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Why marriage in a changing world? Part two 

2. Marriage… more than ‘a piece of paper’. 

Nothing, I suggest, has influenced our values more poignantly over the last fifty years than our exposure to television, the cinema and more recently social media. Our boundaries and values are constantly being challenged, questioned, informed and reformed through these powerful mediums. As I said in part one, ‘it’s hard not to find yourself questioning the very relevance of marriage in our day’, when alternative choices are constantly being beamed into our living rooms every day. 

An example of how easily we can be influenced by a television show was illustrated recently by a scene from Home and Away and it provides a good introduction to this article.  The theme was about marriage and commitment. A set of circumstances presented themselves and Marilyn asked Syd if he would marry her. Marilyn made some good points, but Syd wouldn’t have a bar of it. His summary comment was, ‘a little bit of paper isn’t going to make any difference about my commitment to you, nor my willingness to live with you for the rest of my life’. Consider for a moment what view of marriage you think is being promulgated here? They were a few very powerful lines. I suggest the message was another one of those popularistic life-style positions I spoke about in part one. Essentially that marriage is no longer relevant…it’s a non-issue a non-event and a ‘piece of paper’ doesn’t change anything. Not all themes on Home and Away are this blunt. The current theme about surrogacy reflects a discussion happening in the wider community and I am enjoying some of the issues being presented. But this one about a ‘piece of paper’ cuts to the heart of what has been a cornerstone of our way of life for centuries.

So, does a ‘piece of paper’ really make any difference to a relationship? I would argue that it does. 

You like me have probably heard people express similar sentiments as Syd. Perhaps you might even subscribe to the same view.  My argument is that there is more to that ‘piece of paper’ than we realise. Marriage I suggest, amongst other things, takes people to a new level of commitment in their relationship. It has been my consistent experience in working with couples whom present for marriage, that there comes a point in their relationship where they want to advance their relationship to a new level. When working with couples preparing for marriage, I provide them with various scripts that cover various marriage themes that they can use in their wedding ceremony. In one of the scripts that some couples ask to use, I make the comment that ‘when couples choose to marry they are in fact raising the bar on their level of commitment to each other by virtue of the promises they are going to make’.  What makes those promises or vows so poignant is that they are declared in a public forum and ratified legally. It is this level of commitment that makes marriage fundamentally different to any defacto or co-habiting relationship. “So what”, you might say, “there isn’t that much of a difference between a cohabiting relationship and a marriage union?”

Well, since the seventies we have been fed an incredibly potent mix of ideas where we question authority and easily reject what doesn’t suit. Everything is basically relative, there are no guiding moral absolutes and we can live as we please with seemingly little or no restraints. Life is about pleasure and fun where we live in the moment with scant regard to significant others. However, the introspective self-absorbing society that we have become so accustomed too, in reality is not what life is about.  It is sad but true that many of the values we have embraced either consciously or unconsciously over the years are actually incongruent with the way we are meant to live. The whole of life IS, about making commitments. Commitments which effect both present and long term realities. Marriage has to do with some of those realities. 

One value that many of us have unconsciously subscribed to, is the idea of ‘keeping our options open’. In other words we hold back on making commitments to anything, let alone to that special someone, because we have this underlying feeling of needing to keep our options open. For example, we can’t commit to going somewhere next week in case something more appealing comes along and so we say, ‘I’ll let you know closer to the date’. We can’t commit to a job offer in case we get a better offer and so we end up not committing at all. We oscillate between a yes and a no because to commit might put us in an awkward and uncomfortable position that we can’t remove ourselves from. I am inclined to think that this is one of the underlying reasons people struggle to make a commitment to marry. It is not so much that they don’t love their opposite number, it has more to do with the struggle to commit to everything that goes with making that exclusive commitment. I suggest that in marriage, that ‘little piece of paper’ takes us to a new level of commitment that transcends the self-centredness what we have become so accustomed to. 

To commit in marriage is a good thing. I have observed that once a man and a women begin to walk down the road either towards marriage i.e. set the date for their wedding, or once they have entered into the journey of marriage itself,  something interesting happens in terms of their attitudes. They seem to be more at ease with life. They are in a glad place. I suggest it has something to do with making a formal commitment to each other. The ‘piece of paper’ oddly enough changes their perspective about love and life with their chosen mate. At the same time the wider community begins to treat them differently. The person who feels most at ease is often the person who was the most hesitant about making the commitment in the first place. One bride said to me, ‘I thought nothing would change, we had been living together for ten years, but I can’t believe how noticeably different it feels. I am more contented, more settled and I can’t believe how differently I am being treated by the townsfolk. It’s as if I am part of the family now not just Pete’s partner.’ Another bride and groom described it as ‘being complete as a family’ and that view is not an uncommon view. No, I can’t say that this is how every couple feels, but there is something that transpires in the emotional centre of our lives when we make that formal commitment to our spouse in matrimony. The so called ‘piece of paper’ does make a difference. Cheep through away lines like Syd’s on  Home and Away, don’t reflect this greater reality that is the experience of thousands of couples who choose the marriage pathway every year in Australia. It is sad that this other reality never gets an airing.

Now I know that a commitment to marry goes way beyond that ‘piece of paper’. It doesn’t begin and end there and my next article will explore that a little further. But to conclude, could I suggest that if you are having trouble coming to terms with the whole idea of commitment in marriage, ask yourself a few questions?

  1. What are the events or circumstances of my past that influence my attitude today about making commitments? Invariably as a consequence of discussing the issue of commitment with people, I find there are a lot of other emotions happening behind the scenes that hold people back. Feelings, experiences, and pain that have never been fully resolved. Once those issues are dealt with, a commitment to that special person in an exclusive way seems to come naturally.
  2. Why am I baulking at making a commitment whenever my partner raises the question of marriage? Facing up to the issue is important because it takes us on an upward journey of discovery. It is quite possible that the baulking has to do with having uncertainty of knowing whether a person is Mr or Mrs Right for me.  Time will obviously tell. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that marriage will make everything right. If you know it’s not right then give your partner the freedom to move on to another place. It will be better for both of you in the long run.
  3. What circumstances would need to change if I were to walk down that road towards marriage? This may help you to identify your feelings and then prioritise a way forward together. Often one partner is more ready to commit than the other. Be patient for it is a journey you must take together. Try and understand where each is coming from but at the same time don’t be afraid to challenge each other’s perspective. Good relationships can handle sensitive challenge. 

Part three in this series will consider the way marriage reflects our innate desire to connect with a significant other and the opportunity it affords us to grow in that environment.

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Why marriage in a changing world?

There is no doubt that over the last few decades, marriage as an institution of co-habitation and wellbeing between a man and a woman has come under rigorous analysis, scrutiny and questioning across all levels of society.  In many respects this is not surprising when we see played out in the media stories of marriage failures and family disputes over child custody, case in point being the recent lone protest by Mick Fox on the Sydney Harbour bridge;  Or when we are confronted  on television and movies with a constant barrage of alternative forms of cohabitations that are made to look the norm for the new world, case in point being channel 7’s ‘Home and Away’, where there is only one relationship happening at the moment that is of a monogamous marriage; Or when current affairs shows like 60 Minutes run segments as they did last weekend titled, ‘Why more and more married women are engaging in extra marital affairs?’ It is not hard, in the midst of such a barrage of ideas, visual images and alternative lifestyle portrayals, to find yourself questioning the very relevance of marriage in our day. 

Irrespective of what is portrayed publically about marriage as an institution, irrespective of our personal circumstance or even our private disillusionment, there ARE arguments that both uphold the value of marriage in our culture and give us hope that life can be better for each one of us if we are either contemplating or moving down that road or even having started that journey of marriage. This is part one of a three part series about ‘Marriage in a changing world of ideas’. Hopefully this perspective will be a helpful read?

1. Marriage is primarily a civil ordinance not a religious ordinance.

I was talking to a Minister of religion recently and he described a sentiment that I think is not all that uncommon within the clergy that he had difficulty with the whole ‘civil celebrant’ idea when it comes to solemnising marriages. His concern in one sense was somewhat justified in that he was concerned about what he felt were ‘very ordinary’ ceremonies he had observed being performed by civil celebrants that in his view didn’t do justice to the concept of marriage. Whilst those marriages were ‘legal’ the ceremony lacked appropriate substance which he felt was important. In some respects I agree for I too have seen some ’wishy-washy’ ceremonies.   His broader concern, however, was a view that marriage was primarily a religious ordinance and should therefore be the preserve of the church.  This is an an understandable concern for any clergyman, especially now that 65% of all marriages are being solemnised by civil celebrants.

I suggested to my friend an alternative viewpoint (which incidentally he appreciated), that marriage was first and foremost a civil ordinance rather than a religious one. Even though I ascribe to  a personal position of ‘faith’ and hold a theistic view of the origin of things, not dissimilar to my friends I suggested to him that marriage was an institution to be enjoyed by all people not just those of a particular belief system. In fact anthropological studies have shown that from time immemorial, marriage between a man and a woman has and is practiced in one way or another in every culture, irrespective of creed. It is certainly appropriate that a person’s faith perspective or their particular world view should be included in their understanding of marriage but in my view, marriage should be seen as primarily civil in nature rather than creedal in nature. An ordinance between a man and a woman for all time.

It is a reasonable question to ask, why peoples of all cultures’ have placed such high value on marriage as a cornerstone of community life? Whilst reasons vary across cultures and across time, the non-variable, the continuing constant is that monogamous marriage seems to afford its participant’s a stable, strong and healthy environment by which communities can function together.

It is interesting that The Marriage Act 1961 which is an Act of the Parliament of Australia which governs legal marriage in Australia, doesn’t articulate the rationale for marriage. It neither defines marriage in terms of its historicity nor it’s wellness quotient or value to us as a society. It simply says marrige is to be publically enacted, it is legally recognised, it is solemn and binding in nature, it is to be consensual and voluntary, it is between a man and a woman, of marriageable age and ‘entered into for life’. The monetum or celebrant authority, which is to be read at every ceremony by all officiates civil and religious (with qualification), reflects these sentiments when it states:

“I (the officiate) am duly authorized by law to solemnize marriages according to law. Before you are joined in marriage in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship into which you are now about to enter. Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” The Marriage Act 1961 

Apart from this legal statement defining the essential nature of marriage in our culture as ‘a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’, we are left to other social entities, commentators’, academics, professionals, institutions and life experience itself to provide substance and give meaning to the institution of marriage within our culture. At this point there is no shortage of information available to us on what might constitute a stable, strong and healthy marriage experience. One such publication Why Marriage Matters  is a compilation from some of those   professionals giving substance to the nature of a marriage union in society. The 21 reasons ‘Why Marriage Matters’ makes for interesting reading. 

Whilst we may be being bombarded with alternative and popularist viewpoints as to the value or non-value of marriage, marriage is still a fundamental good for the majority of peoples for the majority of time, and we ought never to forget that reality. It is true that marriage in Australia was in decline and divorce was on the rise up until 2001, but since then those trends have reversed themselves quite significantly. Since 2001, the marriage rate in Australia has steadily been rising and the divorce rate has steadily been decreasing apart from a slight increase in divorces for the 2009 year. The divorce rate is now down to 41% from a high of approximately 50% in 2001. 

It should be acknowledged that it is both sad and tragic for all involved when families implode and fracture at the seams. We grieve for those who for whatever reason find themselves eating from that table which leaves everyone impoverished, as one lady friend said to me , “I don’t mind the marriage bit, it’s the breaking up I hate”. The emotional and financial costs to us as a nation are a significant burden on us as a society. However, we ought not to let ourselves be swayed to a different view of living simply by what is popularized over the media. Marriage is still the preferred option for co-habiting men and women in our culture. It is true that for some the pathway to marriage comes via a co-habiting experience (77% followed that pathway in 2008), however, marriage invariably and increasingly becomes the destination and joyfully so.

 Whether or not you hold to a view that marriage is civil or creedal, whether or not you subscribe to the view of marriage as defined by the Marriage Act 1961, whether you have an articulated view of the social benefits of marriage (or non-benefits for that matter), for whatever reason, marriage I suggest, is still the preferred option for co-habitation between a man and a woman in our culture.

What are your thoughts?

Part two of this series, will explore the idea of commitment in marriage And part three will consider the way marriage reflects our inate desire to connect with a significant other and opportinity we have to grow in that environment.

The Web and Getting  Married… what do these two have in common?

Obviously they are very different entities. One is all about an information feed whilst the other is all about a very poignant moment  in time between two people who are deeply in love. The common denominator is that an increasing number of couple’s are turning to the web to resource this very special moment in their lives.

For example, in any web browser type in the word ‘celebrant’ followed by the town where you want to celebrate your wedding and you will find  any number of available celebrants. Type in the word ‘wedding’ followed by the same town name and you will invariably find everything else pertaining to your wedding needs.

The web however, has gone way beyond mere ‘information flow’ and is becoming of itself an interactive experience for users. The whole blogg, facebook, twitter, youtube, VOIP, and the online conferencing experience has revolutionised the way we do business opening up a whole new way of communication between service providers and their clients.  As one executive I heard recently say, “As a service provider, it is all about offering a better experience to clients.” Or to put it another way, web applications provide clients with a totally new way to engage with service providers as real people rather than simple text on a screen.

I too have been caught up in this new way of doing things and have been progressively adding new features to my web facilities to facilitate a more interactive experience for clients wishing to use my services. One application that I make available to clients is to provide access to my resources via private login with a user name and password.  

Every client who chooses to use my services, are provided a password to access my online resources. I am consistently being told by clients that the wedding resources I make available on line are both convenient and relevant to their circumstance.  You may wish to read the comments that a UK couple made about their experience of using this facility http://www.celebrant-brianventen.com/What%20clients%20say.htm.

Another interstate client from Bathurst NSW, who recently booked my services, made this excited comment upon being given access to this facility. “Ps, I love the wedding resource folder. What a wonderful way to help me understand how the day will unfold. I was also very touched by some of the readings and material in the vows section”. For her it took the ‘un’ out of the ‘unknown’ and made the ‘whole wedding ceremony thing’ just that little bit more meaningful.( Keep in mind that Bathurst is about 2000klm away from this bride and grooms wedding venue.)

Making resources available on-line is particularly helpful for clients who live in distant places who choose to ‘tie the knot’ in the tropical north of Australia. In circumstances like this, I will often not meet the couple personally until a day or so before the wedding.  All our  communications are either on-line or by phone/VOIP. This online method of working with clients’ just makes things flow that little bit easier for everyone involved rather than having to depend on traditional ‘slow mail’.

The same is true for clients who face the off times difficult circumstance of having to organise a funeral for a deceased family member. I provide family members with a similar facility where they can access an online funeral resource via a private username and password.  I am fortunate to be able to officiate at many funerals and invariably when I meet with clients, they struggle to know where to start first when it comes to organising a funeral service.  A local funeral director of course is the initial point of contact in organising a funeral, but trying to cope with the death and accompanying grief of losing a loved one is difficult enough but to organise a funeral ceremony is definitely not where  they want to be.

I remember only too well, my daughter, having just lost her 22 week old baby, Matthew, threw her arms around me and in tears sobbed, “Dad why do I have to do all this, why do I have to make all these decisions, it’s so hard, I just want to bring him home”. I have discovered, that it doesn’t matter how old or young a person might be when they die, for those who remain it is a hard place to be.

The funeral resource is simply a resource to provide clients with some “how to’s” appropriate to their family circumstance.  Invariably clients express tremendous gratitude for the simple tools provided in this resource.

However, with this in mind, I am fully aware that not all clients are computer savvy and occasionally clients communicate their uncertainty in using web applications. That’s fine and I work around those needs accordingly. Sometimes I talk clients through the process and at other times I revert to hard copies. Whichever process I follow in working with clients, the intension, as a service provider is always the same… that is, to offer clients a better experience of the whole celebrant/client process.

Sincerely, Brian

‘Creating celebrations for the happy and the sadder times of life’

Hi to all. Welcome to a new blogg and webpage format. I have been spending a few days recently setting up a new blogging facility using WordPress. This is a super format (my daughter Kelly put me on to it), that allows you to create a blogging platform but with a whole lot more features making it incredibly versatile as an information/communication feeder. If you like, you can subscribe to the blogg which enables you to keep informed of any updates (via email) that I make and also allows you to interact with your own comments on any posts. The blogg is also linked back to my main web site and You tube. I am still setting it up but you may want to have a look at the site and take a brief tour.

You will also note on my main webpage @ www.celebrant-brianventen.com thatI have installed an online comments feature which allows people and clients using my services (in fact anyone) to post a comment. A thread of three comments will sit and scroll off as comments are added. Be the first to make a comment!!

And so the ‘social media’ adventure continues!

Mother’s Day

To a mum whose 83

There’ll never be another mum just like the one I’ve got,

She treats and loves me still as if I were her little chum.

And even though she’s getting old and living far away,

And finds it hard to get around and needs a stick to hold.

I know I’ll never have a mum as lov-el-y as you?

She doesn’t have a facebook page and will never read this blog,

She wouldn’t know what ‘twitter’ was nor what might be the rage.

But she has what I can never have and that’s a mother’s love.

To give and give and give again, even when we misbehave.

I know this much perhaps you do too..

I’ll never have a mum as lov-el-y as you.

Brian Venten 2011 Mother’s Day

Hello World!

Yes, I’ll stick with the ‘Hello world’ title for this post! As the heading of this blog suggests, I work in the celebrant industry as a government registered Civil Marriage Celebrant in Australia. As well as performing marriage ceremonies, I also conduct Renewal of Vows Ceremonies, Child Namings and Funeral services for those families facing bereavement.

This blog will focus mainly on those activities and hopefully add value to readers who are also walking along these pathways and whom wish to celebrate both the happy and the sadder times of life. As a celebrant, I enjoy finding ways to creatively celebrate these great moments of our lives. These occasions tend to be life changing experiences for everyone involved and hopefully you can enjoy the journey as well.