I have spent rather a lot of actual physical time in the company of couples lately; couples who have been together for as long as fifty years. At the time when they made those vows, standing face to face, half a century ago, they could not possibly have known what roads they were destined to travel together – either privately or publicly, uniquely or universally.
Since those days when they made those vows, there’ve been so many social changes: religious attachment has waned, interracial and same sex marriages have gained acceptance, pre-marital sex is no more a taboo, home-making is not necessarily a woman’s preferred vocation or domain. And the idea that men should shoulder full responsibility for assuming the archetypal hunter gatherer role is the stuff of seventies sit-coms. Back then, blue-collar workers may have been able to quickly step on a property ladder and support a whole family a half a century ago, but that’s becoming increasingly hard to do and both partners are required to make a financial contribution to maintain any reasonable standard of living.
People, including acquaintances and work bosses or colleagues, are connected twenty four seven and it’s not out of the question to have the most intimate of moments interrupted as you hear from them at midnight or on a weekend or a holiday just because something sprung to their mind. Texting has shifted talking into a whole new dimension.
Back then, there were three television networks! Yes…just three and they actually stopped broadcasting at a scheduled time, meaning that your insomniac spouse’s only option was to stare at the test card for a few hours. Now, we have thousands of channels at our fingertips and can take our sport or our drama or our horror or hilarity to any location, even the loo, thanks to our phones, tablets, and laptops.
The global population has doubled in those fifty years, yet couples in developed countries are now considering smaller families or none at all; perhaps we can attribute the steady decline of these birth rates to greater knowledge about the world and the issues which threaten its existence. Back then, any attempt to protect the earth would have you labelled (not trolled) as a hippy or a beatnik or a tree-hugger – someone so alternative as to be weird and definitely not mainstream. Today, if you’re not recycling, upcycling or bicycling, you’re being irresponsible and selfish. And being a parent is much more a matter of personal choice, linked to the myriad options for birth control with equitable responsibility, providing more than one reason why the milkman can no longer be held accountable in any way, shape or form. He no longer delivers!
There’s a voyeuristic view on how relationships are going – social media watchers keenly assessing where you go on holidays, how often one partner is away from the other, and even what you consume for each meal. Now those people you invite to your ceremony and reception see far more than they possibly could have, unless you were all having to live together, where they’re able to observe the nuances and foibles of the most intimate of relationships by being in that close-up and personal space.
When you choose to marry today in a public arena, whether in a church or a woodland glade, in the same way couples have for decades, you’re still inviting those you love to witness your commitment. And it’s still a wonderful option to call upon them to support you in honouring those vows, especially as the challenges of marriage have taken on all of these new dimensions. It is an idea to acknowledge that all of these changes will impact your relationship and its potential longevity in a way that no-one has ever experienced before. And that’s why its worth spending some focused time on deciding what you include in your promises to each other. To have and to hold whilst pledging your troth, loving and cherishing, is perhaps not enough of a commitment these days. Being able to say ‘I love you’ is much easier than accepting that marriage is built upon patience, empathy, and an ability to see that other person’s different perspectives.
Traditional religious vows all mention love, responsibility and oneness but not all of them pay heed to the adversity – so as well as sharing the joys of how you first met, what made you fall in love and when you knew that all roads would lead to this moment, ask yourself why you decided to get married, what challenges you envision for your future, and what you want to accomplish together.
In the future, happy occasions will come as surely as the morning. Difficult times will come as surely as the night. Be as conscious about the ways you want your vows to come across as you are about the way you want your marriage to progress and you will be certain to get off to the best start.