Love is tolerant, affection is kind, love continues, blah blah blah, would it say it isn’t all great? Vowing to persevere through sickness and health and in wealth and poverty is tradition, and it’s comfortable when associated with lace and roses. In any case, hasn’t it turned out to be genuinely useless when it comes to forging marriages that last forever? How many people have mouthed the words, “until we are parted by death” while privately plotting to move on as soon as a more attractive option presents itself?
“To have and hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” There’s nothing wrong with these vows. But, seriously. Who really understands what they mean? I know what you’re thinking. Why do marriage vows matter?
1. I promise to never flirt, lust, or desire the attention of someone of the opposite sex.
When you get married, you vow faithfulness to your spouse. You promise to never flirt, lust, or seek attention from the opposite sex. You promise to protect your mind from images that aren’t your spouse. You don’t listen to music that degrades people. You don’t allow your eyes to view images or watch shows portraying people as objects and relationships as indispensable. These are obvious, right?
Emotional purity is much less obvious than physical purity, but it’s just as destructive. You must fight to give all of your emotions, your desire to impress, your attention, struggles, heartaches, and everything in between to your spouse. These don’t belong to other people. Fight for purity, both physically and emotionally.
2. I promise to never expect a 50/50 marriage.
You can’t keep score in a marriage. There’s no such thing as a 50/50 relationship. That’s a contract. Give 100% of yourself every day. Some days, 100% won’t be much. But on those days, trust your spouse will pick you up. Regardless, let go of this give-and-take idea. Just give. Giving is the essence of love and the heart of the one who created marriage, God.
3. I promise to make sure I’m not just hungry before I yell at you.
Do your partner a favor: Eat your favorite sandwich and then come back and yell at her/him all you want, if you still feel like it.
4. I promise to love who you are today, not who I want you to be.
For the sake of your sanity and your marriage, please listen. You can’t change your spouse. You don’t have that power. If this is your goal, then your relationship will suffer from bitterness and resentment. One of the profound mysteries of marriage is two people with different values learning to love, flourish, and celebrate one another. It’s not easy, but that’s why you must rely on God and embrace the unique values He places in every person, including your spouse. Don’t hope for a day when your spouse changes. Just love the current version of your partner. Doing this will transform your marriage.
5. I promise to defend you to others, even if you are wrong.
Your partner is going encounter plenty of haters and critics. Don’t join them. Ever. In the privacy of your pillow, or your sofa, or your minivan, you can have conversations that need to be had, if there’s really something that needs to be addressed. But you don’t need to agree with someone who’s calling him a boor, or her an idiot. There is nothing uglier than watching a husband degrade his wife or a wife demean her husband in front of other people. It doesn’t make you smart or funny. It’s just a low behavior. Your spouse’s criticism hurts plenty, even if it’s private and kind. If it’s public and rude, it’s almost unbearable.
6. I promise to make my expectations clear.
A marriage ends because a spouse has failed to meet the expectations their partner brought to the marriage. Expectations are unique, and come packaged inside your fiancé’s brain. You may think these things are obvious or universal, that “everyone knows” what makes a good husband, what makes a good wife. But the truth is, your expectations are yours alone — spawned from your experiences and locked in your head. There is nothing you can assume about your partner’s idea of what a good marriage looks like. No harm will come from being very specific and concrete about exactly what you want, not just in bed but in the bank account, at the dinner table, with regard to parenting and everything else. If you’re too shy to mention what you believe is the right way to behave, and you’re hoping everything will become obvious as time goes on, you’re not ready to get married. Get it all in the open, and keep putting it out in the open. If someone fails you, they should have to do it by choice, and not have ignorance as an excuse.
If you can’t state your expectations, either because you don’t know them or you’re too shy to say them, it’s a red flag that you aren’t ready for marriage.
7. I promise to never say “I forgive you” unless I truly mean it.
Your partner will hurt you and vice-versa. When this happens, search your heart, seek God, and forgive your spouse the same way God forgives you. Don’t forgive with conditions. Don’t say, “I forgive you” when you’re really storing your spouse’s mistake to use as ammo in a future argument. Unless you forgive the way God forgives you, completely and unconditionally, a wall will grow taller and taller in your relationship. Eventually, bitterness and resentment will make intimacy impossible, and your marriage will be nothing more than two roommates living under the same roof.
8. I promise to be for you, to encourage your dreams.
Really it all boils down to this, doesn’t it? You promise to subvert your needs, your wants, your goals and priorities, to those of your spouse. And he or she does the same for you. If you’re both working for the other’s happiness, earnestly and sincerely, then you’re both going to be ridiculously happy. Here’s the key though: It’s not enough to sublimate yourself and be a virtuous martyr for his/her dreams to come true. You also have to allow your spouse to do the same for you. You have to be able to say “Okay!” when he says “Go!” To say “Thanks!” when she says “I don’t mind!” And trust that when it’s your turn to reverse roles, you’ll do the very same. Because in the end, it’s not even selflessness. It’s working for the common good. And if you can’t say you’ll do that, then “until we are parted by death” is just going to be a long, dull, sad life sentence.
9. I promise to defend you to others, even if you are wrong.
Your partner is going to encounter plenty of haters and critics. Don’t join them. Ever. In the privacy of your pillow, or your sofa, or your minivan, you can have conversations that need to be had, if there’s really something that needs to be addressed. But you don’t need to agree with someone who’s calling him a boor, or her an idiot. There is nothing uglier than watching a husband degrade his wife or a wife demean her husband in front of other people. It doesn’t make you smart or funny. It’s just a low behavior. Your spouse’s criticism hurts plenty, even if it’s private and kind. If it’s public and rude, it’s almost unbearable.
10. I promise to believe the best is yet to come, regardless of how good or bad things are today.
Regardless the circumstances in your marriage, never invest more energy looking in the back perspective mirror than the windshield. You should dependably trust the best is yet to come. But here’s the lie our world says: future circumstances are tied to current actions. So, if your marriage is miserable right now, it won’t get better in the future. But the future isn’t dependent on external actions. It’s dependent on internal perspective.
You must choose to believe tomorrow will be better than today. If you choose this, it will be true, regardless of the actions of your spouse.
11. I promise to protect our marriage from outside influences, including kids, work, and in-laws.
Marriage is about intimacy, and intimacy requires time and exclusivity. Here’s what this means practically. You must learn to say no. Go ahead and practice now. Saying yes to outside influences means saying no to your marriage. You will hurt people’s feelings. Your parents won’t understand. They might even call you selfish. Your golf game might take a hit. Your friends will send you passive-aggressive text messages because you aren’t spending time with them. Your co-workers might think you’re uncommitted because you choose to spend a night with your spouse instead of working late on a project. Unfortunately, even your church might make off-hand comments.