Here’s a set of wedding vows with practical merit.
They might sound unconventional and unromantic.
They’re certainly not poetic, but these promises, if
kept, will go far in sealing a marriage for the ages.
1. I promise to clarify my expectations.
A marriage ends because a spouse has failed to meet
the expectations their partner brought to the
marriage. Expectations are unique, and come
packaged inside your fiancé’s brain. You may think
these things are obvious or universal, that “everyone
knows” what makes a good husband, what makes a
good wife. But the truth is, your expectations are
yours alone — spawned from your experiences and
locked in your head. There is nothing you can
assume about your partner’s idea of what a good
marriage looks like. No harm will come from being
very specific and concrete about exactly what you
want, not just in bed but in the bank account, at the
dinner table, with regard to parenting and everything
else. If you’re too shy to mention what you believe is
the right way to behave, and you’re hoping everything
will become obvious as time goes on, you’re not
ready to get married. Get it all in the open, and keep
putting it out in the open. If someone fails you, they
should have to do it by choice, and not have
ignorance as an excuse.
2. I promise to give you the benefit of the doubt when
it comes to money.
One of the biggest adjustments when entering
marriage is joint finances. From being on your own
and subject only to your own ups and downs, you’re
now responsible for another person, or you’re
depending on another person. That can be scary.
Here’s a vow you can make that will help: If your
spouse spends a lot of money on something, trust
that they know what they’re doing. Trust them until it
becomes impossible not to trust them. Don’t come
out of the gate suspicious. Here’s why you can do
this: You didn’t marry an idiot. Right? If you think
they’re overspending this month, chances are they’re
expecting a special check, or they’re compensating
for underspending last month, or something else.
This is not a fool; this is your spouse. Surrender the
worry that they’re going to drive you into financial
ruin. Give the benefit of the doubt. If they really do
appear to be ruining you, then the last benefit of the
doubt you can give is that they don’t know any better
and need help. Help kindly and respectfully, not with
judgment and blame.
3. I promise to make sure I’m not just hungry before
I yell at you.
Do your wife or husband a favor: Eat your favorite
sandwich and then come back and yell at her/him all
you want, if you still feel like it.
4. I promise not to give in to you for the sole purpose
of using my compliance against you later.
Some people call this passive aggressive behavior,
but this is a very specific maneuver that you can
understand and avoid: Being the good person, even
though you don’t want to, is not always good. Being
so compliant and docile that a halo pops out of your
hair and lofts itself over you, bathing you in its
golden light, is sometimes a trick, and you really
intend to strangle your spouse with that halo
somewhere down the road. Being so good that next
time there’s an argument, you can point back to this
moment as an example of how your goodness
practically rent the sky in half — that’s not goodness.
Don’t do that. It’s not going to help in the long run. If
you don’t want to do something, fight not to do it. If
you want to do something, fight to do it. Be honest
and don’t posture.
5. I promise to defend you to others, even if you are
wrong.
Your spouse is going encounter plenty of haters and
critics. Don’t join them. Ever. In the privacy of your
pillow, or your sofa, or your minivan, you can have
conversations that need to be had, if there’s really
something that needs to be addressed. But you don’t
need to agree with someone who’s calling him a
boor, or her an idiot. There is nothing uglier than
watching a husband degrade his wife or a wife
demean her husband in front of other people. It
doesn’t make you smart or funny. It’s just a low
behavior. Your spouse’s criticism hurts plenty, even if
it’s private and kind. If it’s public and rude, it’s almost
unbearable.
6. I promise to try to put you before the children.
This is tricky, because your biological imperative will
be to put the children first. Your physiology will be
directing you to eat the face off your spouse if he or
she threatens the children’s progress and happiness
in any way. This is why it’s possible to make this
promise to each other: to really try to prioritize each
other sometimes, even though the children are
absorbing so much of your life. In reality, if you truly
prioritize your spouse and leave your children out on
the porch in a dirty diaper in the rain, the police will
come. But because you’re a normal person and not
some child-abusing monster, you’re not going to do
that. Making this promise might actually result in
some time spent together as a couple, some choices
made for the benefit of Dad’s or Mom’s agenda and
goals instead of the kids’ activities all the time, and
some needed balance.
7. I promise to do the stuff neither of us wants to do,
if you really don’t want to do it more than I don’t.
My husband hates to do the dishes. He really hates it
and thinks it is disgusting. I do not like to look at
spreadsheets or think about money. At all. It gives
me panting fits. Now, I don’t especially want to do the
dishes either. Nobody wants to do the dishes. But I’m
okay doing the dishes — yes, every single time, even
if I also cooked the dinner, even if he left a plate full
of gravy and broccoli bits hardening in the sink. I
don’t really care that much, and I’m not going to
stand on principle to try and chase some goal of
“fairness” and make him do the dishes half the time.
If fairness were what we were after, then I would
have to pay attention to the checking account and
have a budget and worry about mortgages. And I
don’t. That’s not fair either. But we don’t care because
we’ve made this promise:
8. I promise not to keep score.
You can’t win marriage. There are no points. Any
reckoning or score-keeping on your part is only going
to result in told-you-so trumpeting or sad
dissatisfaction. Not keeping score means you don’t
have to pay back the good stuff, and you don’t get to
punish the failures. It also means you can give freely,
and that you have a soft place to fall when you fail
yourself. There are consequences for every action —
good and bad. That is true. But “forgive and forget”
works two ways — you forget the good stuff you did
and the bad stuff he/she did. In return you can
expect your bad stuff to be forgotten, and your
spouse to give you good stuff without measure.
9. I promise to not care if you get fat or skinny or old.
I’m talking about getting fat, people. b*tt, huge. Arms,
wiggly. I’m also talking about hot bodies wasting
away to nothing. b**bs, gone. b*tt, gone. Can we talk
about hair falling out? Not just boy hair, but girl hair
too. Weird moles developing. Facial hair getting
thicker or thinner. Googly eyes. The truth is, you
don’t really care about these things. Your favorite
person is your favorite person until the end of time,
even if their head falls off or they grow a third leg.
Even if a dragon comes and eats off the lower half of
their body or they turn purple or get warts. You know
what matters is on the inside, and you can articulate
it. If you want to utter the most romantic words a
woman will ever hear, say, “I will love you forever,
babe, even if you get wicked fat.” Trust me. Your
skinny fiancé will love you for this.
10. I promise to put your happiness before mine.
Really it all boils down to this, doesn’t it? You promise
to subvert your needs, your wants, your goals and
priorities, to those of your spouse. And he or she
does the same for you. If you’re both working for the
other’s happiness, earnestly and sincerely, then
you’re both going to be ridiculously happy. Here’s the
key though: It’s not enough to sublimate yourself and
be a virtuous martyr for his/her dreams to come
true. You also have to allow your spouse to do the
same for you. You have to be able to say “Okay!”
when he says “Go!” To say “Thanks!” when she says “I
don’t mind!” And trust that when it’s your turn to
reverse roles, you’ll do the very same. Because in the
end, it’s not even selflessness. It’s working for the
common good. And if you can’t say you’ll do that,
then “until we are parted by death” is just going to be
a long, dull, sad life sentence.
In my opinion, if you can’t wholeheartedly vow these
things, you shouldn’t be getting married. Yep, it’s a
little tougher to promise “in fatness and in
emaciation, even if my mother hates you” than it is to
promise “in joy and in sorrow, forsaking all others.”
But which is really braver, and what promise more
meaningful?
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