Helping you ... Helping yourself

WEDDING VOWS, PROMISES OF THE HEART

By Lynne Foote MA, LPC

Many couples spend more time preparing for their wedding, than for their marriage. A lot of excitement, expectation, and work goes into the creation of a wedding and couples can find themselves waking up inside a marriage lost in a kind of post-party depression not knowing how to proceed. Some couples may not even be sure how they got there. The marriage ceremony, when created and experienced consciously, is a sacred vessel that helps two people cross the threshold into their sacred union. The true power of a wedding arises from gathering family and friends who then bear witness while two people make a spoken and heartfelt commitment to each other. This community can become a support system which helps hold the vessel of a marriage together when the individuals cannot. Loved ones can offer verbal and energetic guidance, and hope, that allows each partner to find their way back to each other through troubled times. In some wedding ceremonies, the people gathered are asked to make their own commitment to the couple to be this support for them.

But a marriage is between the two individuals and at the heart of the wedding ceremony is the speaking of their vows. A vow is a solemn promise, a personal commitment. It is a foundational contract upon which a marriage is built. The writing of vows is perhaps the single most important aspect of this entire wedding process because it requires an intentional examination of the nature of the commitment that each individual is willing to promise to the other. Vows set boundaries which gives ground to a marriage. When I make a promise to you, you know where I stand and that I will be standing at that point until I tell you otherwise. Vows give meaning to what is being created by the marriage.

Jack Kornfield, a psychologist and founder of Spirit Rock Center in California, talks about writing his own marriage vows. He knew the importance of vows from both his mediation training in Thailand and from his therapy work with couples. But because he couldn’t know what the future would bring, he was confused about the truth of what he could promise. He knew he couldn’t say the words: I promise to love you forever, even if that was the truth in his heart now. He sought advice from an older couple, dear friends who had a lifelong, loving marriage. What they told him was that you can’t promise that you will love her forever but you can promise in every day to be the best person you can be and to do the work necessary to keep your heart open and to foster the conditions that keep this love alive. This vow can be renewed every day.

Scott Peck, in his book THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED, says that love is not a feeling, it is a commitment. It is a commitment to encourage and support one’s own spiritual growth and that of one’s partner. Feelings come, they go. Because they are not in our conscious control, and because they are so variable, they are an unstable foundation for any relationship. But a promise, a commitment is something that we can stand by and does provide the ground upon which a marriage can be built.

Vows can be written together, or separately. They can be serious, or humorous, according to your personal style. They can be traditional, or unique. But they are yours to have as guides for when times are confused, chaotic, or painful. Vows are dynamic rather than static and will change over the course of a lifelong marriage. Some spoken during the wedding ceremony will still be a true vow at the end of life, such as the promise to foster and support the spiritual growth of your partner, or to maintain honesty and not keep secrets. But some vows change and new ones are added as the life stage changes. When a child comes, the promise to find time for personal intimacy, outside the roles of Mom and Dad, might be added. At the end of life there might be the vow to let your partner go when the times comes for them to leave their body, and you.

To keep the vows alive and vital I recommend an annual ritual on one’s wedding anniversary of reviewing and renewing the vows. This is an opportunity to make any necessary adjustment to the promises and to recommit to the marriage. Some couples have turned them into a work of art or had them framed so that they can live with them on an ongoing, daily basis.

So how do you write your vows? Take some time, either alone or with your partner, to sit in silence. Ask yourself these questions: What is true in my heart that yearns to be shared? What do I need in the form of structure, boundary, or commitment from myself and my partner to be able to trust the core of our connection? What vows, what promises, will push me to grow and mature? What words have others spoken that have meaning for me here, now?

Finally, it is important to know that vows have a life of their own. When I promise not to keep secrets, I have an initial understanding of what this means. But over time, when tested by life’s vagaries, because of this promise I find myself speaking the truth when everything in me would rather keep silent to avoid the difficulties that come with revealing that truth. It means confronting my darker, shadow side to find the hidden motivations driving my moods and behaviors so that I don’t keep secrets even from myself. It requires a vigilance and honesty deeper than I can know from the starting point.

May these words guide you toward creating a stronger foundation for your connection, whether you are about to enter your marriage, or whether it is time to renew and revitalize the one you have. I offer a four session, in person or via phone, Premarital Tool Kit for couples who are about to marry or are newly married. I can help you clarify your intentions and write your vows. And I offer keys to keeping your marriage healthy and strong for a lifetime.

Your feedback and ideas are welcome.


Contact Lynne Foote

Phone: 303-447-2987

Email: Lynne@LynneFoote.com


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