What Are You Really Promising in Your Wedding Vows?



We come to love not by finding a perfect person,

but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.

Sam Keen


Earlier this week I was reading a book at my favorite non-Starbucks coffee house.  Three women eventually took the table next to mine.  I’ll admit it – I’m nosy – hey, I grew up in NYC where everyone loves to listen in on other people’s conversations!


It soon became clear that one of the women is getting married later in the summer and this was an outing for the three of them to catch-up on all-things wedding.  At one point, the bride-to-be in a loud, exasperated tone of voice (which made think she must have grown up in NYC) lamented: “I’m marrying an O.C.D. and he’s driving me nuts! I swear that’s all gonna change when we get married – I’m not gonna put up with that sh*t!”


I was sorely tempted to lean over and remind her that NOTHING is going to change after she got married!  If her fiancé is O.C.D. now, then he’ll be O.C.D. the day after their wedding. Declaring to a coffee house full of people that you’re not going to put up with his sh*t really isn’t going to change the poor guy.


When couples meet with me to discuss officiating their wedding ceremony, I am unsettled by how many of them think that marriage has some magical properties to it that will make all the annoying imperfections of a partner disappear.


NOTHING simply disappears after you say “I Do.”

When you write your wedding vows, you are not writing some secret, magical formula!


I invite you to think about Sam Keen’s observation ~

Are you able to love your imperfect partner perfectly? 

And what does that mean?


I don’t think it simply means be willing to “put up” with annoying habits.

It means seeing beyond the imperfections.


And when you do look beyond the imperfections, what do you see?

That’s what your wedding ceremony celebrates.



A good relationship is based on unconditional love. It’s not some maudlin feeling – it’s a decision. The mature relationship image I like best is two people making music together. Each plays his/her own instrument and uses his/her own unique skills, but they play the same song. Each is whole and complete. Each is independent and committed.

         John Bradshaw


The above quote is one of my favorite descriptions for marriage. I especially like the last sentence: each is independent and committed.


In my pre-marital communication coaching sessions, I remind couples that you cannot healthily enter into a marriage if you do not have a sense of your own self; if you are not committed to your own growth. 


And I get nervous when someone tells me that their partner is their life. I think a partner can give life to another, but to ask that person to be the other’s life is unfair and unreasonable.


I’m also drawn to the first sentence: a good relationship is based on unconditional love. In marriage and especially in the wedding ceremony that phrase “unconditional love” is tossed about.


BUT, what does it mean for you to love your partner unconditionally? 

What do you think is expected of you when you love unconditionally? 


Answer those two questions and you are in a sure place to both offer and receive each other’s vows.




In a Vanity Fair article, Justin Timberlake (who, by the way, was a groomsman at a wedding I officiated here in Los Angeles!) reflected on marriage and made this oh-so-spot-on observation –


I think the mistake is that people commit to who that person is right then

and not the person they’re going to become.

That’s the art of staying together, is changing together.”


So, as you prepare to write your wedding vows, do you understand what those vows mean – to you?

To your partner?


I am a Los Angeles-based non-denominational wedding officiant. During the last twenty years, I’ve officiated over one thousand non-denominational, inter-faith and cross-cultural weddings.

For more insights and tips on the writing of your wedding vows

check out my book –

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

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