Advice on Writing Wedding Vows and Their Affect on Your Marriage — Floating A Thesis

Wedding Vows are your blueprint for the life you want to create together in marriage. As Madeleine L’Engle writes in The Irrational Season:

But ultimately there comes a moment when a decision must be made. Ultimately two people who love each other must ask themselves how much they hope for as their love grows and deepens, and how much risk they are willing to take. It is indeed a fearful gamble. Because it is the nature of love to create; a marriage itself is something that has to be created, so that together we become a new [entity].

It is difficult to stress how tenacious your Wedding Vows are. A friend of mine married a nice Catholic boy very young, without giving much thought to the actual ceremony. So she was horrified when she heard the Priest asking her to agree to lugubrious Wedding Vows with which she adamantly did not agree. Marooned up there at the altar, she crossed her fingers hoping the words would not stick. But they did, nonetheless, and it took her 30 protracted years to undo those Vows. Even when Paige, in the “The Vow,” is in a car accident and suffers permanent short-term-memory amnesia, forgetting she’s married…nevertheless, the Vows she’d made to Leo prove to be “set in stone.” Okay, so that’s a movie, but it makes a good point.

Luckily, couples nowadays, who don’t marry within the Church, have a lot more autonomy over what they promise. So if you don’t want to create sickness, penury, difficulty or subservience in your marriage…then you don’t have to put such concepts in your Wedding Vows. Don’t feel obligated or otherwise bound by convention. 

We create our reality with our beliefs. Then when we see whatever we believe happening out in the world…we think it’s confirmation that our beliefs are true, and we had every right to be fearful, or whatever. But quite the reverse. There’s a reason for the expression, “My worst fear came true.” Our worst fears are what we give the most emotional energy and attention to, thus creating the very thing we don’t want. Emotions are magnetic, as any couple who fell in love at first sight knows.

But this doesn’t mean covering up our fears with rose-colored positive affirmations. We have to dive into the emotion, caused by the belief, and realize it’s not true — probably a lie programmed into us in childhood by well-meaning authority figures — until the emotion dissipates.

There are certain buzzwords inserted into Wedding Vows, and one of them is “trust.” But what is “trust” a catchword for? As it turns out, it might be the whole ball of wax as a marriage goes on:

Psychologist Jason Ross writes, “Boundaries provide trust; trust allows vulnerability, and it’s through vulnerability that we find emotional freedom.” Oppositional to that end, he says, “Sometimes we build up emotional walls around us to protect ourselves [from vulnerability]. Alternatively, we completely lose who we are in each other…just another way that we numb our vulnerability. As we gradually share our lives with each other, we often entwine our sense of who we are in each other. Ironically, we don’t get any closer to each other in this way. We drift galaxies apart. When we are everything to someone else, we become nothing to ourselves. We lose the compass to our own emotional landscape. If I lose myself, then what do I have to really share with you?”

“Support” and “comfort” are words that also find their way into Wedding Vows. These ideals of course belong in any good marriage as you build a shared dream. But adverbs such as “always,” “never,” “unfailingly,”…not necessarily or at least judiciously. Because even in marriage, your well-being and what you know to be true are your first responsibility…something you can’t compromise on no matter how much you love your partner and want to “protect” him or her. Compassion*, rather, is having faith in them to deal with their own emotions…to be accountable for their own beliefs. That’s how anyone grows…which turns out, often enough, to be the real boon of marriage. And why it’s described as “hard work.” It wouldn’t be if we didn’t grow from it. Or perhaps more accurately, the hard work is only caused by our stubborn resistance to grow by learning and changing things about ourselves.

There’s a concomitant dynamic, perhaps also programmed into us, that as Husband and Wife/Married Partners, we must “share” in everything. You want a happy marriage? My advice is not to share the other person’s emotions if you are not the cause of those emotions. And you are not the cause because only one’s own beliefs can cause painful emotions. You might just be the trigger for some old childhood hurt. So don’t absorb anyone’s emotions into yourself because you are so nice and caring, neither reflect the emotions back by becoming a defensive Screaming Banshee. Simply do not accept the belief; know that it’s not true. They might tell you that you are the cause. But if you have to search your mind for reasons why they are right — that you are to blame — then rest assured…you are not to blame. Yes, their blaming you might seem to be coming out of strong conviction, such as anger…but that’s because they’re desperate to offload their own baggage on to you — so that they can return to implacable calm. But once accepted — you are not at all being loving. In fact, now you may be the one who appears hysterically emotional. But realize you’re only reflecting their emotions conveniently foisted on you because you “shared” a belief of theirs that is not true, not true even for them never mind you. Neither is it a good idea to absorb their emotion (the other choice besides reflecting), in which you meekly become a martyr for the sake of “harmony” in your marriage. Absorbing or reflecting, you’ll only eventually mangle your sense of true self — and then you certainly can’t be anything like an equal partner.

A good tip to remember is that the Emotional Person is emotional because they are losing…no matter how loudly they roar. They are unhinged and in pain, which is the same as fear most times, and actually calling out for love. Again compassion, faith and forgiveness are the only healthy responses for both parties. But whatever you do, send those emotions back to their point of origin…the other person’s mind.

Yet another funny thing to notice is that the un-emotional person may well be acting so because their hurtful beliefs are now swimming around in your head (that’s after you’ve unwittingly “shared” them, and now you’re the unhappy wreck)…so they feel no emotion and see no problem. Indeed, this unearned “calm” makes them certain they’re right. Don’t be fooled by this imperious attitude. (Ever wonder how one person can announce out of the blue that they want to leave a long-term relationship, blindsiding the other person who thought it was going so well?)

For this — all of this, not just with your partner but in every interaction — you just have to keep watching your own mind…stay in your own mind, not wander into theirs wondering what they’re thinking or else looking for reasons they’re acting this way. When you denote any emotion, any uneasiness, sinking feeling or heat, etc…know that you’ve just been presented with something false, not true, or contrary to your best interest…and let it go. This also goes for “excitement,” which is just an emotion labeled “good.”  

Now if the belief-causing-emotions are in your mind, you will know for certain because you’ll find you are judging your partner. Unconsciously and unspoken, you want them to represent the ugly, not nice, negative half of your seemingly righteous, positive, upbeat, hard-working personality. Just stop judging. That’s easy. Check your own mind for the offending beliefs that are causing you to act uncharitably toward your partner, and let them go. Those beliefs are lies or you wouldn’t be acting like a putz. You also want to take responsibility for your own beliefs and subsequent emotions, and not project them onto the other. That is love. So be aware of both sides of your thinking: What you present to the world and what’s uncomfortable to admit about yourself (the learning part). Then you won’t need your partner to be that for you.

But yes, otherwise “sharing” is of key importance for a marriage! Most happily and creatively, sharing a vision for what your life together will look like through the years. And then the one of you with the most expansive vision takes the lead, with the other happy to help enact whatever needs to be done to achieve the vision. Whether it be Husband or Wife in the lead depends on ability and creativity, and as I say, who has the most expansive vision — and is the most confident in the seeming risks involved. This give and take does make for a fruitful, harmonic, happy union.

So, too, does working together, tag-teaming, by capitalizing on each person’s inherent strengths. This is different than “balance of power” (e.g. too often who makes the most income assumes the most power, which needless to say is wrong, wrong, wrong but for another post) — and different than dividing chores and family responsibilities down the middle, especially if both have careers. Then you’ll only get middling results, and someone will always be unhappy from doing something they’re not even good at. It’s great when each can do what they do best and enjoy most — or most spontaneously feels like doing in that particular moment — so that the sum total and shared dream, or most dreaded chore, is easily and almost effortlessly, joyously achieved.

The highest ideal of marriage is to be co-creators of a life that is all the richer because two sympatico people are free to bring their best and highest potential to bear for something greater than what they might have achieved alone. All because they make the happiness of their partner paramount.

*Compassion is the opposite of Sympathy, which is also a form of “sharing” emotions. Sympathy seems to be highly virtuous in our society, but in reality, it’s a way of falling into another’s beliefs, the story they are telling themselves. If they are crying, it means they hold a belief that is not true. Emotions are our feedback system trying to tell us that we’re thinking a lie. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned by the many branches of society to be psychologically reversed — to think that our emotions are telling us something is true.

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    • Why thank you. I appreciate this as it took a measure of courage for me to actually say something that I’m pretty sure not a lot of people are ready to hear. I submitted an abbreviated form of this post to Catalyst Wedding Co. magazine, billing themselves as “for wedding space disrupters,” and encouraging critical dialogue in the wedding industry. But I never heard back from them. Disrupters indeed…as long as it won’t alienate anyone. So again, thank you.

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