So. You are considering getting married.
Sometimes this decision is made when your beloved is already in your life; occasionally you’ve decided that it’s the right time and you are ready and willing when the right person comes along. For many gays and lesbians who have been in committed relationships for years, marriage is a new step on an already long, fulfilling journey.
As you think about marriage, you think about the marriages that you have been witness to—and perhaps, unfortunately, those that have ended in your own life. You think about what you have learned from your own or others’ experiences, and how you can take those lessons and be part of creating a wonderful union with a person you love. And whether a new love or one you have celebrated for decades, the wedding is still a defining moment.
Sitting alone as part of a couple or a potential couple, you want to ask yourself: what does marriage mean to me? It’s often defined as a public commitment and public declaration of love and intention to spend a lifetime as companions and lovers. But each marriage is unique to the people who are in it. And for every person we have had the privilege to marry, something changes when those vows are taken and have been witnessed—there’s a quickening in each of the people.
As a couple they have become something more, and as individuals they have willingly placed themselves into a container called marriage. The word “container” may have negative connotations for some, but every relationship contains the people within it, because it defines expectations, promises and behavior.
You remain free and individual, but you are expected to consider someone else as you move down the path of your life. What is in this container called marriage?
There is you and there is your beloved and this third thing called the marriage. You each came to your decision point to marry with a history. As you consider marrying you are deciding to consciously include or continue to include each other in building a shared history. What have you loved about your life that you would like to share with your intended?
One example is that of someone we’ll call Jane. Jane’s parents had rituals in their marriage that the family came to love and appreciate. Every morning they would make the bed together; it was a way of completing the time they’d spent together in the night, a transition before engaging with anyone else or any other activity. When Jane married she felt sad if her mate didn’t take the time to make the bed together, and until they spoke about it, her mate didn’t really understand why it was important to her.
Your parents or other adults whose relationship you were exposed to may have demonstrated the importance of spending romantic time together. They may have had rules about candlelight rather than television during meals or have established a date night. You may have seen healthy and unhealthy exchanges about finances and know that you want to have a financial plan that is shared as a couple rather than individual plans.
How much and what kind of communication you require is a big part of your consideration when marrying. Once you live with someone, how can you establish boundaries that allow you both to flourish but still be witnesses to each other’s lives? Many couples decide to marry so that they can commit to support each other to their highest potential and having a companion upon whom one can expect a level of dedication, makes the prospect of life’s journey more sweet.
Do you expect your mate to be the keeper of your dreams, or do you share that expectation with other friends and family? Being clear about your expectations builds a strong foundation for a successful marital relationship. Your mate may be willing to sign up for listening to all of your dreams, aspirations and concerns, but may feel ill equipped to help you. In other cases you may want to be listened to in a generous way but not have any thing solved.
When it comes to behavior, what does it mean to you to be married? Do you and your spouse share the same values? Is your marriage to be a monogamous one? Is it one that requires you to vacation together and never apart? Do you expect to live under the same roof at all times or are you comfortable with planned gaps in your togetherness?
Robin and Sue made a pact that would not work for people wired differently than they. They decided that on weekends, because of their intense work schedules, they would stay within a 10-step proximity of each other ... almost always near enough to touch. This worked for them and filled up their reservoir each week to face the challenges outside their home.
Another couple, Ron and Tom, have a coming-home ritual each night: they go to separate places to decompress after their day and come together to share a beverage once they feel “present” in their home. They have a conversation structured like this: “tell me one thing you are challenged by right now and how I can support you, tell me one thing you are happy about that I can celebrate with you.”
Understanding your expectation of marriage and communication can help you know why you want to embark on this journey.
As you consider marrying, how do you see your community in relation to the marriage? How do you define your community?
Many couples find themselves having this conversation as they decide who will come to the wedding. For example, how many (if any) of our family members do we consider part of our community? Who do we consider closest to each of us and together as a couple? What part of our commitment to each other do we want our community to hold us accountable to?
As you plan to get married, what are the things that you know will change, and what are the things you wonder about? Many gay and lesbian couples have been together for significant periods of time when the opportunity to marry arises. They may have already had a commitment ceremony of some kind, or may have eschewed any ceremony until their union was recognized equally as their heterosexual neighbors.
If you live together already, you may have established some wonderful rituals that you want to recommit to as part of your marriage. In some cases you want to add financial agreements, or take formal steps for adoption if it is possible and there are children involved.
In the event that you have not lived together, or have only lived together for a short time, it is a wonderful exercise to envision your lives together. How often do you want to have meals at home or out? How much do you want to be away from home and take breaks from your regular routine? How will you divide the responsibilities of house and home? What tasks are you passionate about, good at or just can’t imagine doing? Harmony in the home can be established when the responsibilities are clearly defined. It doesn’t always mean that one or the other of you do the task. In some families it’s possible to have help with certain aspects of life. If you have this privilege, consider using it to free up more time to spend dreaming with, loving, and enjoying each other.
Once you have decided to be married and have a vision for your life together, how will you share your good news? If you have been together a long time and have decided to take advantage of a new enlightened law in your state, many of your friends and family may immediately understand your choice. (Don’t make any assumptions, however. Sometimes family members have been accepting of your “unsanctioned” relationship, but when it becomes legal their tolerance does not extend to equal status with their own relationships.)
You may decide to marry outside your state because it feels like the right time for you and your beloved. You may have many reasons for legalizing your bond. Being clear with family and friends what your decision to marry means gives them an opportunity to learn about your relationship and to celebrate it with you.
What if there are children involved? Some couples may decide to marry in order to add children to their family and want to be married before taking the variety of steps to add biological or adopted children. Some couples marry when there are already children involved.
When one of the mates already has children, the conversation they have with the children when they have made the decision to commit, sets the foundation for their child’s understanding. Parents often minimize exposure to their children when they are dating, but add the children into activities when they feel more secure about the relationship that is developing.
Answering your child’s questions honestly helps them to feel safe and secure that there is nothing to hide or be concerned about when it comes to the new person in their life. One of the conversations you have with your beloved is to become clear about your parenting relationships. Will the new parent formally adopt your child or children where it is possible to do so? If there is another parent for the children who is biological or otherwise related, will your mate be considered a stepparent? Stepparenting requires agreements about discipline, decision-making, and regular communication. It is important that you have an age appropriate discussion with your child about how things will be with the person you will marry.
Sometimes there is the richness of two parents who are marrying. If the children are still living at home, working out the new family rituals that will minimize conflict and maximize harmony is a great place to start. Once you’ve decided to marry and if you don’t yet live together, beginning to spend longer stretches of time with the children together can allow them to establish relationship as well.
Even though your children may be older, you might make efforts to have them all together for extended periods of three to five days several times a year to allow them to bond. Other families have created specific activities that are repeated monthly or even weekly to begin building new memories. In the appendix on ceremonies you will find many creative ways to make a blended family part of your ceremony.
Yes, you’ve decided to marry! Now you begin with what you agreed on—with whom, how, and when you will share the news. Couples often start first with their inner circle and those they know will be overjoyed with the pending nuptials. If at all possible, sit down with folks in person; it’s an intimate moment for you all to remember.
As you share your wonderful announcement, you are beginning to build the community that will support you as a couple.
Remember that you can inform people following your wedding that you have taken this step, if you know that they are not supportive of your relationship. There is no reason to invite disharmony into what is beautiful for you! This is about you and your beloved, and pe ople who cannot support you are not part of your community even if they are part of your life. We can only keep the door open and hope they will some day choose to happily enter in.
Congratulations on taking this step in your life! Enter thoughtfully on this journey together and it is sure to take you places you’ve never been and provide you with surprises and joys you’ve never known.