It’s been six years since my wife (Tiffani) and I exchanged vows. Like most soon-to-be-married couples, we had an idea of what marriage would look like. We watched “chick flicks,” read a few marriage books, and spent time with older married couples.
Looking back, I realize I didn’t know much at all about marriage. The words I promised Tiffani at our wedding were idealistic and romantic. This isn’t much different from the traditional vows you hear at most weddings. “To have and hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
There’s nothing wrong with these vows. But, seriously. Who really understands what they mean?
I know what you’re thinking. Why do marriage vows matter?
Here’s why. Vows are promises. But not just any promises. Vows are markers that guide your marriage. So, while I’m not against writing vows Casanova would applaud, I am against vows that are more romantic and emotional than practical and honest.
In a culture that idolizes romantic love, we don’t need any more Shakespearean vows. We need vows that will shape and impact marriages.
Here are 12 truthful marriage vows you won’t hear at a wedding.
1. I promise to never flirt, lust, or desire the attention of someone of the opposite sex.
When you get married, you vow faithfulness to your spouse. You vow exclusivity to them. You promise to never flirt, lust, or seek attention from the opposite sex. You promise to protect your mind from images that aren’t your spouse.
You don’t listen to music that degrades people. You don’t allow your eyes to view images or watch shows portraying people as objects and relationships as indispensable. These are obvious, right?
But when you vow exclusivity to your spouse, you vow more than physical purity. You vow emotional purity as well. You promise to never confide in a secretary at work or be flattered by someone of the opposite sex.
Emotional purity is much less obvious than physical purity, but it’s just as destructive. You must fight to give all of your emotions, your desire to impress, your attention, struggles, heartaches, and everything in between to your spouse. These don’t belong to other people. Fight for purity, both physically and emotionally.
2. I promise to never expect a 50/50 marriage.
You can’t keep score in a marriage. There’s no such thing as a 50/50 relationship. That’s a contract.
Give 100% of yourself every day. Some days, 100% won’t be much. But on those days, trust your spouse will pick you up. Regardless, let go of this give-and-take idea.
Just give. Giving is the essence of love and the heart of the one who created marriage, God.
3. I promise to make the Gospel the mission of our marriage.
Most marriages struggle because the relationship is the end goal. The mission of most marriages is to provide stability to your life, to have a family, to have a companion. Get the idea?
But God created marriage, and because he created it, the goal is larger than selfish desires. The goal is to glorify him. Even in Christian circles, few couples make the gospel the mission of their marriage. And this explains why Paul said it was better NOT to marry (1 Cor. 7). Your interest would be divided between your spouse and God.
Your mission on earth is to serve God. Everyday. This mission doesn’t change when you get married. But if you’re not intentional, pleasing your spouse will take precedent over serving God.
4. I promise to love who you are today, not who I want you to be.
For the sake of your sanity and your marriage, please listen. You can’t change your spouse. You don’t have that power.
If this is your goal, two varmets will infest your relationship: bitterness and resentment.
For years, Tiffani and I tried to change each other. It wasn’t until we stopped trying to change each other and started enjoying one another that we experienced intimacy.
One of the profound mysteries of marriage is two people with different values learning to love, flourish, and celebrate one another. It’s not easy, but that’s why you must rely on God and embrace the unique values He places in every person, including your spouse.
This sounds overly simplistic because it is…just love the person in front of you. Don’t long for a “fixed” version of your spouse. Don’t hope for a day when your spouse changes. Just love the current version of your partner. Doing this will transform your marriage.
5. I promise you will never be responsible for my happiness.
Marriage isn’t a quest to find happiness or completion. God created you complete. You must learn to love yourself before trying to receive or extend love.
When another person is responsible for your happiness, you idolize that person. You obsess over everything. You check Facebook profiles, text messages, and missed calls. It’s a miserable way to live. It’s a terrible recipe for a quality relationship.
Be confident in the man or woman God created you to be. Then you will be free to love your spouse the way God intended.
6. I promise to make my expectations clear.
This was probably the greatest barrier in my marriage the first few years. Tiffani and I had expectations that influenced our decisions and shaped our understanding of marriage.
Tiffani’s expectations for me were influenced by her dad. Tiffani has an amazing dad. I respect him. I’ve learned a lot from him. But I’m not Tiffani’s dad. Likewise, my expectations for Tiffani were shaped by my mom. I have an amazing mom. But it’s unfair to expect Tiffani to respond the way my mom responded. And these unrealistic expectations created a lot of disappointments.
Your spouse should never endure disappointments as a result of ignorance. State your expectations clearly. All of them. Be thorough. What do you expect from a wife? A husband? What does marriage look like to you? What does sex look like?
If you can’t state your expectations, either because you don’t know them or you’re too shy to say them, it’s a red flag that you aren’t ready for marriage.
7. I promise to never say “I forgive you” unless I truly mean it.
Your spouse will hurt you and vice-versa. When this happens, search your heart, seek God, and forgive your spouse the same way God forgives you.
Don’t forgive with conditions. Don’t say, “I forgive you” when you’re really storing your spouse’s mistake to use as ammo in a future argument.
Unless you forgive the way God forgives you, completely and unconditionally, a wall will grow taller and taller in your relationship. Eventually, bitterness and resentment will make intimacy impossible, and your marriage will be nothing more than two roommates living under the same roof.
8. I promise to be for you, to encourage your dreams, to help you become the man or woman God created you to be.
Many days you won’t feel like being for your spouse. But you must be for your partner if you want your marriage to grow. What does this look like? Here are a few examples.
- You pray for your spouse.
- You affirm your spouse’s strengths and gifts.
- You focus more on the positive aspects of your spouse’s personality and actions than the negative ones.
- You help your spouse pursue his or her dreams and talents.
- You make your relationship a safe place for hard questions and deep conversations.
- When you are for your spouse they open up like a flower, stepping into their relationships, workplace, etc. with boldness and courage. Is your spouse living with boldness and courage?
9. I promise to never complain about our marriage, in general, or you, in particular, to others.
God created marriage to be a private relationship between two people. In the social media era, virtually everything is available to the public. Privacy is viewed as stinginess, almost as though six billion people are entitled to full access of your life.
Don’t buy the lie.
Your marriage is private. When you fight, your girlfriends don’t need to hear your husband is a jerk. Your homeboys don’t need to hear that your wife is irrational and ridiculous. No one, other than your spouse, should know intimate details about your sex life.
Don’t publicize a relationship God designed to be private.
10. I promise to believe the best is yet to come, regardless of how good or bad things are today.
Regardless of the circumstances in your marriage, never spend more time looking in the rear-view mirror than the windshield. You must always believe the best is yet to come.
Why? God is a futurist.
He always leads people towards the future, towards the unknown. This forward movement is rooted in hope. Hope that the unknown is better than the known because God forges the path.
But here’s the lie our world says: future circumstances are tied to current actions. So, if your marriage is miserable right now, it won’t get better in the future. But the future isn’t dependent on external actions. It’s dependent on internal perspective.
In other words, you must choose to believe tomorrow will be better than today. If you choose this, it will be true, regardless of the actions of your spouse.
11. I promise to protect our marriage from outside influences, including kids, work, and in-laws.
Marriage is about intimacy, and intimacy requires time and exclusivity. Here’s what this means practically. You must learn to say no. Go ahead and practice now.
Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book Boundaries In Marriage, says, “A marriage is only as strong as what it costs to protect it.”
Saying yes to outside influences means saying no to your marriage. You will hurt people’s feelings. Your parents won’t understand. They might even call you selfish. Your golf game might take a hit. Your friends will send you passive-aggressive text messages because you aren’t spending time with them. Your co-workers might think you’re uncommitted because you choose to spend a night with your spouse instead of working late on a project. Unfortunately, even your church might make off-hand comments.
I’m giving you a heads up because these are the costs you must take to protect your marriage. If you don’t do this, your marriage will fail. And, trust me, it’s must easier to implement this vow on day 1 of your marriage than several years in.
12. I promise to surround our marriage with a community of Christians who will encourage and support us.
I’m going to be real here. At some point, you will want to give up. I know what you’re thinking. “Not me. I would never leave my spouse.”
That’s real sweet and all, but you’re naive.
Marriage is crazy hard. Eventually, your spouse will wound you deeply, you will lose the will to invest in your relationship, or you will come to the realization that marriage is more work than you signed up for.
When this season comes, the line between giving up and pressing forward will be drawn by your community. If your community caters to your ego and feeds your “woe is me” attitude, the line will be easy to cross. If you aren’t plugged into a local church, doing life with a group of Christians, the line will be easier to cross. If, however, you surround your marriage with a community of Christians who are for you, the line will be much harder to cross.
The presence of Christian community is so important that I ask those attending weddings I perform to make vows to the couple being married. After the couple’s vows, the audience stands. Then I ask them two questions.
This couple have asked for your prayers and support as they begin marriage together. Do you pledge to pray for them as they work on building a deep and abiding love?
They will need determination and patience to cultivate their love for one another. Do you pledge to support them in every way as they build a Christ-centered marriage?
After each question, the audience responds with “We will.” It’s powerful to see the crowd looking at the couple, vowing to pray for and support them.
For too long, wedding vows have focused on emotional, romantic love and not practical, solid pillars. You probably won’t hear these vows at any wedding you attend. But they’re essential for building a marriage that lasts.
Six years of marriage taught me one thing. Marriage is the most difficult, rewarding, painful, joyous journey you will embark on. And when the storms of life come, a few well-structured, emotional sentences won’t do you any good. You need something more practical. More realistic. You need guardrails to keep you from running off the road.
To my wife: I love you so much. Thank you for challenging me to become a better man, husband, father, and follower of Jesus. I love every day with you. I love every moment with you.