I ask for two reasons. On a practical level, if they want to write their own vows or read a few personal thoughts, I will have this information ready and written down in case they call me the night before and say, “I have no idea what to say, help!”
But also I ask this to get them thinking. It's generally something the couple have not articulated to one another before, and may have not even considered. It’s one thing to love a person, the way her hair falls, the way he is with your nieces and nephews. But now the couple is embarking on a huge venture: to create a successful and long-lived marriage. This is a contract, a civil commitment with witnesses and property and families, and it’s worth considering how your partner can support the business of marriage.
I’m happy to report that, after their first surprise, couples hardly ever have trouble identifying each other’s qualities that support marriage. “His practicality supports my huge visions and hazy details,” “He is energetic and full of ideas and solutions,” “She’s so organized, and I love her sense of humor. We’re going to need that as we travel the world together.” And when one talks, the other very often has tears in their eyes, because it is something very precious to hear that your sweetheart cherishes your qualities.
It opens their hearts to each other even more.
It can also reveal any red flags as to why this couple may not be quite ready to marry. “She’s going to sober me up” is a red flag. It means that, for now, equality and independence are lacking.
Long ago I interviewed a very wealthy couple. She was the CEO of a well-known company, and he was a consultant. They shared a commitment to fitness, which they discussed a lot. The interview was nearly over when I asked them this question. She answered something about his very healthy lifestyle, and then I asked him, “What does she bring to the table?” His answer stopped me in my tracks.
“Well, in the end it’s all about me, right? I need things around me to be perfectly in tune with me so I can get into my flow. And she is never any trouble. She likes to do what I like to do. She fits around me like an old slipper.” I waited to see if this was a joke, but apparently it was not. An old slipper! Woe to this CEO when she suddenly has to work late, or travel abroad, or decides to take up a non-fitness hobby. Or gets sick!
I was young, and not bold enough to tell them my thoughts right in the room. I politely concluded the interview, and a few days later, begged off the wedding. I knew that they would marry anyway, and learn whatever lessons they had to learn. But my conscience wouldn’t let me marry them.