When I begin to work with a couple on creating their wedding ceremony, I give them a homework assignment to write down what they love about each other and what marriage means to them. It helps them gather their thoughts about what brings them to their wedding day. It gives them fodder for their vows and helps them solidify their intentions for married life. And it allows me to personalize their ceremony with sentiments that are meaningful and important to the couple.
After the wedding day, it helpful for couples to take it a step further, and begin to outline a road map for married life. I like to think of it as a Personal Marriage Manual (PMM) or as a Homework Assignment for a Happier Marriage.
What you need to create it: loose leaf note book, paper, three-hole punch, scissors, glue and some pretty pens. Treat your manual like a very special homework assignment. You can do some of your writing on the computer, and later insert those pages in the manual, or write directly in the book, depending on what's most comfortable for you both.
Following these steps can help clarify and declare your intentions for the future. And it can be fun!
Step One: Create a Mission Statement for Your Marriage
The first step of any new enterprise is to create a mission statement. This applies to your marriage, too! Brainstorm, discuss, process, and bat around ideas until you come up with a Marriage Mission Statement. This is your mutual intention for marriage; it is what you want to be and build together. It can have one sentence or reflect a number of ideas. For example:
Our union is the foundation of our lives. It gives us strength, power and fortitude to deal with all of life's ups and downs, and it empowers us to contribute to others and the world. We are best friends, confidantes, and partners, and we have many close relationships with people we consider spiritual family. We inspire others and model what it is to be in a great relationship.
Step Two: Expand Your Vows
Expand the vows you exchanged on your wedding day. Add in all the things you thought of afterwards, or the things that were too personal to share in front of others. These are very personal statements the two of you can come up with together. If you did not have vows in your ceremony, write them now, just for you two.
- We treat our love and our relationship as sacred.
- While we include others in our circle of love, we never take our issues outside the relationship, or talk negatively about each other to relatives because this dissipates our sacred bond.
- We consult each other on all major life issues, purchases and plans and yet give one another freedom and space to be individual and do our own thing.
Over time, adjust these vows, and add to the as you both learn more about what is most important to you in married life.
Step Three: Make Life Plan
You'll be glad to have something in writing if you find yourself flailing about during that first year, wondering "is this how married life is supposed to be?"
- Make it fun to commit to each other by organizing lists of wishes and dreams as well as a timeline for the future: In a year we'll have a house; in five years a child.
- Also write down emotional and spiritual aspects of life together: We'll go to church or synagogue together; we'll spend 10 minutes every day just hugging and looking into one another's eyes, et al.
- The headings can be: Within One Year, Within Five Years, and Within Ten Years.
- Be realistic but dare to dream. For example, if you know you want a house but do not have the funding, don't pressure yourselves or be unrealistic by placing it in the "within one year" timeline. Give yourselves five years. That way, you can still focus on it, and maybe even attain it in a year, but without undue pressure.
Just the process of imagining and planning together can help you focus your energies in the same direction.
Step Four: Picture Your Future
Visual language is powerful. Cut photos from magazines that illustrate the essence of your ideal life together and paste them in your notebook. For example, include a picture of that fabulous vacation spot, or a photo of a happy family that you aspired to. Visual cues give strong messages to the subconscious. Working together to find the images, and placing them in the book, will begin to expand your vision of life together. These images are as powerful as prayers. In fact, they are visual prayers.
Step Five: Document the Good Times to Create More
Establish rituals that make you both feel loved, connected, and happily married. These may be little things, such as a kiss before leaving for work, or an e-mail from the office every day. They can be events, such as going to your favorite restaurant or taking a ride to a favorite place on a Sunday. List the things that you do with, and for, each other. And document them with memory pages -- ticket stubs, a post card of a special locale, a menu from a restaurant where you had a romantic dinner. When you establish loving rituals to look forward to, they become a part of who you are, together. And they help you remember the good times when difficult times come your way.