While a marriage is filled with many promises over its lifetime, no promises are more sacred than those made via the vows on the wedding day.
Depending on religious and cultural preferences, the wedding vows may vary in different ways.
But most of the promises essentially stay the same.
Wedding promises are commitments made to each other in the presence of witnesses that are intended to last forever.
According to traditional wedding vows, they are as follows:
“To have” is simply a promise to accept each other unconditionally over the course of a marriage.
It is to wholeheartedly accept the strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and qualities that make an individual unique.
At its most basic, this promise “to hold” indicates physical affection – the promise to hold on to each other and not let go.
On a more poetic level, the promise is a vow to cherish and value each other above anything and everything else.
It is said that every 7 to 10 years, every cell in our body is replaced, and we are essentially a new person from head to toe.
So, too, we can theoretically change – change interests, change opinions, change personality.
And the promise “to have and to hold” is a pledge to love each other – and every new iteration of each other – as long as we both shall live.
This seems like a simple, straightforward promise, yet it is one of the hardest promises made within the context of a marriage.
Merriam-Webster defines the phrase this way: “Whether good or bad things happen: no matter what happens, we’ve made our decision, and now we have to stick to it for better or worse.” Simple, and yet also extraordinary.
Very often, when marriage promises are being made, the couple really only considers that the marriage will be “for better or better.”
Who stands at the altar envisioning all the things that could possibly go wrong? But few – if any – marriages are without their significant bumps and scrapes.
Poor health, loss of employment, difficult in-laws, infertility…all of this is just a sampling of what can be “for worse” in a marriage.
Some marriages know unspeakable grief and pain. And yet, the real test of the integrity of a marriage is what happens when trouble comes.
“For better, for worse” forms its backbone, not at the altar, but in hospital rooms, counselors’ offices, and in the private, heart-wrenching moments other people know nothing about.
The Huffington Post said it this way, “With over a 50% divorce rate, it seems clear that many people treat marriage like it is disposable, that when the going gets tough, they get going.”
Research indicates that the top 5 reasons for divorce are the following:
- money or finances
- communication issues
- incompatibility/falling out of love
It’s interesting that in most statistics or published research money is generally listed in the top 3 reasons for divorce, especially since one of the main promises of marriage includes “for richer, for poorer.”
It is no accident that money is included in the list of promises we make in marriage.
Money, either too much or not enough, is infinitely powerful in its ability to destroy relationships.
Often, couples who marry without much money, fall out of love when they suddenly have money (and vice versa). It is no secret that the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.
At least on the wedding day, it’s understood that money shouldn’t be the reason for the collapse of a relationship.
The well-known money guru, Dave Ramsey, claims that money is actually the number one reason couples fight. And this fighting can inevitably lead to the breakdown of the marriage relationship.
There’s the everyday flu, yes, but sometimes in a marriage, ongoing persistent health problems can change the look of the marriage entirely.
Accidents happen or partners learn they have cancer; sometimes chronic pain changes a marriage relationship completely.
“In sickness and in health” is a wildly powerful promise when it is made, and especially when it is kept.
This promise is meant to be so much more than a promise to make chicken noodle soup in the event of a stomach virus – though it does include that. It’s also a promise to be faithful no matter what.
Though it is the fifth promise in the marriage vows, in some ways “forsaking all others” is actually the first pledge we make in marriage.
To even get to the marriage altar, others have been forsaken – prior romantic relationships, familial ties, best friends – in order to elevate the marriage partner.
“Forsaking all others” most obviously includes romantic or sexual partners, but it’s more than that.
It’s a promise to place the marriage partner above anyone else – other family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.
It’s a promise not to let anybody intrude, manipulate, or destroy the marriage.
And, perhaps most uncomfortably, a promise to “forsake all others” is also a promise of self-sacrifice on behalf of the other person.
Marriage is a test of letting go of certain preferences or comforts in order to love and support the marriage partner.
On the wedding day, it’s easy to imagine loving and cherishing the wedding partner “until parted by death.”
But then, sometimes when the rubber meets the road, it’s difficult to practice loving and cherishing each other.
Marriage partners aren’t always as lovely and lovable as they are on the wedding day.
Loving and cherishing may seem like obvious instructions, but there’s more to love and cherishing than meets the eye. One religious newspaper explained it this way: “Cherishing is, first of all, love, but one can love without cherishing.
Cherishing is an exalted form of love, the highest, noblest, strongest feeling one person can have for another.
Cherishing is a love for the other that has come to maturity, to fruition.
It is a bonding not only of the physical, but of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual dimensions shared in common with the other.”
For a marriage to thrive, it needs love and cherishing.
At face value, this promise indicates that death should be the only event that ends a marriage.
It’s a somber promise, but it’s a commitment that the marriage won’t fall apart because of the typical, trivial matters that plague everyday life.
Even today with many ancient traditions and expectations set aside, the notion that marriage is a commitment undertaken for a lifetime is still universally accepted.
Generally speaking, people don’t get married expecting the relationship to fail. And they shouldn’t.
No matter what promises you choose to make on your wedding day, it’s important to say what you mean and mean what you say.
And if your partner is lucky enough to hear the following from a sincere and honest heart, they are better for it:
I take you to be my marriage partner, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.