At the center of any marriage ceremony are the wedding vows. They are the words spoken by the couple to each other which express both an intent and a promise. They express how the couple intend to relate to each other, how they intend to navigate the path of life together, and what meaning they intend to give to their marriage. They are a promise to work hard at living out this intent, no matter how challenging that may be, because of their love and commitment to each other.
Because the vows shape the foundation of the marriage, I believe that they should be carefully chosen so that they most accurately express what the couple desires to create in their relationship. While in some situations the vows are prescribed by religious requirement, where it is possible the couple should personally select their vows. They should be real and meaningful to the couple, and be remembered by the couple as they proceed through life together.
In a personalized wedding ceremony there are usually no prescribed requirements regarding the vows but there are questions prescribed by law that need to be answered. This means that, in addition to answering the legal questions, the couple may exchange personalized vows which uniquely express their intent for their marriage.
Wedding vows are also a great resource for understanding marriage. The words of the vows usually speak about the meaning and potential of marriage. It is worth reading through many vows, not only to select the best vow for your wedding, but also as a way to reflect on marriage and what it means so that your own relationship can be built on a strong foundation.
The famous words, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health”, found in one of the oldest and most traditional vows, are a beautiful expression of the couple’s intent to be there for each other regardless of the circumstances. It includes the somewhat archaic word, “cherish”. The literal meaning of the word is “to build up”. So in this vow the intent expressed is that as a result of this committed relationship, each person will become a better person because of the love and support of the other. This reflects a profound aspect of marriage. It is a relationship which provides the environment and atmosphere in which each of the partners is able to flourish and achieve their full potential.
Other vows express the desire to have friendship as the basis of the marriage. In this understanding the marriage relationship is a place in which each is respected for who they are, accepting the differences and encouraging the individuality. It is an expression of a healthy relationship which is focused on allowing and encouraging the other to become who they truly are without restricting them and without attempting to conform them to the expectations, desires and preconceptions of the self.
Some vows promise to hold the other in the “highest regard”. This is a wonderful commitment. Among other things, it is a promise not to speak in a degrading way to your spouse or about your spouse. It is a promise to avoid sharing with others, even your close friends, information that would place your spouse in a negative light. Gossip and complaints about your husband or wife to friends may seem to be an innocent subject of conversation, but those are the first signs of a loss of respect and a moving away from the tremendous potential of the relationship.
Couples may have the option to write their own vows, to offer different vows to each other, to adapt vows found in various resources or to follow written vows which most closely express what they want to say to each other. Whatever their choice, it is important that the vows they choose are a true expression of the way in which they want to relate to each other on the journey of their shared lives.