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Wedding counsel

July 1, 1993

Wedding counsel

By Dr. Robert R. Kopp

Wedding counsel

Back in those searching ’60s and ’70s, it seemed everybody was reading Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (1923).

There was one passage that meant a lot to me for my parents back then but speaks to me as a parent today: “Your children are not your children…They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

Wedding days are tough on parents. It’s a Sunrise, Sunset moment. The newlyweds are flushed with expectation. The parents are filled with experience. One couple is convinced they’re doing the right thing and will be rewarded fantastically. At least two other couples contemplate contradictions of even the best intentions.

Extended families pray and labor to rise above their disaffections, disappointments, delusions, and dysfunctions; because two in their midst are drunk on love for each other and the tenderly transitory invitation to the Lord for more than the religious rite.

The atmosphere is so heavy with desperate hope for the couple to live happily ever after, even as the congregation yearns to taste a future unencumbered by the past.

No wonder there’s so much energy, dreaminess, and lingering desire for true love in all at weddings.

But it doesn’t take too long for the couple to discover the undeniable realities betrayed by the tear-welling gallery of destined days when the bliss, mist, dog-eyed stares, and couch-cuddling to the tune of Elton John’s “Your Song” are supplanted by suspicions of men coming from Mars and women coming from Venus.

Indeed, there are days when an exchange between Lady Astor and Winston Churchill seems too close to home. She said, “If I were your wife, I’d poison your tea.” He said, “If I were your husband, I’d drink it.”

And countless couples cringe and cry in isolation when Gordon Lightfoot drones on and on, “I don’t know where we went wrong, but the feeling’s gone and I just can’t get it back.”

Yet I’m not writing about what could go sour if you’re not careful.

After so many good, bad, ugly, and innocuous adventures of my own within the context of growing discipleship, I’ve got some counsel on how it should and will go if you’re careful.

The best book that I’ve ever read on preventing failure and promoting the kind of marriage that propels couples to the chancel steps is Willard F. Harley Jr.’s His Needs, Her Needs (1986).

His message is simple.

Women and men have needs that must be satisfied. If needs are met, the marriage thrives. If needs aren’t met, trouble is around the corner.

Specifically, Dr. Harley understands a man’s basic needs of sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, domestic support, and admiration. A woman’s basic needs are affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, and family commitment.

If those needs are met, the couple lives happily ever after.

If those needs aren’t met, my buddy Eric Felack’s theory becomes fact: “Marriage is like flies on a screen. 50 percent want in. 50 percent want out.”

I talked about these things to a singles group in Lower Burrell, Penn. about 10 years ago. Knowing there were some really bitter people there—people who had been burned by unfaithful spouses—I opted for truthfulness rather than the ecclesiastical good-humor-man approach of saying nothing eloquently to pick up a check and move on without content or consequence.

Summarily, I said everyone has needs; and if you’re not meeting your spouse’s needs, those needs will be met with or without you. If your spouse isn’t getting it at home, she or he will get it somewhere else. If you’re not working on your marriage, someone else will do it for you.

I went on to say they were divorced because they took their spouses for granted. Romance stopped. Ignored spouses were left to fend for themselves. And they did!

I was never invited back.

Just kidding.

I went back several times to discuss divorce-proofing marriages.

We started with our Lord’s counsel, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (see Matthew 7:24ff.).

In “Myths That Destroy a Marriage” (preached on 9 March 1997 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif.), Dr. John Huffman observed, “The truth is that every couple is going to have some problems. Our problems will be different from yours…Whenever you get two people together, given the many differences and family backgrounds, cultural expectations, and finely-tuned differences in individual temperaments, there will be marital difficulties. The sooner you and I discover this truth and put away the myth, the better off our marriages will be.”

Maybe that’s why we celebrate so much on the wedding day.

It’s a glorious moment.

It’s a moment that can be multiplied if we’re careful -attentive to each other’s needs and respectful of the real head of the house on more than wedding day.

Putting it another way, the grass is always greener where it’s watered.

That’s true every day in every relationship.

Dr. Robert Kopp is the pastor of Bethany Presbyterian Church, Loves Park.

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