“I take thee to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.” – Traditional Wedding Vows
Promises made are not always promises kept. Had my ex-husband and I reflected on these vows daily, maybe our marriage would not have ended. The words are easy to ignore. We say them once and then table them until we attend another wedding and think, “Oh yeah, those are pretty profound words.” I tied the knot when I was 25 years old. I was arrogant. Marriage seemed easy to me. I couldn’t fathom how people let it disintegrate like the last pieces of charred paper turning to ashes in a fire pit. How can a marriage turn to dust and there be nothing left? We forget about our vows.
For Better, For Worse
It’s subtle at first–those minor irritations that go hand-in-hand with living with someone. For us, it was anything from how inefficiently the dishwasher was loaded to clothes strewn about the bedroom to squeezing the toothpaste from the top versus the bottom. Silly, right? Over time, little annoyances lead to incessant arguing and become symbols of disrespect and stubbornness.
Instead of nagging, compliment your partner.
If they take out the garbage or cook a delicious meal, thank them.
Keep things in perspective.
It doesn’t matter how the dishes go in as long as they get done.
We are not perfect; however, there is always room for growth.
Actively work on bad habits.
Your spouse will notice and appreciate the effort.
For Richer, For Poorer
A failed business, layoffs, debt, overspending, being too cheap–these are all relationship stressors. Moreover, we live in a materialist society where it’s easy to put more value on “stuff” than relationships. It’s important to be on the same financial page, so continuous communication about finances is critical. Relationships require negotiation and compromise. Both parties should be aware of retirement plans, wages, debt, and savings. Write shared monetary goals, and plan a weekly budget so there are no surprises. Discuss big purchases before making them–this way, nobody feels blindsided. If “for poorer” happens, reserve blame and approach the solution as a team, not adversaries. As the old proverb states, “Two heads are better than one.”
In Sickness And In Health
It’s easy to love a healthy person. Sickness, on the other hand, can change even the most well-intentioned individuals. Suddenly, the relationship is thrown out of balance. One partner may be handling the finances, children, and chores, while caring for their sick spouse. This creates stress coupled with added anxiety over the uncertainty of a health diagnosis. Managing emotions is critical during this time. Take time to sit and breathe. Focusing on the breath keeps us grounded in the present moment and calms our sympathetic nervous system. Accept help from friends and family.
Self-care is critical.
We will not have energy for others if we are sick and stressed. Go for a walk, enjoy a night out with friends, workout, or get a massage. In other words, take time out to do something you enjoy. This will rejuvenate the body and give one a fresh outlook.
To Love And To Cherish
It’s easy to take people for granted. We assume they will always be with us; however, life can run off the rails at any moment. I’ve had friends who have lost spouses unexpectedly at early ages. Love is a choice, and staying connected to your partner is a conscious act. Those heady feelings of infatuation wear off over time. Make time for each other. It sounds easy, but in the trenches of daily life and children, time spent with a partner falls to the bottom of the “to do” list. Look at your partner. I mean, really look into their eyes. There is the soul that you fell in love with. When we fall in love, we see the best qualities in our partner. Over time, we tend to ignore the best and focus on the worst.
Make it a habit to express gratitude for their “best self” every day.
Love is an action. Although we may not be able to control our partner, we can control our response to them. The “small stuff” really is small. Keep things in perspective. Practice active listening and continually hone communication skills. Finally, practice gratitude. Sometimes a healthy response is all that is needed to get a marriage back on track.
Don’t wait until the end of life to question “Did we honor our vows?” Instead, make it a daily practice.