How Are You Doing With That?

Posted on May 29, 2014


I attended my niece’s wedding this last weekend.  It was a beautiful wedding.  Both bride and groom were tearful when saying their vows.  My thought about this was that they actually understood what they were promising and being promised.  When you realize the magnitude of those vows, tears are an appropriate response.  That someone would actually make that vow to you is overwhelming if you really think about it. Here are the vows.

In the Name of God, I, _______, take you, _______, to be my wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, until we are parted by death.  This is my solemn vow. 

I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This is a big promise, so let’s slice it a little thinner.  It begins with a pledge before God that of the seven billion people on this planet, I am choosing you to be my partner for life, a singular honor.  Then we get to the fun part, to have and to hold from this day forward.  That seems doable.  It is comforting to have someone to have and to hold.  That part seems relatively easy.  Now it starts to get more difficult.  For better for worse: this is essentially a promise that I am sticking with you even if you are not easy to live with.  Right or wrong, you are still my spouse.

For richer for poorer: financial problems are one of those things that really test a relationship.  Many couples divorce during financial difficulties.  Here is a promise that I will endure whatever comes with you.  In sickness and in health: healthwise, we do not know what the future will bring for us.  Being the caretaker can be exhausting.  If either partner has long term health problems, both will grieve the loss of the healthy future they envisioned.  This is a pledge that I will not only be there when we are both healthy, I will be there for you when either of us is not.

To love and cherish: this one sounds deceptively easy, but it is not.  There is truth in what Sara Groves sang, “Loving a person just the way they are, it’s no small thing.”  Being loving when you are both tired, frayed, and stressed is not a natural response.  It requires making a choice to respond in love.  While we are on this subject, let’s look at the dictionary definition of cherish.  Cherish: 1) to hold or treat as dear; feel love for: 2) to care for tenderly; nurture: 3) to cling fondly or inveterately to.  In this seemingly simple part of the vow, I am promising to hold you as dear, nurture and treat you with tenderness, and cling fondly to you.  Until we are parted by death: no escape clause here.  The vow started with from this day forward and now we get more specific about what that means.  It means for the rest of our lives.

When the rings are exchanged there is again a promise to honor you with all that I am and all that I have.  Community property laws aside, this is a promise to honor you with all that I have.  How do you honor someone with everything that you are?  That seems like a particularly tall order.  I will honor you with my heart, my mind, and my body.  This is a pledge to one unique individual.  I will honor only you in this fashion.

What’s it like to have someone make such a promise to you and mean it?  How overwhelming is it to have someone vow that they will honor you in life no matter what happens?  What just happened is not ordinary or everyday; it is deep, eternal, and profound.  Tears seem like an appropriate response.

If you are married, these may not have been your exact vows, but you probably promised something similar.  So…how are you doing with that?  I admit that I had to ask myself the same question.  Thirty years ago, I stood up in a church in front of my family and friends and promised similar things to the young woman standing in front of me.  I further admit that I could not have understood the depth of the moment at the time.  We had a great time at our wedding and reception, but that pales in comparison to the blessing of spending the last 30 years with that woman.  How am I doing at keeping those vows?  In 30 years, I have run the gamut from doing pretty well at loving and honoring her to other times of failing miserably.  Fortunately, she gives me a better review on that point than I would give myself.

But how are you doing with that?  How are doing with loving and honoring your mate?  Can you love your partner in his or her worst moments?  When finances are tight, when you are both exhausted, can you continue to respond in love?  When your partner has health issues, can you be there for comfort and support?  I know there are times when you have blown this.  You are human, and that happens.  So maybe the better question is how can you adjust now to better keep your vows?

Now if your thought was to assess how your partner has done at keeping his or her vows, you are missing the point.  You cannot control what your partner does.[1]  You are only responsible for you.  It is a good and healthy thing in marriage to be able to turn to your partner and ask for your needs to be met.  It is another matter to expect that you can change your partner, and you will only make yourself angry and resentful if you try.  We also might note that there was no conditionality in the vows.  There was no “I will keep my vows as long as you keep yours.”  This is not to say that you are obligated to endure abuse or infidelity.  Rather I am making the point that we cannot repay evil for evil and hurt for hurt and expect the marriage to recover and thrive.

It’s a new day and another opportunity to love and honor your partner.  Let’s try it again today… and then tomorrow.


[1] For more on this point, go back and read Hula Hoop and the Five Guarantees.

Posted in: Love, Marriage