Marriage rests upon the immutable givens that compose it: words, bodies, characters, histories, places. Some wishes cannot succeed; some victories cannot be won; some loneliness is incorrigible. But there is relief and freedom in knowing what is real; these givens come to us out of the perennial reality of the world, like the terrain we live on. One does not care for this ground to make it a different place, but to make it habitable and to make it better.
— Wendell Berry, “Standing by Words”
These are some of the words I pass along to couples with whom I do pre-marriage counseling. Now, with much of our lives moved online (including said counseling sessions) they carry extra weight. Our online lives are a selective and at times highly curated part of ourselves (nice Zoom shirt with pajama shorts, anyone?), while the marriage relationship – and all substantive relationships – inevitably unveils parts of us even we didn’t know about.
Wendell Berry speaks of the immutable givens of marriage: bodies, characters, histories, places…., as real as earth itself. “One does not care for this ground to make it a different place, but to make it habitable and to make it better.” “Habitable” feels to me like a relationship goal that is both sensible and poetic. It also seems like a trustworthy measure of whether a relationship is no longer serving the good of those involved.
After meeting with a couple – Zoom or in person – I regularly come away with a renewed commitment to my own marriage and “the real” we share together. There’s a lot we have very little control over in this world, but, in the words Wendell Berry, there is “a relief and freedom” in having some say in how we choose to show up in the relationships most dear to us.