Someone wiser than me once said, “Happiness is losing track of how many couples one has united in the bonds of matrimony.” Actually, I said that. Just now. While my quote is probably too long and cumbersome to fit on a bumper sticker or coffee mug, it is nevertheless true. I’ve lost count of how many weddings I’ve officiated since receiving my ordination from the Universal Life Church six years ago. (By the end of this year’s wedding season, I think the total figure will stand close to twenty ceremonies.) It brings me great joy to be able to help out so many couples on the biggest day of their lives, and I am honored and humbled each time my services are requested.

I will be busy with weddings each of the next three weekends, bringing my total to four ceremonies conducted just since the end of the school year. That’s not too shabby for someone on summer “vacation.” Of the dozen or so unions I’ve facilitated since becoming a minister, one has unfortunately ended in divorce. While the divorce rate among the marriages I’ve solemnized is substantially lower than the national average, I am still very troubled by the one that failed.

I have deduced from recent conversations with the newly divorced pair that although their differences were deemed irreconcilable, these two friends of mine still care very deeply for one another. I cannot tell you why their marriage fell apart, but I can tell you that it was not a lack of love. Sometimes, love is not enough.

Don’t get me wrong. Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Love can move mountains. Love conquers all. Love is all we need. Or so we’ve been told. In truth, Love needs a little help from its friends in order to keep a relationship going strong. Without Respect, true Love cannot exist. Love depends on Honesty, too. And when we make mistakes, Love requires Contrition and Forgiveness. Love simply can’t go it alone.

In August, Bethany and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. Twenty years. Feels more like twenty minutes—under water. (That’s a marriage joke.) I’m happy to report that our marriage is stronger now than ever. That’s mostly due the fact that in addition to loving my wife even more now than I did two decades ago, I also have much more respect for her. We continue to be honest with one another, and when we screw up we apologize—and mean it. Then we forgive each other. Simply loving one another would not have been enough to keep our marriage together through all of the crises we’ve faced over the years.

As I make official the unions of the three young couples set to be married this month, I will probably impart some of these lessons during the homily portion of their ceremonies. I will endeavor to make them understand that although they may be madly in love now, it will take more than that to sustain them when things become difficult. And things will become difficult. I will admit that most of the difficulties Bethany and I have faced have been due to my selfishness and buffoonery. I’ve made lots of mistakes. Thankfully, Bethany has had the patience to endure them long enough for me to learn from them and never repeat them. Plus she’s a very forgiving person. I’m still foolish and a bit narcissistic, and I know I will make plenty more mistakes over the next twenty years of our marriage, but I also know that if I continue to respect my wife, remain honest with her, and demonstrate genuine remorse for my errors in judgment, she will forgive me and continue to love me.

“Happiness is being married to someone who is honest, respectful, forgiving, and contrite as well as madly in love with you despite your tendency toward narcissistic buffoonery.” Now THAT would look great on a bumper sticker. Perhaps on a T-shirt. Or a hat…

by Travis Naughton