After receiving positive feedback from a column I wrote about pre-marital counseling, I have tried to recall other humorous cases. But, most of my counseling cases are about death and divorce and, as related as the two may be, they don’t make good fodder for fun.

Premarital counseling still gives the best comedic potential because couples get some funny notions. Once, after making all the wedding arrangements with a couple, I had a chance encounter with the groom-to-be. We exchanged a passing greeting and then he did an about-face and tossed a “by-the-way’ bomb.”

“Did I mention that my fiancée doesn’t want to promise, ’til death do us part?’ Would that be a deal breaker?”

Deju vu. Two years earlier, a bride-to-be requested to change it to “’til love do us part.” Five months later the groom left on a Navy cruise and her love parted to go with a land lover.

So, I gave both couples the same answer “Uh, you know what? I’m afraid, I have to stick with the unabridged format.”

Unfortunately, marriage counseling is far less comedic and much more frustrating. The most frustrating thing is that I feel like I have been blessed with a marriage that I cannot clone in others.

When I return from marriage counseling, my wife feels my frustration in my return hugs. The hugs are like the ones I give my children after seeing a child die in the ER. Having just witnessed such marital carnage, I hold tight.

There is no greater priority than my marriage. I even tell my children that they are temporary and my wife is permanent party. No matter what, we must keep our relationship. So, I don’t understand how folks risk the most valuable relationship they have.

I believe that God gave marriage because it’s the closest analogy which demonstrates His unconditional love. Why would anyone take risks with their marriage by making it an analogous to hell?

But risks we do take. A respiratory therapist burst in my office, “Chaplain, Chaplain, she said ‘yes!’ She said ‘yes!’ He had been dating another therapist for two years and finally popped the question. I knew them both well and figured their biggest challenge would be to quit smoking. Despite what respiratory therapist witness, some smoke like chimneys.

He heralded the news from floor to floor until he arrived on the bottom floor – literally and figuratively. Upon arriving in the unit where his old girlfriend was the shift manager, she gave him a congratulatory hug. Then she invited him into a closet where she “congratulated” him more thoroughly.

In a “hot” Texas minute, a two-year relationship went up in smoke. There was no infamous dress stain, but brags were made, embellished and broadcasted. Hospital administration congratulated them both with a vacation – without pay.

When my father-in-law performed our wedding ceremony he asked us a series of questions that he has asked hundreds of couples. One questions was about fidelity. He asked each of us, “How many times could the other be unfaithful before we would seek divorce? He was making the point that marriage isn’t solely about sex and sex should not break it apart.

At first it seemed that my fiancée did not understand the point of the question, but she was interested in making another point. With the back of her hand facing me, she held up five fingers.

First, I thought, this could be interesting. She is allowing for five indiscretions apiece.? Would churches still hire a minister with such an “open marriage?”

Slowly she dropped all fingers and joined them together in a fist. As she shook the fist in my directions she said, “This many times, Buddy. This many times.” She had given me a glimpse of how much risk she would tolerate.

When you see people like these therapists risking something so precious, it shakes you. You try to define and categorize what you have. Because if you can define it, you can control and guard it so that nothing can destroy it.

Still, I am not entirely sure what my wife and I have. I do know it is the kind of love that keeps on whether I burn the toast or burn my temper with my children. It is the kind of love that tells me I am forgiven before I can ask. It is the kind of love the wedding vow describes that “halves a sorrow and doubles a joy.”

Like many couples, we sometimes go to bed dead tired -too tired for the fun I seek and too tired for the prayer she requests. But we are rarely too tired to talk out our day and absolutely never too tired for our three good night kisses and “I love you.”

Maybe there is a thing that I know about marriage that the respiratory therapist knew about smokers. Watching them die, didn’t make you any less disposed to becoming one of them. If you want to quit smoking, it takes work and, even then, you may not succeed.

Watching marriages die has made our marriage no less likely to become one of them. It takes work. Maybe there is something Freudian about the way my fast fingers always mistype sweetheart into “sweat heart.” A good marriage takes a lot of work and spiritual sweat.

Tomorrow, Jan 5th, celebrates 22 wonderful years of work. Happy Anniversary, “sweatheart!”