Non Denominational Weddings


Date: 5/4/2012 3:52 PM CDT

In my last blog entry, When Marriage Rewires the Brain, there was one quote I inserted from the NY Times Sunday Review (March 25) article that really struck me: 

 When two people become a couple, the brain extends its idea of self to include the other; instead of the slender pronoun “I,” a plural self emerges who can borrow some of the other’s assets and strengths.  We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.

It reminded me of the old Biblical adage in the Genesis creation myth when a woman and  a man first joined together to “become one flesh.”  I use to dismiss that idea of “one flesh,” as defining marriage as “losing one’s identity”, especially the woman, and giving up one’s own self, to be with another.  I believed that good marriages support the separate identities of each spouse.  I still believe that, but I have come to interpret the “one flesh” phrase differently. 

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, writes: Something in our nature cries out to be loved by another.  Isolation is devastating to the human psyche.  That is why solitary confinement is considered the cruelest of punishments.  At the heart of humankind’s existence is the desire to be intimate and to be loved by another.  Marriage is designed to meet that need for intimacy and love.

I agree, and that need is what I now believe was actually being addressed in the biblical verse—“becoming one flesh.”  That did not mean that individuals would lose their identity; it meant that they would enter into each other’s lives in a deep and intimate way. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.

But I also know that this kind of love is not the romantic kind, or the passionate kind that we first experience in the courtship stage.  No, this love is an intentional love, one where you conscientiously and tenderly choose to express your needs, to connect, touch, nurture, understand, appreciate, support, apologize and forgive (except when there is abuse and repeated betrayal).  This is the love you choose to express when differences will inevitably bring you pain and fear and tempt you to build walls. The pain and fear are usually expressed through anger and criticism and distancing…..  But real love, the deepest, mature love, -the love we long for-calls the married couple to “turn toward” each other and be “present” with each other, and “become one flesh.”  Unfortunately it is not always easy to love this way and too often, couples choose-and it is a choice- to demonize each other, “turn away” and inevitably become strangers in the night.      

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 3/27/2012 4:39 PM CDT

A recent  NY Times Sunday Review (March 25) featured an essay entitled, The Brain On Love. The author, Diane Ackerman, writes about recent discoveries in the field of interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB).  IPNB, developed by Dan Siegel and Allan Schore, is a relatively new approach to exploring the brain and how it is directly impacted by life experiences throughout our lives.  Ackerman focuses mainly on the impact of relationships on our brains, and in particular, marriage.  To share with you, I have excerpted a few segments from Ackerman’s commentary which I found most impactful:

….All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us…..
….As the most social apes, we inhabit a mirror-world in which every important relationship, whether with spouse, friend or child, shapes the brain, which in turn shapes our relationships……… It’s not that care-giving changes genes; it influences how the genes express themselves as the child grows.
….Does it also promote physical well-being? “Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom,” Dr. Siegel says, “point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these positive attributes in our lives across the life span.”
….When two people become a couple, the brain extends its idea of self to include the other; instead of the slender pronoun “I,” a plural self emerges who can borrow some of the other’s assets and strengths……………. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.
….But a loving touch is enough to change everything. James Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, conducted experiments in 2006 in which he gave an electric shock to the ankles of women in happy, committed relationships. Tests registered their anxiety before, and pain level during, the shocks.

Then they were shocked again, this time holding their loving partner’s hand. The same level of electricity produced a significantly lower neural response throughout the brain. In troubled relationships, this protective effect didn’t occur. If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions.

However, it’s not all sub rosa. One can decide to be a more attentive and compassionate partner, mindful of the other’s motives, hurts and longings. Breaking old habits isn’t easy, since habits are deeply ingrained neural shortcuts, a way of slurring over details without having to dwell on them.  Couples often choose to rewire their brains on purpose, sometimes with a therapist’s help, to ease conflicts and strengthen their at-one-ness. (My underline, of course.)

……Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain. 

Read the entire essay at   Thanks.    Jim Covington

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 3/12/2012 3:41 PM CDT

This past weekend I had the joy and honor of officiating the wedding of two gay men from Australia, Julian and Andrew.  The wedding took place in Central Park and was attended by their respective families.  The wedding was organized by I Do New York event planners. It was truly a moving, love-filled ceremony. I am a Unitarian Universalist minister and over the last decade I have officiated numerous “union ceremonies” and now at last in the state of New York, official wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.  We not only celebrate their “rite” of marriage, but now, their “right” of marriage as well.

I have believed in same-sex marriage for a long time.  I believe in same-sex committed relationships because I have seen it done.  I believe in same-sex marriage because I believe all people in a committed love relationship deserve the same benefits those of us who are heterosexual have enjoyed. I believe that where love is—we have a relationship that must be affirmed and supported.  Where love is,  I believe fair and loving human beings have a responsibility to affirm and support it.   In the last analysis we are all more human than otherwise.  Where love is—is a good place to be and that includes the wedding ceremony of a same-sex couple.

In the past weeks Maryland and Washington have legalized same-sex marriage, and the governor of New Jersey has vetoed a bill that would have recognized same-sex marriages in that state.

As this issue is likely to remain in the foreground in the coming presidential election, I want to recommend a book just published:  Gay Marriage, Real Life: Ten Stories of Love and Family by Michelle Bates Deakin. It is an insightful look at this important topic.

Through the personal stories of ten couples, some of whom are married legally, and some who have held ceremonies without civil recognition, you will gain a deeper understanding of the human side to this struggle. In a review, Library Journal writes, "This aptly named book has a simple message: gay marriage for many people is not a theoretical issue but a real-life one. The ten stories included here take the issue out of the hands of politicians and invite the reader into the homes of real people.   
Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT

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Date: 3/5/2012 2:09 PM CST

IN my last blog entry I wrote about the importance of attachment and the three basic types of attachment style:  avoidant, anxious and secure.  As you prepare for marriage, I believe an understanding of these styles can be helpful.  In the book Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller, these three styles are defined and elaborated on.   The healthiest relationships are those between two people who are “secure.”  While I doubt that many of us ever fit this type of personality perfectly, I think it can be useful to contemplate the authors’ description of the secure type of individual (pp 136-137):

  • Great conflict buster—During a fight they don’t feel the need to act defensively or to injure or punish their partner, and so prevent the situation from escalating.
  • Mentally flexible—They are not threatened by criticism.  They’re willing to reconsider their ways, and if necessary, revise their beliefs and strategies..
  • Effective communicators—They expect others to be understanding and responsive, so expressing their feelings freely and accurately to their partners comes naturally to them.
  • Not game players—They want closeness and believe others want the same, so why play games.?
  • Comfortable with closeness, unconcerned about boundaries—They seek intimacy and aren’t afraid of being “enmeshed.”  Because they aren’t overwhelmed by a fear of being slighted (as are the anxious) or the need to deactivate (as are the avoidants), they find it easy to enjoy closeness, whether physical or emotional.
  • Quick to forgive—They assume their partner’s intentions are good and are therefore likely to forgive them when they do something hurtful.
  • Inclined to view sex and emotional intimacy as one—They don’t need to create distance by separating the two.
  • Treat their partners like royalty—When you’ve become part of their inner circle, they treat you with love and respect.
  • Secure in their power to improve the relationship—They are confident in their positive beliefs about themselves and others.
  • Responsible for their partner’s well being—They expect others to be responsive and loving toward them and so are responsive to others’ needs.

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 3/2/2012 2:42 PM CST

In recent years research has confirmed that the need to be in a close relationship is embedded in our genes. In fact the need to be near someone special is so important that the brain has a biological mechanism specifically responsible for creating and regulating our connection with our attachment figures (parents, children, and romantic/married partners).  This mechanism, called the attachment system, consists of emotions and behaviors that ensure that we remain safe and protected by staying close to our loved ones. The mechanism explains why a child, parted form his or her mother becomes frantic, searches wildly, or cries uncontrollably until he or she reestablishes contact with her.  Or the opposite, when  child ia abused, becomes an angry loner or  emotionally distant. These reactions are called protest behaviors and we all still exhibit them as grown-ups. ( Sue Johnson in her book, Hold My Tight, refers to this behavior between couples as the protest polka.)

Most of the time, when I work with couples who are struggling, I usually help them discover that their angry, blaming or distancing behavior toward one another is actually (seldom acknowledged) a protest over feeling disconnected, or unsafe, impinged upon, or not loved enough.  Our society emphasizes individuality, differentiation, independence—all of which are important states of being, to a point—Born to Be Free, as the song goes.   The reality is that we also need to feel connected and are dependent on one another for that connection. We are also born to be attached.

Our need for attachment and how we express that need or deny it,  depends on a number of factors, including, early childhood upbringing, natural temperament, brain wiring, and life experiences.  According to scientific research, humans develop three different ways or styles of approaching intimacy:  avoidant, anxious and secure.  All people in our society fall into one of these categories or perhaps a combination.  The reason relationships become difficult at times is that each person has different attachment styles and needs.  Depending on the attachment style and needs of each person,  if a couple is not attuned to each other, they can begin to feel misunderstood, abandoned, alone, smothered,  or dominated. That’s when the protest behaviors begin: distancing, criticism, blaming.

Here is a brief description of each style of attachment (see Attached, The New Science of Adult Attachment, Levine and Heller): Avoidant:  It is very important for you to maintain your independence and self-sufficiency and you often prefer autonomy to intimate relationship.  Even though you do want to be close to others, you feel uncomfortable with too much closeness and tend to keep your partner at arms’ length. You don’t like to touch very much. You tend not to open up to your love partner and she/he often complains that you are emotionally distant, which of course, makes you angry and more distant. In relationships, you are often on high alert for any signs of control or impingement in your space by your partner.  Or you many choose to be alone which many young people today seem to be choosing. Not sure what that means, but I am intrigued and concerned.

Anxious: You love to be very close to your partner and have the capacity for great intimacy.  You often fear, however, that your partner does not wish to be as close as you would like him/her to be. You tend to be very sensitive to small fluctuations in your partner’s moods and actions. You experience a lot of negative emotions within the relationship and get easily upset. As a result, you tend to act out and say things you later regret. Or sometimes you just get quiet and distant and withdraw, but inside you are anxious and hurting. Or you talk to your friends and/or parents about your anxiety, but not your partner

Secure: Being warm and loving in a relationship comes naturally to you.  You enjoy being intimate without becoming overly worried about your relationship.  You don’t get easily upset over relationship matters.  You effectively communicate your needs and feelings to your partner and are strong at reading your partner’s emotional cues and responding to them. You share your successes and problems with your mate, and are able to be there for him or her in times of need.

It might be helpful for you to share this with your loved one.  Please don’t point fingers and accuse each other of being this style or that!  Share your different attachment styles as you each perceive them and your emotional needs. Become more mindful of them in yourself and each other, realizing that we are all different and that the deepest love calls on us to respect those needs, articulate them, and not become a slave to them, but learn to share and respond to them affectionately in our individual selves and to each other. And if necessary, find a counselor to help you talk about it.   I will write more about this in my next blog.

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 2/23/2012 11:56 AM CST

It has been said that a successful marriage is due in part to dumb luck. The dumb luck has to do with picking a partner who suits us—not perfectly, but sufficiently, suits not only the person we are when we marry but also the person we turn out to be. The dumb luck has to do with being able to deal—as partners—with life’s seismic changes and unexpected blows. 

In the white heat of love, young lovers might not notice they hold different views on quite crucial matters, or might not worry much about whether their lover will be a good partner, good parent, good person five or ten or twenty years from now.  But if we have dumb luck, there’ll be something between us that will bind us over the decades, even when love falters and times are tough.

And what is that “something” between us that will serve as the glue? Commitment? Strong connection?  More positive than negative sentiments, as the renowned research psychologist, John Gottman suggests?  “Mature” love?

“There is scarcely anything more difficult than to love one another,” writes the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. “That it is work, day labor, God knows there is no other word for it.”

This labor, this work, demands vast stores of patience.  It requires paying attention, more attention than we’ve ever paid before.  It requires compelling ourselves, when we are sick and tired and ready to slam the door, to nonetheless leave the door just slightly ajar.  The work includes not only the work we must do on the relationship but also the work we must do on ourselves.

In working on the relationship, I think it helps to see it as an entity greater than the sum of its parts, an entity that’s been described as “bigger than both of us.”  It is the “third thing.” A thing with its own existence and its own rights.  A thing to which we owe certain obligations.  A thing on whose behalf we will, at least some of the time, have to transcend our individual needs.

The outer work we must do on behalf of our marriage, our relationship, our “third thing,” is deeply intertwined with the inner work we must do on our “I” and “me” and “mine.” That inner work involves making peace with compromise, ambiguity, contradiction, and many, many different shades of gray.  It requires us to revise and reshape our earlier expectations to meet the changing realities of who we are and where we are today. It means focusing on the good stuff.  I love this quote by Pat Love: When it comes to marriage, the more you focus on the bad stuff, the more you focus on the bad stuff.  It means giving up.  It means shaping up.  It sometimes means shutting up.  And it means growing up.

 Rilke puts it llike this: for one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. Love is a high inducement to the individual to ripen….it is something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.

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Date: 2/9/2012 12:55 PM CST

One of my favorite quotes is by Rainer Maria Rilke:  Love. . . consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other. I always share that quote in a letter I send to a couple after I have officiated their wedding. Good marriages have healthy, stable,  emotional connection.  Each spouse feels the other is there for her/him. Each feels the other is present—at least most of the time. So how do couples engender presence with each other?  Lots of books have been written about that, based on a lot of excellent research. But I believe Rilke’s quote about love sums it up beautifully. So let me elaborate:    

First of all note the phrase two solitudes. Solitude means “separateness, aloneness.”  So here are two solitudes, two separate, alone individuals, who find a way to connect with each other and over time, really come to love each other, without the loss of self—something we all long for and need.

Protect:  To the degree we can, of course we protect each other from the outside dangers that may sometime encroach. But we also protect each other’s known vulnerabilities.  If I know my wife is sensitive to my raised voice, because her parents always shouted at her, I want to protect her from that vulnerability. I try to remain mindful of the tone of my voice when I am upset.  I’m sure you protected each other’s feelings during courtship. You were thoughtful.  And while the ecstatic romantic phase of your relationship may lessen a bit, that thoughtfulness should continue. So we protect each other from behaviors that we know will make our spouse feel threatened or unhappy. Behaviors like selfish demands, judgments, angry outbursts, dishonesty can create tension leading to withdrawal or defensive arguments.  So, it’s important to protect each other from those behaviors. And protect what we know to be our spouse’s vulnerabilities. Protection engenders presence.

Touch: Good communication of course is important. And that includes touching.  Not just when you’re making love—touching sensually and passionately-- but also when you are walking down the street, sitting next to one another, passing one another in the kitchen, or cuddling, massaging, hugging.  Touch conveys presence.  Research tells us that the U.S. is a low-touch culture.  In a recent survey, in Paris, the average number of times a couple touched one another in an hour at dinner was 115 times.  In the U.S., in Gainsville, Florida, the average was two times, the lowest of all the cities surveyed around the world! Touch also stimulates the secretion of oxytocin—the hormone of trust and bonding. So, touching each other physically or with words of affection or empathy  makes us feel embraced and present.

Greet:  Just say Hello! Well, yes, but say hello with a touch, or gentle eye contact, as we often do with friends and even strangers. Greeting is welcoming.  How do couples welcome one another in marriage?  They do so with a look or embrace when they see each other at the end of the day. They welcome one another’s life stories, in the present or from the past.  Greeting is also a way of expressing admiration and fondness.  Hi! You look great!  Or, That was a really great how you dealt with the kids today!   Or, Ah, honey, you’re the best. You’re so thoughtful! Greeting is also a way of responding to your partner’s reaching out for connection, conversation. John Gottman calls it “turning toward” or greeting each other’s bids for connection, for presence.

Perhaps I have read more into Rilke’s statement about love than he ever intended.  Perhaps not. Still, I think it’s a great quote: Love. . . consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted by Jim Covington, M.Div., M.A., LMFT | Post a Comment

Date: 2/7/2012 3:47 PM CST

OUR LONGEST MARRIED COUPLE: 78 YEARS  With the secret to how it’s done. It's at the end of the video.......

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Date: 1/26/2012 11:34 AM CST

They don't do it every day (really!). They believe in quickies (alright!). Read on for other reassuring truths about what a sexually healthy marriage looks like.
By Lisa Lombardi
Redbook, 12/ 11

This article is full of good advice including these nuggets from Barry McCarthy:

 2. They touch out of bed, too. They're not the scary PDA couple, feeling each other up in the frozen food aisle. But they are the sort to hug for no reason, swap foot rubs just because and even make foreplay the main course. "There are five degrees of touch, and couples in the best marriages regularly do at least four of them," says Barry McCarthy, Ph.D., marriage and sex therapist and author of Rekindling Desire. "Many couples have two modes of affection: nothing or intercourse, and when that's the case, 'nothing' usually wins out," he explains. Why? When a kiss or back rub always leads to nooky, spouses may end up avoiding contact unless they want sex. A better idea: Get hands-on when you're not hoping to get it on. "Your sex will become much more natural, because one kind of touch flows into another," says McCarthy. By physically connecting in small ways throughout the day, you stay warmed up for intense action later. And you'll still feel close on those inevitable nights when you're too stressed or tired (or both!) for the main event.
5. They don't expect Hollywood sex. We can all picture it: candles glowing, white 1,000-thread-count bedsheets billowing, lovely lovemaking culminating in simultaneous, earthshaking orgasms. The only thing is, that almost never happens, says McCarthy. And the duos who are most likely to succeed wisely know not to expect it. "When you're living together and have two kids, two jobs, etc., if you're having Hollywood sex once a month, you're doing great," he says. How great? According to McCarthy, among happily married couples, up to 15 percent of erotic encounters are not even enjoyable for one or both spouses. Maybe the sex is hurried, physically uncomfortable or doesn't lead to the final fireworks. Secure couples are able to roll with off-nights, rather than taking them as a sign that something's wrong with their relationship. And they don't postpone sex until all the planets are perfectly aligned, either. . . .

For all ten tips:

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Date: 1/23/2012 2:02 PM CST

William Doherty, professor and Director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at the University of Minnesota, also refers to the impulsive, tenuous attitudes many people hold toward marriage resulting in what Doherty labels as consumer marriage, i.e., that our consumer culture emphasizes immediate gratification and teaches us not to be loyal to anything or anyone that does not continue to meet our needs.

I am not suggesting that all couples should stay married no matter what.  I think Doherty is addressing how quick we are to give up on marriage if we don’t feel completely gratified. There will be issues in all marriages. We all have our vulnerabilities and imperfections.  We know some of those vulnerabilities in each other when we marry, but many we do not. Mature marital love calls on us to accept and cope with each other’s weaknesses over time.  I believe marriage is a spiritual and physical bond that most of us long for and is central to healthy families and communities.

Marriage is also a union between two imperfect people who sometimes have to struggle against forces to make their love endure.  In that sense marriage is an opportunity for personal growth.  Marriage means my being faithful to a flawed human being who is faithful to me as a flawed human being. Learning how to do that in a meaningful way is a significant challenge—and sometimes we need help--but it is also an opportunity to engender and deepen our ability to love more deeply. In marriage, we learn to grow beyond our self-interests, not to the point of losing one’s self, but to the point of learning how to deeply love another, in good times and bad, without the loss or self or the loss of our commitment to one another. Isn’t that what couples promise to one another on their wedding day? In other words, real love is born in committed relationships.

 I married you because you gave me a promise. 
That promise made up for your faults.
 And the promise I gave you made up for mine.
Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage...
And when the children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them;
 and it wasn't our love that protected them--it was that promise.
-Thorton Wilder

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