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The Hidden Purposes Of Wedding Ceremonies - Part 1: The Family

Aug 17, 2007
David and Janet came into my office both looking upset and disgruntled. They had become engaged a month ago and were already overwhelmed with the planning process. "Why do we even need to do this?" David asked irritably, "There's the venue to rent, the band to pick, the Church to choose, the wedding accessories to buy-- it just seems like a huge waste of money."
"Yeah and my dad is already complaining about the cost-maybe we should just elope. Why is a marriage ceremony so important anyway?" sighed Janet tearfully.

"Well, let me see if I can help here." I responded.

Having been a marriage and relationship counselor for the past 27 years, I have learned much from my couples about what strengthens and weakens a marriage. The platform for a fulfilling marriage can be laid during the marriage ceremony itself. I have great respect for the power hidden in this ancient tradition.

The wedding ceremony is the only surviving ritual that is almost universal. For thousands of years almost every human being in every country has taken part, either as the couple being joined, as a family member or as a community member. Why are we all so compelled to continue this joining ritual? What is it that survives different times and cultures?

I paused a moment as I deliberated what to say. "You know, we have been meeting now for 8 sessions. What have each of you learned about your relationship and yourselves?"

They both paused for a moment and then Janet began, "Well, I've learned that I am quick to feel criticized by David even when he isn't being critical and that I then blame him for something else to get even."

"You know honey, you haven't done that now in weeks, I almost forgot about it." David smiled warmly, squeezing her hand. Turning back to face me he said thoughtfully, "And I learned that I just stop speaking when I'm angry to get my way and to make Janet feel bad. It's been a hard pattern to break, but I'm much better than I used to be."

"Yeah you are - and it's much easier for me to talk to you now." verified Janet.
"So can you both notice that there were ways that you were being with each other that was harmful and that you didn't know you were doing-it was hidden from your understanding?" I asked. They both nodded.

"So," I began, "the marriage ceremony is the same, except that it strengthens rather than harms..."

The first hidden purpose

Over time I have discovered that there are three hidden purposes in marriage ceremonies that may be the key to their enduring popularity and necessity. The first hidden purpose has to do with changing family relationships. A wedding ceremony not only joins a couple together, it joins two families' lineages and rearranges family alliances as well.

We begin with two sets of parents, in this case David's and Janet's, who have birthed, raised and nurtured their respective son and daughter throughout their lives. Up until the wedding day, on very deep levels that are only partially conscious, the allegiance and loyalty of David and Janet has been to Mother and Father and family first.

The ancients in their wisdom knew that for a marriage to succeed, this had to change. And that momentous change begins on this special day- the marriage ceremony becomes the gateway to a reconfiguration of family relationships.

When families consent to give their son and daughter in marriage they are agreeing to release them to pledge their love and loyalty to each other first and all others second. This is a powerful alchemy that happens and everyone has a part to play in it. So let us take a moment and imagine David and Janet's wedding.

You have the family of David's, the groom on one side of the church and the family of Janet's, the bride on the other-- David and his attendants are at the front of the church with the officiate-- the bridesmaids enter followed by the Janet and her father-- her father steps back and the bride and groom are now in the center.

The ceremony continues with offerings, vows, ring exchanges, and a formal pronouncement of joining. This very old and elaborate ritual helps families and friends formalize the change that is happening. It gives time for hearts to bid farewell to the individual son and daughter, sister and brother and prepare to welcome back a newly joined man and woman who are worthy of families' recognition, respect and acceptance. For the larger community, their job is to witness and hold sacred the fact that from the wedding day forward, David and Janet are now to be viewed in a new way.

"Wow, I never thought of it that way-but I think you're right, my mom really needs to see me as a man taking this step and this woman to help her let go of me as her special boy." said David thoughtfully.

"Yeah, actually both my parents and my older brother need this to begin to get that I've grown up. And you know I need it to get that I've grown up and to let go of them too." Janet was thoughtful for a moment. "If this works, I won't feel so guilty about wanting to spend our vacation time doing something alone instead of going to my family's cabin every year."

"Yes." I responded. "You will both need to practice thinking as a wife and husband first and a daughter and son second. This is a huge change for everyone and will take time, but a wedding ceremony can help."

"You mentioned that this was one hidden purpose-are there others? asked David.

"Yes, there are two more." I replied "We'll take them up next session."
About the Author
Kathy Ball has been a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist for 27 years & the minister for many wedding ceremonies. She owns WeddingBellAccessories.com, selling wedding accessories.
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