How Well Do You Know Your Partner?

In a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything.  The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things—all of it, all of the time, every day.  You’re saying, ‘your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it.’  Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness.’ 

From the movie, Shall We Dance?

It was six weeks before their wedding and Chad and Lisa still had not hired an officiant.  Towards the end of our meeting, the conversation turned to Chad’s upcoming Vegas bachelor party weekend. 

After Lisa humorously warned him that nothing better happen, he reassured her with these immortal words: “You have nothing to worry about. Nothing’s going to happen even if she goes into the bedroom with me.”

She?  Bedroom? 

I’m stunned as Lisa slapped him in the arm.  Seems Chad’s boys told him that they’re going to get him a stripper. He didn’t want a stripper, but how could he tell them that?  He didn’t want to ruin their fun and besides, it’s tradition!

By the time our conversation ended, I wasn’t even sure if Chad and Lisa were going to have a ceremony for me to officiate!

I get that Chad wants to preserve his image with his boys, but at what cost? 

Although Lisa & Chad eventually invited me to officiate their ceremony, I declined.  Simply put, I thought they had too many unresolved issues with not enough communication skills in place.

I’ve frequently written here and elsewhere that communication is at the heart of your relationship.  A cliché, I know, BUT it’s true!

That Lisa found out about Chad’s plans while at a meeting to discuss the ceremony, speaks volumes about the quality of their conversations. 

That he wasn’t able to tell his supposed best friends what he wanted and did not want, speaks volumes about his ability to assert himself. 

Without being able to express what it is your thinking, feeling, wanting, needing, it’s going to be hard to offer an “I Do” that is authentic, confident, and that expresses your willingness to DO all that is implied in that “I Do.”

If you can’t be honest with your partner before your wedding day, there’s no reason to believe you’ll be able to be honest the day after your wedding day.

Are there things you haven’t told your partner? 

Topics you’ve been reluctant to bring up? 

What are you afraid of?  Now’s the time to talk!

John Gottman is a relationship guru and best-selling author.

I’m not sure where I came across the following list of 20 Questions, BUT according to Gottman, the more of these questions you and your partner can answer AND the more happy and satisfied you are with those answers, then the stronger is your relationship.

I invite you and your partner take some time and consider these questions.

  • I can name my partner’s best friends.
  • I know what stresses my partner is currently facing.
  • I know the names of some of the people who have been irritating my partner lately.
  • I can tell you some of my partner’s life dreams.
  • I can tell you about my partner’s basic philosophy of life.
  • I can list the relatives my partner likes the least.
  • I feel that my partner knows me pretty well.
  • When we are apart, I often think fondly of my partner.
  • I often touch or kiss my partner affectionately.
  • My partner really respects me.
  • There is fire and ·passion in this relationship.
  • Romance is definitely part of our relationship.
  • My partner appreciates our relationship.
  • My partner generally likes my personality.
  • Our sex life is mostly satisfying.
  • At the end of the day my partner is glad to see me.
  • My partner is one of my best friends.
  • We just love talking to each other.
  • There is lots of give and take in our discussions.
  • My partner listens respectfully, even when we disagree.

If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond – check out my book,

How To Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!

Presume Nothing – While Planning Your Wedding!

We enter marriage offering the best of who we are: our deepest feelings, our best intentions, our greatest hopes, full of generosity and affection for our partner.

But we fall in love and decide to live the rest of our loves together without realizing that loving each other and living our life together are different.

                                                                        Susan Piver

When Philip and Cora first met with me they were five months away from their wedding.  In their late twenties, they’d been together since college. 

Philip was quiet and had no opinions about the ceremony. 

At one point, Cora suddenly turned on him and in a hurt tone asked, “Why don’t you care?  Why don’t you ever have an opinion on anything about our wedding?” 

The poor guy looked equally hurt, “This is your big day; whatever makes you happy is fine with me,” he pleaded.

I gently pointed out that this was their big day. 

And then Philip said something that took both Cora and me by surprise. He explained, “When we got engaged my mother told me that this is your day and that I should go along with whatever you want and that I should stay out of the planning and not get in the way.”

Well, a whole new conversation opened up and by the end of it all they were a couple determined to go on and plan their big day together.

Now, several things were going on here.  Philip was too dutiful a son and paid too much attention to his mother! They also were a couple that hadn’t learned how to openly talk about what they each needed and wanted, what they were thinking and feeling.

There’s more, though. 

Cora thought Philip wasn’t interested in their wedding because he had no opinion in the planning. She convinced herself he didn’t care and when she was convinced he didn’t care, she became upset. 

And when she didn’t express her feelings to him, she bottled them up inside. 

And when she bottled them up inside, they eventually spewed forth in an angry, accusatory outburst.

While planning your wedding you can become so focused on some details that it’s easy to lose sight of so much else. 

It’s also possible that during the stress of it all, you’ll not understand what your partner is doing and saying, let alone why. The opportunity for misunderstanding abounds. 

When you’re confused, annoyed, or surprised by something your partner is doing – or not doing – don’t jump to conclusions, especially if those conclusions are negative in any way.    

Instead, I encourage you to do some Perception Checking. 

Here’s how it works – in three steps:

  1. Identify what aspects of your partner’s behavior is confusing or troubling you.  Don’t accuse – just objectively describe what it is.
  2. Think of two possible explanations for the behavior.
  3. Ask your partner to clarify what really is going on.

For instance:

Your partner has flaked on the past two appointments you’ve had with vendors. You’ve lost patience and are annoyed. Rather than lashing out, here’s a script you might try: We’ve missed our last two meetings with the photographer. I know you say it’s because of work, but I’m wondering if something else is going on. I don’t want to do all the planning by myself. I’m starting to feel resentful and I don’t want to. How can we make sure that neither of us drops the ball with all these meetings? 

I know all this seems stilted and awkward. That’s because it is!

The above script, though, has four solid advantages (provided you’re not yelling or speaking in a talk-down tone of voice).

Advantages of Perception Checking

First, you’re not accusing your partner of anything. You’re sticking with the facts, i.e. three missed meetings. 

Second, you’re letting your partner know how you feel about them missing those meetings. You’re not keeping things bottled-up so you won’t explode. Also, this saves your partner from learning how to become a mind reader. 

Third, you’re letting your partner know what you need and since you’re talking to the person you’re going to marry, I think they’d want to know what you need. 

Fourth, when you say, “how can we?”, you make it a challenge that you both, together, need to find a solution for. 

All four of these advantages help increase the chances your partner will be willing to consider the issue from your point-of-view and so be willing to find a solution with you.

Your instinct might be to accuse your partner with something like this: I’m tired of you not going to the meetings we have. You’re always using work as an excuse. Do you even care how this wedding is going to turn out?

What’s going to happen from this “natural” response? Things will just spiral out of hand, your resentment and theirs will mount. Neither of you win. 


Whenever you accuse someone with the words you never, you always you, you, you, it throws the person up against a wall and the only thing they can do is defend themselves, as opposed to explain themselves.  

Perception Checking Helps In 3 Ways

It helps you to separate intent from impact.

It helps your partner realize that their actions are having an unintended impact. 

It helps you understand if your impressions, your perceptions, are accurate.

Just because you feel slighted, ignored, or even hurt, it doesn’t mean that was your partner’s intent. In fact, it most likely wasn’t that at all.

How often have you said or done something with no harm intended and your partner felt hurt and confused? 

We all do it, so remind yourself that before you assume the worst of your partner.

If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond – check out my book,

How to Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!

What Do You Want Guests to Remember from Your Ceremony?

Last Saturday I officiated the wedding of Stephen & Monique (names changed), a couple who are friends of Steve & Katie, a couple whose wedding I officiated last year. 

Stephen had been one of Steve’s groomsmen and now Steve was one of Stephen’s.  In fact, Stephen’s other three groomsmen had been groomsmen for Steve, as all the guys had been in the same fraternity at UCLA.

I wanted to make sure that at Stephen and Monique’s ceremony I didn’t say any of what I had said at Steve and Katie’s wedding. 

But not only could Stephen and Monique not remember what I had said, not even the groomsmen could remember! 

Each reassured me that although they couldn’t remember my words, they’d been touched by the ceremony and my sentiments.

After the ceremony, I asked Katie, last year’s bride, if I had repeated what I’d said at her wedding. 

She laughed as she, too, couldn’t remember what I had said.  All she knew was that she felt as refreshed at this wedding as she had at her own.

When I coach professionals in public speaking, I remind them that all sorts of studies confirm that after a presentation people forget 50% of what they heard by the time they get home and they will forget 50% of the 50% by the next day. 

I stress that before giving a presentation, a speaker needs to know what it is they want their audience to remember.

A wedding is a unique type of presenting and this weekend I was reminded of what I sometimes lose sight of – family and friends will not remember my exact words, but they will remember the feeling and tone I create – they will remember the experience I create.

I recently met with a couple who are getting married next year.  When I asked them if they know what they want or don’t want in their ceremony, they told me about a boring wedding they’d attended. 

While they couldn’t remember what the officiant had said, they remembered how the ceremony had a disjointed feel about it, how nothing that was being done or even said made sense.  They felt like they were simply observers, onlookers at an odd event.

Another couple I recently met with originally were going to marry last year but with less than a month to go they called it off.  They’re now at a place where they know they are necessary in each other’s life and are ready to marry in a way they were not the first time. 

To my surprise, they told me that they couldn’t stand the officiant they had hired, but they didn’t care as he was cheap and saving money had been their priority. 

The bride shared that now the ceremony is the most important part of their wedding day and she wants it to be meaningful.

So, what is this “thing” we know as a wedding ceremony?

Strip away the clichés, religious and civil, strip away the pomp and circumstance, and what you’re left with is – an exquisite moment in time.

A ceremony acknowledges and affirms (and blesses) the simple and lovely miracle of these two persons, alive on earth at the same moment, pledging to live all the remaining moments of life together.

Despite its power, or maybe because of its power, a ceremony is a fragile experience. 

It’s not a vehicle for lecturing or venting. Rather, it’s a moment in time in which everyone present does something out of the ordinary – they give thanks for the brave generosity of two people.

Maybe it’s because it is so simple that a ceremony is so tricky to execute.

Last month I officiated eleven weddings that together had over one thousand guests. 

Given the opportunity to speak to a thousand people was a privilege I cherish.  I wonder about all those wedding guests – What will they remember of the ceremony? 

What do I want them to remember?

While I’ll never know what they remember, here’s what I hope they will remember:

  • That they were part of an invited group who witnessed something extraordinary – the pledging of love between two people – love faithful, protective and sturdy.
  • That despite the fact that life can be exhausting – life is good and worthy of our best – and because they joined in the feast, they will continue to live life and not slog through it.
  • That we need one another – whoever that “another” may be, so that we can live with generosity and courage.

Maybe, though, all I want them to remember, is this –

That they experienced a moment where they felt valued and appreciated because they valued and appreciated a couple who said “yes” to life in all its messy, uncertain glory!

Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?

If so, I invite you to check out my book –

How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within


7 Tips to Help You Listen to Yourself and to Your Partner



When we talked, I felt brilliant, fascinating;

she brought out the version of myself I like most.

Nadir Alsadir



true story

Ashley and Dan invited me to have pizza as we finalized the ceremony details. It was going to be ninety degrees the afternoon of their outdoor ceremony and Dan reminded me he wanted it kept barebones short.


As he droned on, I noticed Ashley was quiet and no longer smiling.


Her family was Roman Catholic and not happy that she wasn’t getting married in the Church. At our first meeting, she said she wanted a ceremony that wasn’t rushed.


As Dan dove into his pizza, Ashley took out some tissue. She was clearly upset, so I asked her to tell Dan her concerns.


Caught off guard, he put his pizza down and listened as she blurted out her fears that the ceremony was going to be hurried and too short.


He was surprised and admitted that although Ashley had told him what she wanted the ceremony to be like, he’d forgotten what she’d said.


In the weeks leading up to this final meeting, he hadn’t really listened to her.


As they continued to talk – and listen – they were relieved to discover that they both wanted the same thing.


Dan’s idea of “short” was no more than twenty-five minutes. He didn’t want the full-blown one-hour Catholic service. Ashley didn’t want that either. She wanted a twenty to twenty-five minute ceremony, which she thought was just right and not short.


It’s been said that listening is the greatest act of love.


If so, then the greatest thing you can do for each other is to listen to each other.


Text messages. Emojis. Scribbled notes. We do business and live our lives in a swirl of information.


Yet, how often are we actually communicating, listening? 


I know you have a gazillion things to juggle, professionally and personally.


But, why go to the expense, time, and emotional investment of your wedding if you aren’t going to be present to it – and to your partner?



You protect and keep each other safe when you talk with each other.  Really talk—silly to serious.


You can’t plan your ceremony, your wedding, or your life, without talking.


Real listening keeps you on the same page and helps you to remember what’s important and why it’s important.


Your wedding vow, in its essence, is a vow to listen to each other

in mutual fidelity and perseverance.



7 Tips to Help You Listen to Yourself and to Your Partner

  1. Get rid of all distractions. Yes, turn the TV off and agree not to answer any phone call. You’ll have time for all those other things later. Don’t ever multi-task when talking about wedding “stuff” – particularly your vows!

  2. Listen openly to what your partner has to say without becoming defensive, even if you don’t readily agree with what he or she is saying.

  3. Let the other person complete their thought. Don’t interrupt or finish each other’s sentences.

  4. Engage your partner in genuine conversation. Don’t deliver a monologue or a scolding.

  5. Ask your partner to explain what he means, she means, if you don’t understand his thinking or her take on things.

  6. Pay attention to the feelings that lurk underneath what your partner is and is not expressing.

  7. Paraphrase back to your partner what they’ve said, so you confirm that you do understand what they’re saying. Ask for clarification.



If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How to Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!





What Helping High School Seniors with Their College Application Essays Taught Me About Wedding Vows!

A human life is not a life until it is examined;

it is not a life until it is truly remembered and appropriated;

and such a remembrance is not something passive but active. . .

the creative construction of one’s life.

Oliver Sacks

Occasionally, I like to offer a post that isn’t directly related to weddings BUT is kinda, sorta wedding themed and THIS is one of those “odd” postings!

This past week I was an instructor at a three-day college essay writing boot camp for seniors at a private high school here in Los Angeles. 

As you may know, part of the college application process requires at least one, sometimes two essays. 

The prompts are common to all schools. Now, I know you’re busy checking out Pinterest and Instagram accounts, but, for a moment, check out some of the prompts that my high schoolers wrestled with:

  1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
  • Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
  • Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
  • Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you.What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
  • The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?

So why am I sharing these prompts with you? 

Well, it occurred to me – I wonder if you and your partner know each other’s answers to one or more of the above prompts? 

If you don’t, now may be a good time to share some stories you’ve not told each other before.

Couples come to me wanting a personalized ceremony. 

THE way in which to personalize your ceremony is to write your own vows. 

I can guarantee that if you know each other’s stories to the above prompts, you will be able to compose vows that are as authentic and as genuine as vows can be!

Happy story time!

Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?

If so, I invite you to check out my book –

How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within


Marriage = One Long, Grand Conversation!

photo: jesse leake


A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short.

Andre Malroux


 true story

One night I grabbed dinner at my favorite local bistro. The staff knows me and brings me “the usual” without my having to ask. I was lost in a book when I happened to glance up and look across the room. Two tables lined the opposite wall.


At one sat a young couple in their twenties – laughing, animated.


At the other table sat an elderly couple in their seventies – talking, smiling.


I thought – now here’s a snapshot of marriage – not so much “before” and “after” as “early” and “later.”


Except for the wrinkles, little differentiated the older couple from the younger.


Smiling, talking, laughing.


The German philosopher Nietzsche claimed that in its essence,

marriage is one long, grand conversation


The simple truth is that a lifetime of hearty conversation is the surest sign of love.

I’ve officiated over one thousand non-denominational, inter-faith and cross-cultural wedding ceremonies and I’m now convinced that THE question every couple needs to explore before sending out their invitations is this –


What does your wedding celebration mean to you?


You need to be clear on your answer at the beginning of your planning because in the hubbub of organizing for your wedding day, it’s easy to lose sight of just what the day means to you and your partner.


In the chaos of planning, you’ll be surprised at how little time you have to talk to each other.


So at the beginning of the process, before you dive in, talk about the ceremony and your vows.

Go some place you both enjoy.

Make a date with each other.

Turn off the cell phones. 




Remind yourselves why you’re doing this craziness.



10 Questions You and Your Partner Need to Explore

Before You Lose Yourself on Pinterest!


  1. Who are your role models for marriage? Why are they models? How realistic a model are they?

  2. When people speak of your wedding, what 3 words do you want them to say? What 3 words do you not want them to say?

  3. Is your wedding day a beginning or a touch point in your life together?

  4. What was the most joyful wedding you’ve attended? What do you want to be the most joyful moment of your wedding day?

  5. Is your partner your life OR does your partner give you life?

  6. What makes your partner worthy of your love? What makes you worthy of your partner’s love?

  7. What are your expectations of each other? Do your expectations make each of you the best you are capable of being?

  8. What is your biggest fear for your life together?

  9. What is your definition of success? As an individual? As a couple?

  10. On your 25th wedding anniversary, what would you like to look back upon?


If you want more tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond –

check out my book,

How to Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!







What 1 Word Describes YOUR Partner?

photo: anne edgar

“Mr. Fleiss said that he has a French aunt

who settled upon a word

that best describes JoJo (his wife):


‘It means having the quality of warmth,’ he said.

‘Imagine a snowy evening in the mountains, you see a log cabin with

a fire roaring — a feeling of home, of warmth and heart.

For me, that’s what JoJo is.’”

Yet another quote I picked-up from somewhere and have no record of where.

But I love the image the unknown Mr. Fleiss paints of his wife.

Intimate and desperately romantic.

What about you, what word best describes your partner? 

Do they know this is how you think of them?

If you’re writing your own personal vows, how can you include this word?

Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?

If so, I invite you to check out my book –

How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within

The Odd History of Marriage

I’m constantly reading other blogs, along with magazines and papers and so I’m constantly clipping and saving tidbits I find interesting. Oftentimes, though, when I return to the clipping, I can’t recall why I had saved the info or where it’s from!

And so it is with this item. . .

Recently, I was sorting through a bunch of posts I had saved regarding weddings.  I have no idea where I got the following, but apparently it’s a review of a book written by Mark Ishee, titled, “Wedding Toasts and Traditions.” 

I checked on Amazon and the book is now out-of-print. However, I love the info provided in this review – stuff related to the history of marriage I never knew. 

This brief history might put your own planning into some perspective!

The author points to three stages in the history of marriage: marriage by force, marriage by contract and marriage by mutual love.

Marriage by force is indicated in our earliest historical record.  A man captured a woman, generally from another tribe.  This testified to his strength in warfare.  The earliest “best man” aided a friend in the capture of a bride.

According to Ishee, the honeymoon is a relic of the days of marriage by capture.  Frequently the tribe from which a warrior stole a bride came looking for her and it was necessary for the warrior and his new wife to go into hiding to avoid being discovered. 

The “honeymoon” evolved as symbolic of the period of time during which the bride and groom hid until the bride’s kin grew tired of looking for her!

It is clear why marriages by contract developed in time: the revenge exacted by one tribe on another for taking one of their women was costly.  At some point, compensation began to be delivered for the stolen woman in an effort to avoid vengeance.  Preventing tribal warfare and compensating furious family members led to a property exchange: livestock, land or another woman would be exchanged for the bride.

As Ishee points out:  “The very word “wedding” betrays the great stage of wife purchase through which marriages passed.  The ‘wed’ was the money, horses, or cattle which the groom gave as security and as a pledge to provide his purchase of the bride from her father.  From this ‘wed’ we derive the idea of ‘wedding’ or ‘pledging’ the bride to the man who pays the required security for her.

As time went on, this ‘bride’s price’ took the form of elaborate presents given by the groom to the bride’s parents.  Negotiated over long periods of time, sending and receiving constituted that the marriage contract was sealed. 

In some cultures, land, livestock and other valuables were given to the groom in the form of a dowry.  These goods were offered as compensation to the groom when he assumed the burden of supporting the woman.

Such practices of marriage by contract lasted in England until the middle of the 16th century.  The modern practice of ‘giving the bride away’ has its roots in the belief that the bride was property given by the father to the groom.  In fact, the phrase ‘to have and to hold’ comes from Old English property transactions.

Marriage by mutual love was rare until fairly recently.  You did not marry for love; rather, you were expected to love the one you married. 

Ishee states: “It was not until the 9th or 10th century that women gained the privilege of choosing or refusing their husbands according to their own judgment.  Rare exceptions to this are recorded since primitive times, where women claimed the right to select their mates.”

The practice of elopement was an early aspect of marriage by mutual love.  It allowed a woman to marry a man of her choosing, rather than one who met her parents’ specifications.

Adapted from: Alternatives / Georgia

“Outward signs of Inner Values”

If you want tips on how to communicate in smart, healthy ways with your partner – during wedding planning and beyond – check out my book,

How to Plan Your Wedding AND Stay Sane!

OR –

Treat you and your partner to a communications coaching session with me.

Click HERE for details!

And Now a Word From Meryl Streep!

In her Oscar acceptance speech for playing British P.M. Margaret Thatcher, Meryl Streep spoke directly to her husband, saying:

“Everything I value most in our lives, you have given me.”

What a stunningly poignant thing for a person to say to their spouse! 

And so I invite you to consider these questions as you prepare to offer your vows:

  • Can you say the same thing to your partner?
  • What do you value most?
  • What does your partner value most?
  • What do you together value most?

And if you don’t know the answers to these questions, then WHY are you getting married to this person?!

Are you thinking of writing personal vows to each other?

If so, I invite you to check out my book –

How to Write Your Vows: Giving Voice to What Is Deep Within


The Real Woman Creed


I came across this item and filed it away. I’ve got two nieces and five goddaughters and I thought this was something I’d like them to read (and embrace!). . .


It then occurred to me that this is actually a wonderful “creed” for any bride and so I’m sharing it here.


I’ve looked for “The Real Man’s Creed” and couldn’t find one. Grooms – any suggestions as to how your creed should read?


The Real Woman Creed

By Jan Phillips, CA

I believe that within me lies an extraordinary radiance, and I commit to letting my light loose in the world.

I believe that the source of my power and wisdom is in the center of my being, and I commit to acting from this place of strength.

I believe that I possess an abundance of passion and creative potential, and I commit to the expression of this gift.

I believe that the time has come to let go of old notions and unhealthy attitudes, and I commit to re-examine what I have been told about beauty and dismiss what insults my soul.

I believe that negative thoughts and words compromise my well-being, and I commit to thinking and speaking positively about myself and others.

I believe it is my spiritual responsibility to care for my body with respect, kindness and compassion. I commit to balancing my life in such a way that my physical being is fully expressed and nurtured.

I believe that joy is an essential part of wellness, and I commit to removing obstacles to joy and creating a life of exuberance.

I believe that a woman who loves herself is a powerful, passionate, attractive force, and I commit, from this day forward, to loving myself deeply and extravagantly.