Real Marriage vs Wedding Vow Promises

What is the reality of an actual marriage vs. wedding day dreams and vows? Since most women visiting this site are have experienced marital trouble to some extent or another, most will tell you that the promises made during the marriage ceremony are hard (if not impossible) to live up to in real life.

Wedding album implying Happily Ever After

But a lot of women feel bound by those promises and vows made during the height of love, when everything about their future seemed perfect. As time marches one, the rosy glow of that initially brought the two of you to the wedding alter may start to fade. You may detect some serious character flaws in your partner that are next to impossible to live with.

But what can you do? After all, you promised to stick together for better or worse. Below is an insightful take on the traditional wedding vows and how they hold up in a real world full of less-than-perfect people.

"For Better Or Worse?" Really?

By EnnisP: Pastor, reader, thinker and writer at NowTHINK!

The ideas of permanence and un-conditionality expressed in wedding vows for the last five centuries are more sentimental than realistic. "For better or worse" is definitely a wonderful thought. Just hearing the words evokes visions of security and stability in a reliable relationship over an entire life time. Who doesn't want that? It makes us feel good and contributes to a beautiful ceremony but does it truthfully reflect life as we experience it?

Can two young people, who hardly have any experience in free will relationships and independent living, be expected to rationally make unconditional, forever-after type promises about the most intimate connection? Making the commitment does bring goose bumps. According to recent data, however, trying to keep it may bring misery.

Therefore, for all the following reasons I would suggest that vows should be well qualified if not completely rewritten before using them in wedding ceremonies.

Marriages Don't Take Place In The Garden

Most traditional vows were written by religious institutions - not God - and reflect the ideal Garden-of-Eden relationship. The muse doing the writing probably visualized himself sitting in the Garden sipping tea.

A very nice location, by the way, with beautiful scenery and a great atmosphere but we haven't lived there for a long time and wouldn't fit in very well if we did. God's Garden and everything in it were perfect including humans. Unfortunately, all that changed.

"For better or worse" is a throwback to the original and doesn't really fit in to this flawed world. Focusing on such a promise in the middle of the most important public conversation two people will ever have does little to prepare them for our present reality and can be emotionally crippling. It is more a commitment to the institution of marriage than to each other.

The truth is there were no vows in the Garden. They didn't need them. In fact, vows were neither popularized nor used in contracting marriages until the middle of the fifteenth century. Before that it was all done by contract usually verbal - and between the families of the intended. Church leaders weren't involved in solemnizing the wedding and ceremonies weren't held in churches until recent history either.

That means, of course, that weddings for most of human history were transacted without religious ceremony or religion laced vows.

So the question is, why do we insist on Garden-appropriate vows in a place that militates against their survival? If we are going to take vows we should make them a little more significant than "Let's close our eyes and act like we're in the garden!"

A little philosophical analysis is required before we make "forever" promises the center pieces of our ceremonies.

Marriage Vows Need Thorough Introspection

So what should we say in our vows? Traditionally we say things like:

"Do you take this Man (or Woman) to have and to hold until death do you part."

Or something to that effect...

This, of course, is another beautiful sentiment but it also needs honest inspection. Let's put "till death do us part" aside for a moment and, rather than focus on the end game, let's focus on the fragile nature of human relationships, the mercurial nature of life and what each party needs and expects from the marriage.

Obviously, we could talk about these issues for a long time and the discussion could easily take more space than one post would allow but with these thoughts in mind some very good questions to ask are:

"What would it take for me to lose confidence in this person and in our union? Could I handle the pressure in the worse-case scenario, whatever that is?"

In other words, before you blindly accept "for better or worse" you should at least explore how "worse" it can get. Yes, as an individual you can choose to make any sacrifice you like for your marriage but you should at least define what that means before you say "I do!" Experience proves that the pain and pressure might be more than one person should have to stand even if they are able to bear it.

There might not be enough time to include all "marriage conditions" in a public ceremony and it would make the proceedings more like a courtroom than a chapel but there is plenty of time to explore the issues before the nuptials and that is much better than doing a clean up after.

Admittedly, people preparing for marriage are not in their most rational state - they aren't really open to discussing all the possible scenarios - but entertaining the "what if" question should become a normal part of the marriage preparation menu. Assuming that the so called love-of-your-life would never do the "unthinkable" is not smart. Consider potential negatives, write them down and talk through the issues.

But let me be clear. Even if you have discussed all the issues thoroughly there is no guarantee things won't go south. In fact, a thorough inspection before-hand enables you to see the hand writing on the wall when the marriage is taking strain. And, because of the uncertainties of life and the fickleness of human nature there is no reason to refuse a break up should conditions warrant!

I'll talk more about the wording of vows at the end of this post.

Marriage Is a Contract

ALL relationships are regulated! Even the ones we have with people we don't know.

The constitution is the federal contract providing regulations for all relationships generally and beyond that many specific relationships are contracted in even more detail: every business deal, bank account and purchase comes with thoroughly stated conditions. Even Adobe Reader, though free, comes with a contract and no one gets the download until they agree to the T's and C's.

The problem is many people don't have prenups before they marry but are still expected to agree to "never say die." Some religious institutions encourage this approach and oppose the idea of prenups.

That's strange because every sensible person knows that contracts protect all parties on all sides of the agreement and are the decent way to manage relationships but when it comes to marriage we become a bit mushy headed. If marriage was only an emotional arrangement, fine, but a lot of thought goes into building a life together so don't let your brain get hijacked by the moment.

The point, however, is this. Contracts are a post garden reality and even though marriage was designed in and for the garden it must be managed under the rules of the new system. We should trade "vows" for "contracts." Yes, that blunts the romance a bit but it also brings a little sobriety to those preparing for a super heady moment.

It also recognizes the rationale behind a breakup should the contract be broken. Also, for these reasons, a courtroom might be a more appropriate and historically accurate place to seal the deal. And that naturally leads to the next important thought.

Marriage Doesn't Supersede Civil Law

I need to ask you several important questions:

  • Do you consider yourself a law abiding citizen? 

  • Do you understand that obeying the law also means upholding and enforcing the law on the odd occasion?

  • And do you understand that enforcing the law - responding appropriately to the illegal behavior of others - is done not only to protect you but also to protect others.

So, if a husband or wife is being assaulted, slandered, libeled, cheated, oppressed, etc. by a married partner they not only have the right to be delivered from such treatment, they also have the responsibility to take appropriate measures to prosecute if necessary.

I know this is a sensitive issue. There are practical and emotional barriers to the "action" I have prescribed. It takes a very brave soul to initiate legal action against an offending party, especially under these circumstances, but the bottom line is this:

"Marriage does not invite, encourage, endorse or provide immunity for criminal behavior. Abuse is wrong whether it occurs outside or inside matrimonial bonds."

So, even if the abused party can't find a way to prosecute, they at least have the right to vacate the relationship and every friend and family member should support them in the effort.

A married partner does have the option to forgive the abuse. They can stick around and hope for the best, but that does nothing to answer the demands of the law. People who batter should still serve their sentence. If they aren't willing to do so then they probably haven't changed. Don't be fooled by tearful begging. In many cases it's a ruse to get a cheap get-out-of-jail card.

Love Is Unconditional, Marriage Is Not

We are supposed to love everyone, even the unlovely, leaving no one out.

But thankfully, you don't have to marry someone to love them. And staying in a soul destroying marriage isn't the best way to love a contrary partner. We might be called to love a person, faults and all, but that doesn't mean we have to live with them. Animal lovers don't take rattle snakes to bed with them at night.

And besides, God is the only Person who can love everyone fully. You're not God. Give yourself a little space.

Marriage Is Not a Fairy Tale

And vows shouldn't be fairy-tale-like. Instead of never-say-die, something like the following would be more appropriate.

I love you. From the first time I saw you I was drawn to you and that hasn't changed. I know I'm not perfect but you, more than any other, make me want to be a better person and if you will have me I want to spend the rest of my life loving you and meeting your needs. I want us to build a life together.

Please know that I will never take our relationship for granted. I will make an effort regularly, monthly if not weekly or daily, to win your love over and over again. And because I know that circumstances can be very unpredictable and that I am not perfect, I am sure that my responses won't always be 100%. So, in anticipation of these less than perfect moments, I invite you to let me know when my mistakes make you uncomfortable. I will do my best to make changes. But, if my inability to respond becomes more of a burden than you are able to bear I release you from our union. I will work hard to see that it never comes to that but if it does, it would be the only loving thing I could do.

If you complain that vows along these lines aren't very romantic, I would disagree. What can be more romantic than knowing up front that romance has a very short shelf life and needs to be fed more regularly than snakes; Once every now and then is not enough.

We can never stop qualifying for love and we mustn't hang around forever when it dries up. 

Article submitted by EnnisP, a Missionary/Pastor who after experiencing divorce as a youngster and later through the lives of friends was compelled to write in support those contemplating, processing or getting over a divorce. His articles take a fresh look at what the Bible actually says, and adds practical and philosophical observations to encourage those facing this difficult experience. His articles deal with questions related to divorce in the Old Testament, what Jesus taught, is divorce a sin, does God really hate it and so on. You can also get a copy of his new book "In Defense of Divorce" at Amazon. (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases)

May not be copied or re-distributed.

The articles below offer more understanding and information about real marriage vs. wedding fantasy from a Christian perspective. You can also find more information on making the decision to divorce and coping with all the emotions you are going through.

The Bible and Divorce

Providing Christian Support for Divorce

Does God Forgive Divorce

Should You Be Married For Life

Using a Family Counselor

A Divorce Perspective

  1. Divorce
  2. Deciding on Divorce
  3. Real Marriage vs Wedding Vow Promises