The “Promise” Too Many Couples Forget To Make With Their Vows

My brother Peter and his wife, Beth, have been married for twenty-five years – and they are twenty-five years that they’re grateful for! Last week I was talking with Peter and out-of-the-blue he remarked, “I can’t believe how many people I know are getting divorced.” Sadly, I was surprised that he’s surprised.

His shock, though, got me thinking about weddings (something I do a lot of). Almost every weekend I officiate a wedding and every weekend I encounter people who are dressed to impress and ready to party – selfie-taking people who are palpably excited for “their” couple. In light of Peter’s comment, I’ve been wondering – what is it that people are celebrating? Is it the “forever” or is it the generosity, the courage and the hope of the couple?

Each week I stand before a couple and bear witness to their vows and as they pledge some version of, “for better or for worse” I wonder if they understand what they’re actually saying. I think most couples don’t understand. How could they? We can only understand the future by living it.

Couples often ask me for advice on how to write their vows. While I’ve written posts on the “how,” that technique doesn’t really address the deeper question – what are your vows “vowing”?

In order to write your vows I think you need to reflect on these four questions. You don’t need to say aloud in your vows the answers to these questions BUT your answers will inform what you write:

  • What would be the hardest thing that would pull the two of you apart?
  • What would be the ultimate joy you could experience as a couple?
  • What is your greatest fear for the two of you?
  • What is your greatest hope for the two of you?

Thornton Wilder, in his play The Skin Of Our Teeth, has one of the characters make this observation:

“I didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them–it was that promise.”

And so I come back to that earlier question –

what is it that we’re celebrating at a wedding?

I think it’s that “promise” – the rough and tumble rawness of that promise a couple makes to each other.

But maybe what is just as important is for each person to also take a promise to her or his own self because if you don’t make a promise to yourself, how can you make a promise to another?

Here’s what I hope you promise your self – that you will:

  • Let no one treat you as ordinary
  • Let your home be the gateway to the world and not a hiding place
  • Feel – and not let your feelings make you a victim
  • Learn to make bold mistakes AND
  • Tame your regrets over those mistakes so that they do not overshadow the gifts of the choices you made

The poet Emily Dickinson maintained,

“That Love is all there is is all we know of Love.”

 Trusting in that truth, may the world be a better place

because you love each other!

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