June, the wedding month, is just around the corner. Brides (and grooms) are preparing for the “Big Day”. The focus is on the dress, the flowers, the cake, the party. What often doesn’t register are the big questions the vows should raise.
Whether you write your own vows, or use the traditional ones, most will include some version that promises to love, honor, and cherish, through good times and bad, until death. Whatever the words, for each of you there is a moment when you commit one to the other. Do you each know what those promises mean to the other?
It’s not really something couples give much thought to on a day when their focus is elsewhere. This lapse of attention frequently comes to my attention down the road, sometimes many years down, when I’m facing distraught couples in my office.
For Richer or Poorer
In your mind, just what is it that you are promising? For richer or poorer may seem obvious, but how do you define those. How poor is poor? Is it about the willingness to contribute or is it about an acceptable lifestyle?
In Sickness and in Health
In sickness and in health may again seem straightforward. But what about drug or alcohol abuse? Obesity? Quadriplegia or Lou Gehrig’s Disease? When you’re young and healthy, these possibilities may seem so far removed, your vow doesn’t really register. Those things are unimaginable on this day full of hope and promise.
For Better or Worse
The most complicated of the three is probably “for better or for worse”. How do you define worse? Are there things that make “worse” impossible? Wouldn’t that be a contradiction?
The pain and betrayal of infidelity definitely falls into the “worse” category. It changes the marriage but does it necessarily end it? This is a concept many of my clients struggle with daily. It raises the issue of what marriage, as both a concept and a practice, is all about.
What do you do when the person you have been faithful to has not honored your marriage in the same way? How do you get through the “worse” to reach the “better’? Is it even possible?
Our culture doesn’t support the idea. Friends, family, and even some experts will say the marriage is over, even if you never divorce.
This is only true if you have a static, unchanging view of marriage. Success is possible if you both are willing to ride out the storm. It’s scary and uncomfortable and messy. It’s one of the hardest things that can happen to a marriage, and unthinkable on the day you take your vows.
Honoring Your Vows
I refuse to believe that redemption is impossible. Forgiveness never means the betrayal is okay. It is merely a recognition that your partner isn’t perfect. If you are willing to give your child or your friend a second chance, doesn’t your partner deserve the same opportunity?
The facts show that those couples who stick it out, navigating through the tough times and gaining a truer understanding of themselves and their partner, emerge with stronger relationships. For the most part, they are glad they didn’t give in to the difficult moments. Working through the hard times created a more valuable and complete relationship that made those challenges worthwhile.
What do you think marriage is? Does it change over time? What does “for better or worse” mean to you? What about infidelity? What does “marriage is over” mean? What takes its place?
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- Setting the Mood for Honesty in Your Marriage
- Monogamy in a Marriage: Is It a Matter of Choice?