December 22, 2011

It's Time To Get Rid of the Marriage Vows

My wife and I attended a wedding recently and I began to get distracted by my thoughts on the vows. Through my little tangent-chasing episode, I came to this very disturbing realization:

Nobody takes their wedding vows seriously anymore.

With the divorce rate what it is, I don’t think anyone is too surprised by my conclusion, but this thought led me to asking a question: Why do we even make these promises when it seems like it’s become such a big joke to everyone? If we’re not going to keep this covenant we’re making with each other, what’s the point?
I take you to be my wife
To have and to hold
In good times and bad
For richer or poorer
In sickness and in health
Till death to us part
Those are pretty traditional set of vows, and it’s even more common today for a bride and groom to write their own vows which often include much more personal – and much more specific – promises to each other. In good times and in bad. No matter what happens. As long as we both shall live.

But so many marriages are ending after only a year or two, and often it’s because one or both parties decide it’s not what they were expecting and leave, all the while having family and friends around them say things like, “It’s okay. You deserve to be happy.”

Why aren’t we holding ourselves to the promises we’ve made. The whole idea of having “witnesses” at a ceremony is for them to confirm, “Yes, these people were were married and, yes, they did promise themselves to each other for the rest of their lives.” So why when people are announcing their divorces don’t we have more conversations like this one:

“But you promised you’d be together till death!”
“Yeah, but it’s just so hard. You just don’t understand what it’s like.”
“Then why didn’t you change ‘Till death do us part’ to ‘Till irreconcilable differences do us part’?”

Yeah it sounds rough, but marriage is a serious business and we’ve all done it a huge disservice by making a joke out of what is supposed to be one of the most important promises we ever make. Though I know there are about a million yeah-but-what-if’s when we're talking about cause for divorce, what I’m saying today is that if we don’t mean these things we say, we should certainly stop saying them. If you don't really mean "As long as we both shall live," then say what you really mean.


  1. I must say that while I agree that many people no longer take their vows seriously, I disagree with the premise that we should be changing or annihilating the vows. I think we should be living into them, instead.

    When I married my wife, I said, "so long as we both shall live," and I meant it. What people need to understand is that marriage takes work, and you can't just run away when things get tough.

    If my wife and I didn't have our vows, then we might not be married right now. There have certainly been tough times, where it would have been easiest to walk away, but because we had committed to each other, we stuck it out and worked through things, and came out stronger on the other side.

    So we shouldn't be getting married with "Till irreconcilable differences do us part" -- that's not really marriage at all. As one of my favourite marriage authors (Walter Wangerin Jr.) says, "Marriage begins with the vows."

  2. Dear Sir, I certainly hope you gathered from my post that I agree with you 100%. This site exists because I believe in wedding vows.

  3. Because if, in the wedding ceremony they uttered the words, "until it gets too hard, or less sexy or no fun anymore." it would be a mockery!
    Imagine a fantastical scenario in which... couples say the traditional vows, but the people gathered around them hear the couples' true intentions --- how many couples could even walk out of church?
    Oh, that's another thing... how many weddings even happen in church anymore? I think that's the underlying problem in the first place.
    I like to peruse style websites... including stylemepretty - a wedding blog. I think maybe twice per year is there a wedding featured in a church. People spend more time picking a stunning venue than really considering their marriage before it happens.

    but what do I know, I'm still single. If only there were more marriage minded men.

  4. I'm back with a few more thoughts.
    Just as you said, people want to quit when it gets hard. I find myself wanting to tell people... or actually do tell them... that their efforts would be better spent fixing the marriage they have than quitting and going off to find another one!
    Because you know that's what happens.
    everyone tells me to enjoy my single life... that marriage is hard and I'm lucky to be single ..... but then they get divorced and within a year they're marrying someone else. Bringing all the same problems they didn't fix in the first place to a whole new relationship.

    It never ceases to amaze me that people can jump from one marriage to another ... and I can't even find one man who even wants to marry (never mind marry me!)

    Speaking as a single woman... fix the marriage you have. Maybe that'll leave one man for me before I die!

  5. Hello,

    I so agree with what you are saying. My wife and I are coming up on our 21st wedding anniversary and we did not make it this far because the road was super easy. We have to deal with an amazing amount of stuff not limited to but including:

    * - An Affair
    * - I almost died when my kidneys failed and only God and my wife had a different plan
    * - Our 18 month old child falling out of a second story window
    * - My mom passing and my dad in pieces
    * - My grandfather falling and then having an ambulance accident that led to his death
    * - My grandmother living with us with dementia until the doctors put her in a home
    * - One of our daughters molested by one of my family members

    And this list goes on. None of these things were easy and all of them need us to muster all the strength we had to make it through and then get a lot of strength from God because there were some moments when we just could not do it on our own.

    At one point, when we were in NJ (we live in TX now) things got so bad that two elders in our church recommended that we get divorced because they believed we simply had no hope of working it out even though we were trying. We went to the pastor and he sent us to a couple that saved our marriage along with the pastor sent us to a cell/home/connection/small group that stood with us in support. If not for that, we may not have made it. But both the couple and that group were constantly pouring into us and always said "You can make it", "You can make this work" "Things will get better together not apart" and things like this. That encouragement brought us through and I am thankful.

    So, I know what you mean. Life will through things at you that are hard and will need everything you got. At those moments, your spouse is your greatest ally, even if they are the one with whom the issue is, to helping you make it through. I am trying to teach my kids this and I wish more people knew this.


  6. As a financial advisor, I can't even tell you guys how many times I see divorces happen as a result of financial difficulties. All too often I see people losing their marriages as soon as finances get tough. I've been married for almost 4 years and we've had our ups and downs financially, so I can't personally relate to that way of thinking, but I see it all the time in my office so I know it's out there.

  7. I'm a bit embarrassed to say I've considered the literal version of this. I tend to be OCD about inaccuracies, so it's occurred to me that I might not in good conscience be able to say "'till death do us part" at the altar (should the situation ever come up). Yet, it's hard to imagine the pastor or the groom allowing me to say, "...until one of us dies, or you assault me for any non-defensive reason, or you sexually exploit someone, or you walk out on me for a period of more than five years (after which I will assume you are dead or remarried), or you knowingly put our offspring in danger, or you become a serial killer of any kind."
    I mean, I really hope I never end up like some of my coworkers ("The wedding was two weeks ago and already your marriage is on the rocks? What the heck happened?!") and that I can work through all the noncritical stuff. I do have an awful history of "forgetting" my friends when I no longer feel like I can meet their needs, so I REALLY hope I can handle a marriage. I guess if we live in the same house, I can't exactly avoid them. Of course I WANT a forever-romance, especially since as a female it'll literally be an irreversible blood pact...
    Would knowing each other's "forever unless..." caveats in advance help or hurt a marriage, do you suppose?

    ~Violet Black

    1. Yup, that list of caveats IS important, because those things are not acceptable to live with, bottom line. So discuss that in private with your beloved BEFORE the ceremony. A friend who had grown up in an abusive family told her fiance, "I want to stay married to you forever, so I need you to know that if you ever hit me, ever, I will lose trust and I will leave." He responded that he never would, but, since she brought it up, if she ever insisted on separate beds, he would very likely not manage to stay faithful. The caveats were private, the vows public, the consummation private. (Remind your OCD side that is as it should be.) Five kids and 33 years later, things are good with that marriage.

  8. If we get rid of the vows then why have a ceremony at all--even at the civil level. Let's design a vending machine that will dispense a receipt (for tax and inheritance purposes) that associates government IDs partner for partner. We don't even have to put names on the receipt.

    I was married once. I was too young and I came to understand pretty quickly that I married the wrong person. Being young did not mean I didn't take my vows seriously; it just meant I made a terrible choice. We ended up divorcing and I was depressed for a long time about breaking my vow.

    I have since been in a few serious relationships but never pulled the trigger on marriage because I didn't want to go through that sick-at-heart feeling again if it didn't work out.

    Though it may seem that "no one takes their vows seriously", I can assure you that at the very least one person does.

  9. Now I know why a lot of divorce attorney west palm beach sees the problem in marriages, especially among those who married early, as something that should have been solved since the first part of the marriage: they didn't take the holy matrimony seriously. That is a forever commitment, something that you can't take away from you that fast. Even divorce processes take years to be finalized.