-laws) with grandchildren and took some of the pressure off of the women themselves to provide more grandchildren.

As aunts, we have children in our lives we can adore, spoil, teach, play with and watch grow into who they will become as adults. Aunthood also gives us a closer insight into how children change a marriage.

The advice: The best and worst thing
One of the women I interviewed, Bette*, told me about a conversation her husband Caleb had with his boss – who also happened to be a close friend and the father of grown twins – when Bette and Caleb were trying to decide whether to have children.

Caleb asked, “What advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to make this decision?”  His boss told him that having children is both the best and worst thing that could ever happen, simultaneously.

He said it’s the best thing because your capacity to love is multiplied, and you love these children more than you ever thought you could, and it enriches your life. On the other hand, it also completely changes your life. Your marriage changes. You don’t have time for former pursuits. Your priorities are different. When you’re in it, you’re glad your priorities are these children, but everything else suffers because of your shift in priorities. He finished by saying, “I’m not saying it’s not a worthwhile priority. Again, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but it’s also the worst thing.”

Bette said she and Caleb thought about that statement, “It’s the best and worst thing,” and turned it around and said perhaps not having children is also the best and the worst thing that would ever happen to them.

For them, it is the best because they have time and energy to focus on each other and their marriage. They travel extensively, and do plenty of other things they wouldn’t consider if they had children. Plus, they are able to be more involved in the lives of their extended family than they might otherwise be.

In this case, you really can’t have it all
Bette admits, though, that she just won’t ever fully know. She says she feels like she gets a glimpse of the best part of having children because of how much she loves her nieces and nephews, but she knows she’ll never know exactly what she has missed out on.

She says, “You can’t always have it all, and I have come to the realization in my life that I have the best of both worlds. If I didn’t have nieces and nephews, maybe I would feel differently. Maybe I would feel like there was something else that I was missing. But to hear a parent say that having children is simultaneously the best and worst thing that has ever happened was a turning point for us. I flip that idea around and think, ‘Maybe that’s me, too, just from a different perspective.’ ”

Whether you have children or not, I’d love to know what you think of this perspective: that either way – having children or not having children – it’s simultaneously the best and the worst thing that can happen.

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* To protect the privacy of the women I interviewed, I have changed all names.