There’s a Reason They’re Called “Vows”

Outdoor weddings are risky.

When the date is reserved months ahead of time, there’s no guarantee what the weather will be like.  So much could go wrong.  But the ceremony is planned anyway, hoping for the best.

Last Sunday, we attended one of those weddings where everything went right.  The garden setting was framed by a crystal blue sky and perfect temperature.  The beach was just a block away, and seagulls glided by occasionally to accent the setting.

I think the bride’s father paid extra for that.  So much could have gone wrong, but it turned out to be perfect.

As we watched the bride and groom exchange their vows, I realized that it’s not just outdoor weddings that are risky.

Marriage is risky. 

We enter into it, not knowing what the future holds.

But by making vows, we’re promising what we’ll do when life gets tough.

Cake topperAnd life will get tough.

That’s why we have wedding ceremonies.  We dress up to show that it’s special (I don’t normally wear a suit at the beach).  The couple stands in front of their supportive friends, launching their lifelong journey together.

And they make promises to each other. 

We make those promises publicly (“before God and witnesses”) as a way of saying, “OK, we want everybody to know what we’re promising.”  When everybody knows, we’re more accountable.

It’s kind of like going on a diet and telling everybody, so we’re less inclined to quit when it gets tough.

The word “promise” doesn’t mean we’ll carry it out if it’s convenient.  It implies that we’ll do what we say, no matter what.

That’s why the traditional vows say, “For better or for worse; for richer or poorer; in sickness and in health . . .”

Too often we really mean, “For better . . . for richer . . . in health . . .”

Promises aren’t promises if they’re conditional.

Keeping promises builds trust.

Trust builds long-term marriages.

Trust minimizes the risks of marriage.

Trust builds confidence that our spouse will be there in the best of times and the worst of times.

Trust grows a marriage into a deep friendship.

Trust makes home a place of safety.

Trust makes us want to come home each day.

Trust makes the house smell like there’s warm bread in the oven.

Trust provides an incubator for our kids to learn genuine life skills, and to build healthy relationships.

Trust makes us smile through the pain.

Trust means we don’t have to face life alone.

I know that many people are reading this thinking, “It’s too late. There’s no trust left in our relationship. I’m married, but I’m all alone.”

Life has no easy solutions.  We can’t make somebody else change.

But we can make different choices, no matter what our spouse does. Maybe they haven’t kept their promises from our wedding day.  The trust is gone, and the relationship might have even ended.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep the promises we made.  The past doesn’t have to define the future.

Maybe it’s time to dig up our wedding video (or cassette tape, in our case) and listen to our vows again.  We stood before a bunch of people and made some promises.  They expected us to keep them.

Maybe our vows should be written and posted – and reviewed often.

So, to the bride and groom from Sunday’s wedding:

Celebrate.  Party.  Eat cake.  Dance. Adore each other.  Don’t lose the wonder.

Then keep your promises – no matter what.

You’ll build trust that will last a lifetime.

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books – including “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys,” “I Wish He Had Come With Instructions,” and “Dealing With the Elephant in the Room.” (See Book page)

  • Diane

    36 years later, I still promise and I do trust you!!!

  • Nicole

    My husband and I left that same wedding and honestly after 20 years of marriage, (not all bliss) we had many of the thoughts you wrote about. It was almost like we heard Joey and Lauren’s very personal, heartfelt vows and renewed ours at the same time. I’d pull our wedding video out of the closet and watch it now, but it’s a VHS and we only have DVD players. I do remember our wedding day being the BEST day of my life after my feet got “warm” and I could finally walk down the isle. (not kidding!) I just knew it was a FOREVER promise and it scared the heck out of me.

    • That was a great wedding, wasn’t it? And glad you guys are still keeping your vows!

  • Linda

    Love this, Michael. Joey and Lauren would be honored to know their wedding prompted this post!

    • Feel free to forward it to them . . . I think the internet still works overseas . . .

  • Paul Schliep

    One of the best articles on marriage is “When Marriage Is Dying” by Peter
    J. Leithart. It appeared in Touchstone back in 2001. It begins like many articles about the daunting statistics about marriage in the 21st century. But after a few paragraphs he shifts his focus:

    “All this is no doubt true, and legal efforts to fix the problem must be
    explored. But something more fundamental has happened: Marriage is dying
    because we have forgotten that marriage is always about dying. When a man and
    woman appear for the marriage ceremony, they have usually spent the better part
    of their lives under the oversight of their parents. Parents have provided them
    with physical necessities, loved and cared for them, instructed them, and set
    an example for them in ways that no one can fully understand. At the wedding,
    that world dies. And when that world dies, the couple dies too.

    This wedding marks the end of the former man and woman. Before vows are
    exchanged and they are pronounced man and wife, they were a single man and a
    single woman. When the rites have occurred, they will no longer be single ever
    again. They came separately, but go out as a couple. Two become one flesh.

    The wedding is only the beginning of death. A man and woman who go through
    the ceremony and then live as they have always lived have not really understood
    what their marriage requires. Death at the wedding is a call to continual
    dying. At their wedding, a man and woman die to singleness, to the old relation
    with parents, to old habits and plans, and that death has to be worked out
    throughout the course of the marriage. After being married only a short time,
    most married couples discover just how self-centered they are, and they are
    called to die to that self-centeredness.”

    You can find the entire article in the Touchstone archives.