We are all familiar with traditional wedding vows. Historically, the person who is officiating the ceremony recites something like this and then each person responds with “I do”:
“Do you (name), take (name), to be your lawfully wedded (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do you part?”
More recently, however, couples write their own vows and say them directly to one another, with the person officiating simply holding space for the couple’s commitments. In my opinion, this is much better, for when a couple chooses to deeply consider their commitments to each other, the relationship is beginning on a much more intentional foundation.
These vows, or commitments, are extremely important. They’re not just a formality of the ceremony, as I fear they are for some. Ideally, a couple’s vows should define the very culture of their relationship, the way in which they will do life together. When they say their vows, what they’re really saying is, “This is the way I am going to function in our relationship.”
As a relationship coach, the following are the vows or commitments I wish newlyweds (or oldlyweds or nolyweds!) would say to one another.
And I’ll go one step further: If I had my way, not only would a couple commit to the following vows, but they’d evaluate their performance in regard to these vows annually and recommit where necessary.
By the time the honeymoon ends, most couples hardly ever think about, much less talk about, how well they are doing at fulfilling their vows. Just as there are performance evaluations at work, there ought to be “vow evaluations” for couples. The anniversary should surely be a time of celebration, but it should also be a time of evaluation. Couples can evaluate themselves, or ideally, they could do it in the presence of a trusted coach or therapist or even the person who officiated their ceremony! After all, they stood right there and heard what you said. Who better to check up on you?
Does that sound like too much work? Too Extreme or impractical? Perhaps. But do you know how horrible divorce is? Do you know how financially and emotionally devastating it is? Do you know how hard it is on children, if you have any? Hell, we take better care of our cars than we do our marriages!
If you want a happy marriage or relationship and would like to avoid the nightmare of divorce or a painful break-up, you’d be wise to give serious consideration to the following vows. If they are not part of the fabric of your relationship currently, you can adopt them now—it’s never too late—and then annually evaluate your relationship against them.
Below is a title for each vow, the way you can say it to each other should you choose to use them in a ceremony and a brief description of its meaning.
1. The Vow of Openness
“I vow to reveal rather than conceal my thoughts, feelings, choices and actions—as they occur—especially the ones I fear might anger you or threaten our relationship.”
Though these vows don’t appear in order of importance, this probably is the most important vow of all. True intimacy can only occur if a couple commits to living out loud, sharing their inner conversation with their partner. They need to know what you’re thinking, feeling and doing—now—not three minutes from now, not three days from now, not three years from now. There can be no secrets—about anything. Openness must be the primary characteristic of your relationship and you must discuss the issues you fear talking about the most.
2. The Vow of Sexual Fidelity
“I vow to seek my complete sexual and emotional fulfillment within the boundaries of our relationship and to openly share with you my private sexual behavior, as well as any public attractions, temptations, fantasies and flirtations.”
As you read that last sentence, I’m guessing you felt good at the beginning, but by the end, your stomach clenched up and maybe even felt a bit queasy. We have a lot of fears, hurts and hang-ups when it comes to sex and our sexuality.
But let’s back up a minute. It should be noted that not all couples desire a monogamous relationship. People do have “open” or “swinging” relationships and they can design their own sexual vows. But for the vast majority of heterosexual and homosexual relationships, monogamy is what best serves each person in opening fully to God.
So, then, let’s just be honest, shall we? We are sexual beings. Happily married or not, all of us encounter people we’re attracted to, tempted by and sometimes even flirt with. While we want exclusivity—we know it’s best for our souls and everyone else involved—it’s not always easy, because being in a great relationship doesn’t change our sexual nature. To keep our heads in the sand about this, as most do, actually makes infidelity more likely.
So what this vow is really about is revealing our complete sexual nature and behavior to our partner. This can be scary—and even risky—for it can trigger deep insecurities about our bodies and resurface old sexual hurts and wounds. But in a healthy relationship, couple’s share their sexual truth, no matter the risk. They talk about their use of porn, strip clubs, romance novels, masturbation, fantasies and actual attractions or flirtations to and with real people. These things are seen as natural for sexual beings and discussing them usually leads to greater self-awareness and deepening intimacy.
3. The Vow of Pursuing Creativity
“I vow to pursue my full creative potential and not make my happiness and fulfillment your responsibility.”
Couples often experience drama, and even infidelity, because one or both people have lost contact with their inner passion and the pursuit of their full creative potential. In other words, they aren’t living the life they want, nor are they doing the things that make them feel fully alive. When that happens, they become bored, quietly angry and often lonely. This puts unnecessary pressure on the relationship to fill that empty space—which leads to conflict, or often to infidelity. In healthy relationships, both people are pursuing something they’re passionate about, whether it’s raising kids, gardening, volunteering, a lower golf handicap or building a business. It doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that each person pursues his or her creative potential.
4. The Vow of Divorce
“I vow to stay in a committed relationship with you as long as it’s furthering our individual evolution and opening us both to God.”
“Roy, do you have a vow about divorce on your list of marriage vows? Are you serious?” Yes—dead serious. “As long as you both shall live” does not appear on this list and that’s not an accident. To promise you’ll be together for the rest of your lives is sweet, but frankly, it’s ridiculous and sometimes dangerous.
How are you supposed to know if staying in a relationship 5 years from now (or 5 days from now!) would be a healthy, wise decision? You don’t. No marriage ceremony should include a vow of permanence. Even if you both wholeheartedly commit to these vows, you don’t know how it will turn out.
Sometimes relationships turn out to be detrimental to one or both of the people in them. Staying together because of the vow, or for the children, or for financial reasons, or for appearances or for some religious belief, is ridiculous, and as I said, sometimes dangerous. People can be abusive, controlling, addicted or simply unwilling to participate fully in the relationship or life itself.
Everyday, the question at the center of your relationship should be this: Is being together furthering our individual evolution as human beings, is it enlivening, enriching and empowering our mutual creativity and is it opening us both to God? If that’s not happening, or if the relationship is actually hindering either person’s expansion, the relationship must and should end.
5. The Vow of Curiosity
“I vow to not blame you for the condition of our relationship, but instead to become curious about my role in the dynamic we are experiencing.”
When your relationship hits a rough spot—and it will, all do—you’re presented with two options. The first and most common option is to blame the other person for what’s happening or what you’re feeling. In other words, you play the villain/victim blame game. The other option is to choose curiosity, which means wondering about what your part is in the dynamic you’re experiencing.
For example, let’s say your partner, without you knowing it, is spending significant amounts of money. What do you do? Well, option one would be to blame them for being deceptive. They’re the villain and you are the poor innocent victim. That get’s you nowhere, for they will defend themselves by blaming you for something, making you the villain and claiming that they are the true victim in the situation. “Well, look how much money you spent on such and such! What I’m doing is nothing compared to what you’re doing.” Now the power struggle for the victim position is in full swing.
But there’s another option, which is to become curious about your role in your partner’s deception with money. When you ask yourself how you could be responsible for this dynamic, what you might discover is that you’re so anal and hung up about money and that you freak out about every nickel and dime spent, that your partner feels he or she has to hide what they’re doing. Perhaps if you worked on your issues with money, your partner wouldn’t feel the need to be deceptive! Does this mean their deception is ok? Of course not (remember vow #1). But when you’re curious, you see how the issue is co-created. No one is to blame. There’s only a pattern that needs to be addressed.
6. The Vow of Giving Your Gift
Masculine Partner: “I vow to give you the clarity of my consciousness and the strength of my presence so that you may fully open to God.”
Feminine Partner: “I vow to give you my radiant life force and my emotional sensuality so that you may fully open to God.”
The primary reason we seek intimacy is to experience a kind of energetic wholeness that can only come from a relationship. It’s as if we are half human, out of balance in terms of masculine or feminine energy. Sexual attraction, or chemistry, is all about seeking this energetic wholeness and balance.
The masculine partner craves the radiant life force of the feminine so he can be rejuvenated and inspired to succeed in his quest for your joint freedom. He needs her wild, passionate emotional energy to enliven his heart and ground him in his body. The feminine partner, similarly, craves the masculine’s clarity and presence so she can fully surrender herself to love and life—not to mention her partner!
Your partner has chosen you because you have what they’re missing. If you want to keep your romance alive, you must vow to give your partner your masculine or feminine essence. You need each other. Not spiritually, of course, but humanly. Give yourself to each other. Though your differentness may infuriate you periodically, it’s the polarity that keeps the fires alive and allows each person to fully open to God.
7. The Vow of Appreciation
“I vow to create a culture of verbal appreciation (rather than criticism) in our relationship.
I’m not much for research, but I recently saw a study that said that when one criticism is spoken in a relationship, it takes five verbal appreciations to offset it. I find that to be true in my experience. Criticism has no place in relationships. It’s actually another manifestation of the victim/villain dynamic. Healthy relationships have a culture of noticing and appreciating each other—verbally. They notice things their partner does, but more importantly, they see beyond actions and appreciate essence qualities.
An example: Instead of simply saying, “I appreciate you for watering the plants,” a deeper noticing would be, “I appreciate how you use plants to make our home feel alive, beautiful and peaceful.” Wouldn’t a person feel truly seen after hearing that? Vow to do this sort of deep appreciation regularly.
8. The Vow of Agreements
“I vow to keep my agreements with you impeccably.”
Sometimes coaches, psychologists, researchers and authors make relationships awfully complicated. I’m probably guilty of that at times. (Hell, this article might be too complicated!) But maybe it’s not all that complicated. Maybe just doing what we say, when we say we’ll do it, might be enough to make our relationships flourish. Think about it: If we consistently and impeccably keep our agreements with our partner, how much trouble can we get into? Do what you say you’ll do—and don’t commit to doing something you don’t want to do or to things you’re not absolutely sure you can do. Be impeccable with your word, as the great little book, The Four Agreements, says.
Now, you may kiss the bride.