10 Questions You Might Not Have Asked Your Partner

sarah zimmer photography


When we talked, I felt brilliant, fascinating;
she brought out the version of myself I like most.

Nadir Alsadir


Recently I learned that close friends of mine (not the couple in photo) are divorcing after twenty years of marriage. I was / am stunned. I had no idea. Not a clue.


This blog is about weddings and not divorces. About beginnings and not endings.

Yet, it’s been hard for me to write as I keep thinking on my friends – and on their wedding day.


I officiated their inter-faith ceremony down in Orange County – Laguna Beach way. I recall sharing with them and the other guests a memory from my time living in the South Pacific. I lived on an island in the Truk Lagoon. The people spoke Trukese and my favorite Trukese word is “Achengacheng.”


“Achengacheng” literally means anything that can be easily broken and it is also the Trukese word for “love.”


The wish I offered them during their wedding ceremony was that they would always be each other’s “achengacheng” and that they would always hold each other as precious.

Corny? Maybe! I like to think, though, that they tried – in more ways than I can imagine.


But how do you keep the love from “breaking”?

How do you honor the “achengacheng”?


There are so many ways, yet, I believe it all comes down to COMMUNICATION. As I stress in my pre-marital communication coaching –


The quality of your life is in direct proportion to –

The quality of the communication in your life


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 20’s, laughing, animated. And at the other table sat an elderly couple in their 70’s, talking, smiling. I thought – now here’s a dual snapshot of marriage. Except for the wrinkles, little differentiated the older couple from the younger. Both were smiling, talking and laughing.


The German philosopher Nietzsche claimed that, in its essence, marriage is one long, grand conversation.

A lifetime of hearty conversation is the surest sign of real love.


If marriage is a conversation –

Do you and your partner enjoy talking with each other?

Are you comfortable just being together?

Are there any topics that are understood to be off limits?


When I meet with couples to create their wedding ceremony, I give them the

following list of 10 Questions – to get them thinking and talking.


Perhaps a few of these will spark a new conversation between you and your partner.


10 Questions You Might Not Have Asked Your Partner


  1. 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?
  2. Is your wedding day a beginning or a touch point in your life together?
  3. What was the most moving, most joyful wedding you’ve attended?  What do you want to be the most joyful moment of your wedding day?
  4. Is your partner your life OR does your partner give you life?
  5. Who are your role models for marriage? Why are they models? How realistic a model are they?
  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 you 25th wedding anniversary, what would you like to look back upon?

At the risk of sounding corny –

Are you and your partner each other’s ACHENGACHENG?!


You can find more Conversation Starters in my book

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


6 Easy Ways To Personalize Your Non-Denominational Wedding Ceremony

As a non-denominational wedding officiant, almost every weekend I stand before a couple and bear witness to their vows. And each time, as I look out on the gathering of family and friends, I realize that the couple before me will probably never know just how much they are loved.


For me, a wedding ceremony is a HUGE hug that family and friends offer to the couple.  Yes, at its core, the ceremony honors and celebrates the love and commitment of the couple.  BUT, the ceremony is also that unique time to celebrate all the loves that have helped to bring a couple to that moment in time – parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends tried and true.


Couples come to me because they want a non-denominational wedding ceremony that evades the clichés and that is personalized. More times than not, they’re uncertain as to what kind of ceremony they can have if they have no religious backgrounds or if they don’t want to incorporate the religious traditions of their families.


So, what can they do?


Here’s the thing – the true emotional impact of a ceremony is created by the “visuals.”  The truest way to personalize your ceremony is to incorporate the people, the significant loves, who are part of the fabric of your life together.


This was brought home to me last month when I officiated the Los Angeles wedding of Nikki and Mark.


Mark’s family is staunch mid-West Catholic and Nikki’s is culturally Jewish. They didn’t want a religious ceremony and, in fact, Nikki didn’t want “God” mentioned. They did want a ceremony that had a rich texture to it.


Here are 6 ways they personalized their ceremony ~


  1. Mark’s parents escorted him down the aisle; Nikki’s parents escorted her.
  2. They had one reading that was offered by both fathers – and, yes, the dads failed to choke back tears!
  3. After my words of good cheer and encouragement (just prior to the exchange of vows), I invited both sets of parents to come up and light the tapers on either side of the Unity Candle that was set inside a protective hurricane lamp. The lamp was on a festive table underneath a Chuppah (the Jewish side was happy to see the Chuppah and the non-Jewish side thought it was a lovely decoration). After the parents lit the tapers, they all hugged Nikki and Mark and returned to their seats. Then Mark and Nikki lit the Unity Candle.
  4. All of this was as a prelude – a moment of blessing by the families – to the Exchange of Vows. Mark and Nikki had written down in booklets their own vows.  I invited one of Nikki’s grandfathers and one of Mark’s grandmothers to present the booklets to them.
  5. The rings were presented by two other grandparents, each of whom has been married for sixty years to their respective spouse, which means the rings were presented from a combined legacy of one hundred and twenty years of married love!
  6. After I pronounced them husband and wife, Mark broke the glass (something he suggested).


While this might sound like a lot of choreography, it actually wasn’t. The entire ceremony, from the time I took my place until they kissed, was no more than thirty minutes – and they had a combined total of sixteen attendants (mixed sex on both sides)!


The ceremony was personal because Mark and Nikki incorporated elements that made sense to who they are as a couple and they decided to place the emphasis on family.

It was warm and gracious as it honored the sacredness of what they were doing, yet, was not “religious.”



People go to a ceremony hoping that it won’t be too long or too boring.

A personalized ceremony allows people to feel rooted and renewed and refreshed.

It’s all about providing people the opportunity to give you that big, tight “hug” –

and so bless, and confirm your union!


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

So What Is The Value of Pre-Marital Counseling??


When not officiating non-denominational weddings here in Los Angeles, among other things I teach at UCLA Extension. Last month I finished up my eleven-week course, The Dynamics Of Interpersonal Communication. 


All of my communication work – including my pre-marital communication coaching – is based in the belief that we all do what we do and say what we say for a reason.  No one “just is.”


Flowing from that is my conviction that in every relationship, over time, we fall into dance steps, patterns for dealing with conflict as well as for expressing feelings, needs and desires.


The question, though, becomes – are those dance steps working for you or are they sabotaging you and your partner?


Earlier today I got an email from Pamela, a former student. She wrote:


Recently my boyfriend and I have really been working on our communication. For perhaps the very first time I noticed that when I’m upset and need to ask him something, I get very frustrated and then just explode into accusatory statements instead of explaining what I want or what I’m feeling.


Usually that sets off our “normal” fight of “YOU never. . .well, YOU never. . .” but this time I stopped and told him, “Look, I have a lot of trouble with this so can you please hug me and work with me instead of reacting to me?”


And he actually did!


It was an interesting moment for both of us.  He said to me, “Well, I never knew that. I thought you were just cruelly accusing me, doing your usual annoying girlfriend thing.”


We talked about ways I can bring up issues without waiting too long and then exploding.  And now he’s being less reactive to my tone and more understanding when I repeat something three times in a row – he gets that it’s because I’m having difficulty expressing my self and am caught in a “broken record mode”.


Now when I do that (which I did this morning), he just pretends to be a broken record too and we make it a joke between us.


I’m excited for Pamela and her boyfriend because of the good that has come from their mutual kindness and determination to break a habit that chipped away at the quality of their life together.


Pamela’s boyfriend thought her lashing out was just a “girlfriend thing.”  It wasn’t.

However, it wasn’t until she came clean and actually asked him for what she needed that he was able to really understand what was going on.


This was a breakthrough moment in their relationship.  This is THE value of pre-marital counseling – which I call pre-marital communication coaching. It let’s you have the kind of breakthrough moment that Pamela and her boyfriend had.


And, hey, never underestimate the power of a good hug!


Pamela reminds us all that life really can be far simpler than we make it out to be!


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 a Groom Should Never Say to a Bride!



I love this picture of Melody and Michael – one of my couples!


Michael really impressed me when I first met with them. Not only did he know how long they’d been together, he had clear ideas about what he wanted their non-denominational ceremony to be about. Heck, he even knew the color of their table cloths!


Michael worked with Melody in creating their wedding day. And as corny as it sounds, the satisfaction and joy and so much more of all that “work” is what this photo captures.


I always remind a couple that a wedding is the celebration of their life together and that it is not the bride’s coronation!


I feel disappointed when a groom shrugs his shoulders, smiles and says, “whatever she wants is fine with me.”  No!  That’s not what your celebration is about. Granted, a groom doesn’t necessarily have to go to the florist, but. . .


Several years ago I had the pleasure of working with event designer Colin Cowie when I officiated the non-denominational wedding ceremony of Survivor reality show sweethearts, Rob and Amber. Colin is wildly creative and has a great, wry sense of humor.


In one of his articles at The Huffington Post he offers several suggestions for how a groom can become involved in the planning. His ideas are spot on and I invite you to read his post: Finding Your Niche In Wedding Planning.


I especially agree with his opening insight:


Whatever style of wedding you and your fiancée prefer, as the groom you need to decide early on how involved you want to be in the planning process, and make sure your bride understands and is supportive of your role.


In my book How To Plan Your Wedding – and Stay Sane! I show how good, healthy communication is the surest way to vaccinate yourself from the insanity-inducing moments of wedding planning.  And so I agree with Colin that you and your partner need to talk about preferences right from the start.


I’d also add to Colin’s list the ceremony itself.


I’m often contacted first by a groom and this is because either the couple did strategize at the beginning and scouting potential officiants was put on the groom’s to-do list or because the groom grew up with a stronger church-going affiliation.


While some grooms are so detached from the planning that it even extends to their opinions about the ceremony, my experience is that most grooms want to have a say in creating the ceremony. Ritual crosses the gender divide in ways that much of the wedding does not.


Last winter I officiated down in Orange County the ceremony of a couple where the groom is a professional football player. If you were going to go stereotype you’d think there’s no way this guy would have any coherent thoughts about the ceremony. But Logan was not a stereotype – he was a groom who had a shared vision of his day with his bride, Kelly.


As we talked about the ceremony, his insights were so astute that he managed to calm Kelly who was nervous that the ceremony was going to be flimsy (it wasn’t).


I was moved by how he cared for Kelly and understood that they wanted me to officiate a ceremony that was going to celebrate THEM!


I love creating wedding ceremonies for many reasons – whether those ceremonies are non-denominational or inter-faith or cross-cultural. But the chief reason is that every ceremony reminds us that for those who keep their hearts open to love, all things are possible.


Create that reminder together!

A Celebration of Choice in Los Angeles!


I recently had a final meeting with a couple who are getting married next month. During a leisurely Starbucks conversation, the groom, Max (names changed, said this to me:


“I had to reach rock bottom in past relationships before I could find Kate I had self-imprisoned myself in a gulag of abuse. I knew I wanted better and so I set out in search of Kate.”


The old cliché that marriage is a “ball and chain” made no sense to Max, as for him marriage was freedom – to experience love, to love and to move closer to being the man he wanted to be.


One of my favorite poets, Mark Doty, observed:

How shall we know ourselves, except in the clarifying mirror of some other gaze?


Max and Kate understand that their wedding is a celebration of choice – a celebration of moving into the light.


And so for them, marriage, with all of its unknowns and uncertainties, is about overcoming fear: the fear of not being worthy.


Can I as a wedding officiant predict the future for any couple? No.

BUT with Max and Kate I can bet my money that theirs is an enduring love.


Because once you’ve “seen” what they’ve seen, it’s very, very hard to “un-see” it!


In that book which is my memory,

On the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you,

Appear the words, ‘Here begins a new life.’

Dante Alighieri


Do You and Your Partner Laugh Every Day?!



Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.

Rose Franken


I recently happened on an old issue of Vanity Fair magazine, in which fashion designer Marc Newsom offers a profile of fellow men’s wear designer Paul Smith. I happen to really like Paul Smith shirts and so I was curious to learn something about the guy.


It’s an affectionate tribute, but the real gem from the piece comes in the last sentence.  Paul Smith attributes much of his success to this:


“Every day of my life I witness something that makes me burst out laughing.”


Wow!  Now that’s a skill – and it got me thinking. . .


When I first meet with a couple, the conversation is lighthearted and even if there are sticky family issues to discuss, a couple is usually optimistic. Then, when I meet up with a couple just weeks from their great day, they often look haggard!


You don’t need me to remind you just how mad-crazy and bone-crunching life can be.  And planning a wedding, no matter the size, is draining.


However, the question I ask you is this:

Are you laughing? 

Are you feeling happy?


If not, what’s going on?

What’s draining you and what can you and your partner actively do to restore your ability to laugh?


Getting married is a serious undertaking.

Throwing a wedding is a serious undertaking.


And that’s why you gotta laugh!


If you’re doing more stressing and more crying than laughing, then something is out of alignment.


How can I help you??

Why Are YOU Loved?


true story

Maura (names changed) shared with me that she loves her fiancé, Micah, not because he “is” her life, but rather because he “gives” her life. He gives her the courage to embrace her self—her life—and invites her to dare and create a life with him.


In the early days of dating Maura wondered why Micah wanted to be with her. A year ago, when he proposed, she quickly said “yes,” and then more intently began to wonder why he would want to spend his life with her, of all people!


Maura told me that as she navigated through her self doubts, the great gift Micah gave her was to help her see that those doubts were just lies she told herself. He helped her to see more clearly and freely the person she was in this moment in her life. He helped her to envision who she wanted to become.


Micah couldn’t live life for her. He could, though, help her embrace life with confidence – a confidence that comes from recognizing strengths and acknowledging weaknesses.


In learning to see herself with new clarity, Maura has been able to see that she, too, gives Micah life – in ways that he had never experienced before.


SANITY SAVER questions:

  • What do you most like about yourself?
  • Which of your partner’s character strengths help you be a better person?
  • Which of your character strengths help your partner be a better person?


Please understand that I’m not asking you to consider what you’re going to do for your partner. Rather, I’m asking you to consider what it is about you that you prize so much that you want to share it with your partner.


Do these questions make you squirm?  Good!

When confronted by questions like these, most of us do squirm.  Often times we feel uncomfortable reflecting upon and naming the good that we are BUT name it you must.

The more you understand and appreciate what makes you unique and what you bring to your marriage, the more confidently will you say “I do.”


To love your partner and to respect and love your relationship,

you must know how to learn to honor yourself.


Being Alive at the Same Moment!

I’m not sure where I came across this excerpt, but I know I saved it because of the very last sentence, which I think is simply exquisite.

Read it and then replace the names “Adam and Miranda” with your name and your partner’s name. . .how do you feel?!


In Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939), Porter wrote:

“He had his uniforms made by the best tailor he could find, he confided to Miranda one day when she told him how squish he was looking in his new soldier suit. ‘Hard enough to make anything of the outfit, anyhow,’ he told her. ‘It’s the least I can do for my beloved country, not to go around looking like a tramp.’ He was twenty-four years old and a Second Lieutenant in an Engineers Corps, on leave because his outfit expected to be sent over shortly. ‘Came in to make my will,’ he told Miranda, ‘and get a supply of toothbrushes and razor blades. By what gorgeous luck do you suppose,’ he asked her, ‘I happened to pick on your rooming house? How did I know you were there?’

“Strolling, keeping step, his stout polished well-made boots setting themselves down firmly beside her thin-soled black suede, they put off as long as they could the end of their moment together, and kept up as well as they could their small talk that flew back and forth over little grooves worn in the thin upper surface of the brain, things you could say and hear clink reassuringly at once without disturbing the radiance which played and darted about the simple and lovely miracle of being two persons named Adam and Miranda, alive and on the earth at the same moment.


What Marriage “Isn’t”


I recently came across this reflection – poignant and spot on!


“When I see that look on Kevin’s face just after my dad walked me up the aisle, it makes me want to cry. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen that look and heard the words that come with it. That look is one of the reasons we are still together today. It’s also what almost did us in.


There’s this idea about romantic love, about finding your “soul mate” as that man of mine surely is, that makes us think that our lives should be entwined, enmeshed, our happiness entrusted to another. I think that idea does more to undermine good relationships than almost any other.


The underbelly of that notion is: so, if I’m not happy – and who is all the time? – it is my partner’s responsibility to at least try to make me feel better, happier. I won’t speak for other people but, in our determination to put how we felt about each other into practice, we kinda got it wrong for a while.


In the misguided attempt to make the other happier, we contorted ourselves and our lives into painful and unrecognizable pretzel shapes – or felt guilty when we didn’t or couldn’t. We thought we were responsible for each other instead of to each other.


The result? We had about two years of hell that stripped our relationship right down to its foundation.


I remember standing on a street, looking across the top of a car at him and thinking: I am willing to lose this but I am not willing to not be myself anymore.


I was lucky. He was braver and more determined than I was.

He took the first steps to break our dynamic. At the time, it felt like he was retreating to his corner to work on his own issues, but it gave me the room to do the same.


I would never, ever, ever want to go through that again (have I said “never” and “ever” enough?) however, the new relationship that was built on what remained, that foundation, that look, is everything I ever wanted and more. Boy, I love you, I admire you, I like you and I’m grateful for you and to you for our quarter century together.


What we now know is that marriage isn’t about two becoming one, but about learning how to be yourself in the presence of another.

That, to me, to us, is the secret of a marriage worth having.”


Marley Klaus is a writer and former 60 Minutes producer who in 2006 began a blog called The Heathen Learns , dedicated to learning about the seven major religious traditions. She and her husband –  film, TV, and theater director Kevin Dowling – married in 1987 and have two sons.