Let’s be honest. Most of us are more likely to upgrade the operating system on our computer than to revise our marriage vows.
As I sat writing my vows on the eve of my wedding (okay, fine, now you know that I’m a big-time procrastinator) I was no better prepared to face the rigors of marriage than I was to pilot a jumbo jet. And, no surprise, like most soon-to-be newlyweds, the promises I made were idealistic and romantic— based on what I imagined it would take to create a marriage that lasts.
Not that there was anything wrong with my vow to be loyal and honest or my promise to stand by my husband through life’s ups and downs. But in order to follow through with those commitments, it became clear, over time, that I needed a new set of promises that went beyond my lofty aspirations and vows of undying love. I needed vows that would address what marriage actually required.
Yes, marriage vows are meant to be idyllic and inspiring, to remind us that true love still exists, to bring an entire room to tears. Our wedding day promises are about love and hope and how we’ll come from our best, not about housecleaning or self-development or what to do when we feel like murdering each other. Imagine the nervous laughter (or horror) if someone vowed to only hate her husband for short periods of time?
None of us can possibly know at the outset what our marriage will bring or what tools we will need. Marriage has challenged almost every assumption I had about myself and my husband. It has asked me to stretch and to grow beyond what I thought possible; to be bigger and more resilient and exponentially more flexible. It has presented challenges that seemed insurmountable and then demanded that I surmount them.
Why not think of our original vows as a first draft that we will eventually replace with a set of promises that reflect a deeper, broader, and more realistic understanding of what marriage calls us to do?
Knowing what I now know about the challenges of marriage and what I aspire to as a spouse, here are the vows I would make:
1. I promise to notice and acknowledge the positive things that you do, rather than get hung up on the negatives.
2. I promise to accept that we are different— that we will see the world differently and over the course of our marriage we will want different things. Though I don’t expect this to be easy, I will strive to be open-minded and loving about the way that you see things. Failing that, I will do my best to be tolerant.
3. I promise to do more than my fair share when necessary and to not grouse about it. Keeping score is about fear and stinginess, not about love.
4. I promise to release my end of the rope when we’re in a tug of war, knowing that there’s a cost to my winning when it means that you lose.
5. I promise to not ask you to change in ways that I’m unwilling to change.
6. I promise to not take your annoying behaviors personally, even though I really, really wish you would wash out the sponge.
7. I promise to keep in mind that your basic intention is to be a loving and decent husband, even when you’re not doing so.
8. I promise to drop my expectations of your becoming the man I want you to be as opposed to the man you are.
9. I promise to focus a lot more on my shortcomings and a lot less on yours.
10. I promise to forgive both of us for having not known from the start how to be the kind and generous partners we’ve finally become.
Now that you’ve read my vows, tell me, how would you update yours?
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