Preparing for marriage

Marriage is a support system for the deepest, highest selves – what spiritually oriented people might call the ‘souls’ – of the two partners. Take time to make a deep wedding ritual together, to bind yourselves together healthily and strongly.

Re-framing the ketubah

  • The ketubah, originally a legal contract protecting the wife financially, can be reconceived as a loving statement of mutual commitment and aspiration, that can become a continuing source of inspiration to the couple.
  • What expectations do you have of yourselves, each other, and the marriage? What do you intend to give to the marriage? What will help you get through the hard times? How high a priority will you give to intimacy and maintaining the health of your relationship alongside the multiple demands of daily life? What do you need to negotiate and agree on with each other before you marry?
  • Take time to make contact within yourself with whatever you might call your highest, best self, that is wise, honest and loving – verbalise the pledges that you wish to make to your partner, and the partnership from that place within yourself. The ketubah can be written as a joint statement of intent. Crafting it is in itself a deep revealing of the partners to themselves, and each other, and a way of taking the relationship deeper – and higher.

Children

  • If you have children from previous relationships, talk with them, and listen to them, in order to share feelings about the impending marriage, and address any concerns there may be.
  • Consider how to include your children in the marriage ceremony itself; ask for their suggestions.
  • Share with each other your expectations around having children, how you might bring them up. If you come from different cultural and / or faith traditions, how will you navigate this with your children?

The Shadow side of marriage

  • Re-framing bedeken: “One part of the traditional ceremony is called ‘veiling the bride’/ Before she approaches the canopy under which the ceremony will take place, the bride’s face is covered with a veil. At one point during the ceremony, the groom must symbolically determine that the woman before him is really his bride and that he intends to marry her, so he looks at her face. I would like to suggest another, deeper level of significance and intention (kavanah) associated with this ritual. Before the bride is veiled, the bride and groom should sit facing one another, looking into each other’s souls in such a way that they see not only the love, sweetness and understanding but also the craziness, ugliness and angers. In short, each should see the whole range of attributes in the other, and ask him- or herself, “Can I way yes to that?” (Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, First Steps to a New Jewish Spirit: Reb Zalman’s Guide to Recapturing the Intimacy & Ecstasy in Your Relationship with God, 2003)
  • “The shadow is very important in marriage, and we can make or break a relationship depending on how conscious we are of this. We forget that in falling in love, we must also come to terms with what we find annoying and distasteful – even downright intolerable – in the other and also in ourselves. Yet it is precisely this confrontation that leads to our greatest growth. I recently heard about a couple who had the good sense to call upon the shadow in a pre-wedding ceremony. The night before their marriage, they held a ritual where they made their “shadow vows.” The groom said, “I will give you an identity and make the world see you as an extension of myself.” The bride replied, ” I will be compliant and sweet, but underneath I will have the real control. If anything goes wrong, I will take your money and your house.” They then drank champagne and laughed heartily at their foibles, knowing that in the course of the marriage, these would inevitably come out. They were ahead of the game because they had recognised the shadow and unmasked it. When we project our God image on our mates, that is just as dangerous as projecting our darkness, fear and anxiety. We say to the beloved, “I expect you to give me divine inspiration, to be the sole source of my creativity. I give you the power to transform my life.” In this way, we ask the beloved to do what our spiritual disciplines have done in the past: make us new, redeem us, save our souls.” Robert A Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche, 1991)
  • Events and experiences of previous relationships can leave you with unhealed wounds, and dysfunctional emotional patterns and expectations – conscious and unconscious – for this new relationship. You do not need to be ‘perfect’, completely ‘fixed’ or healed as you enter your marriage, but you will significantly increase your chances for a successful marriage if you do all you can to try and heal your past, and openly share your expectations and fears.

The importance of community

Marriage is sustained by an extended network of people who love the couple, can offer practical and emotional support, and respond with wisdom, honesty, non-judgement and compassion.

  • Consider how to involve family and friends in the wedding ceremony. How can they be encouraged to name and / pledge their best gifts to the couple?
  • Perhaps 2 months before the wedding, ask someone to coordinate the collection of blessings and good wishes from people. These can be assembled into a Book of Blessings that can be given to you on your wedding day. Along with the ketubah, your vows, and your memories of the day, the Book of Blessings can form part of a physical, continuing source of inspiration and encouragement in your marriage.

Afterword

As part of your preparation, you might also like to read:

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