Poking the Bear – Adventures in Marriage Part 1

I was all excited before I picked up the phone. As soon as the ringing started I could feel a small knot in my stomach begin to form. All those judgy little voices started going in my head. “Why are you calling a counselor, you don’t need a counsellor, your relationships is perfect. The bear is just fine. Why do you need to poke the bear? DON’T POKE THE BEAR.”

Hello” she said on the other end of the phone.

I started to rather inelegantly explain what I was looking for.  Fumbling through – “I’m not sure what we are really looking for, maybe it's just help with the vows. I mean, we are fine. I’m not looking for “counseling” per say, we don’t really need help with anything,” I mumble. My hesitation was palpable and all those little gremlin voices were at the tip of my tongue.

Let me take you back a step before we go on. First things first. I am getting married this year to a man that I met two years ago who I think is just awesome. I’ve always wanted to get married and have kids but my understanding of what it means and why it matters to me have shifted dramatically since I was 25. It means more to me now somehow.

As a kid of divorced parents, as a person who witnesses relationships and marriages end constantly, I want to do it right. I know that there is no “right” in this scenario. I guess what I really mean is I want to do it with eyes wide open, with love and care and attention, and a little optimism.

Flashback to 7 years ago. I was casually chatting with my physiotherapist as she rolled a little ball over my hip flexors when she mentioned that as a younger woman she had decided on a whim to take a catholic marriage prep class for “shits and giggles”. To her surprise it was, hands down, one of the best life skills workshops she ever took. Over six weeks participants learned communication and empathy skills, they connected and bonded, built a shared understanding of their story together and what they both were looking for in a relationship. “Leave the God stuff behind if it doesn’t work for you,” she said, “but it was amazing”.

I’ve been ruminating a lot about this since she told me about it, and even more so as I prepare for my wedding day. Mostly because, as someone who grew up in a totally secular house, I find myself obsessing about ways to ensure that there is meaning and spirit in our ceremony even if there isn’t a GOD.

While I am not a fan of many aspects of religion and am still fumbling my way through finding my own spirituality I can’t help but wonder if we’ve lost a little something in our secularization. This becomes most apparent to me when we look at ritual. Religion or faith gave us a framework and tools for celebrating some of the biggest milestones of life whether they be coming of age, getting married, dying, or simply sharing a gratitude prayer before dinner every day. These practices were guided by elders and shared in many ways.

I can think of a few friends whose marriage was guided by the Church and there was something really beautiful in meeting with their priest ahead of time to talk about their vows, what they meant to each other, what the commitment of marriage meant in the framework of the Church and how they wanted to go forward into this new phase of life.

As a secular person, how do I access the same guidance and support that is offered in faith-based marriage preparation whether it’s a course or meetings with your priest? How do I enter my marriage with intention and awareness and the wisdom of a community that I don’t have? How do I create a ritual and ceremony and promise with my partner that is reflective of us?

Back to my phone call with the marriage and family counselor - the only avenue I could think of short of calling a Church to access this kind of support. I, very hesitantly, called one. And was surprised to notice so much judgment from myself about reaching out for help, and what people might think.  "Why go to a counselor when you are happy, what do you need that for? What if I poke the bear and make a terrible, terrible mess?" It’s true that this last thought is terrifying. But all relationships have challenges, personality differences, and bad habits. I prefer to stare mine dead in the face so we can tackle them together with lots of love and hopefully a little grace.

Find out how it all goes down in Part 2. Coming Soon.