What wedding vows?
Nobody does it like Disney: rapt faces, perfect kisses and that breathless moment of ‘I do’ that marks the beginning of the happy ever after
…but have you ever wondered why we take an age-old pledge?
Anyone in a real relationship – and, by that, I mean you’ve been with them through a few seasons and seen them at their very worst – knows that a happy ending takes commitment. Cue…the vows.
But why do we follow the script? Why we can’t just shake hands, or throw a party, or invent our own ritual and skip to the married part without all the terms and conditions? Well, it’s because the vows (along with the presence of witnesses, and the civil registration) are a legal requirement. This is because, ultimately, the act of marriage is a binding contract with technicalities for both parties. So much for flowers and romance!
Without vows, there is no marriage contract. You can create your own vows, but for over a thousand years, the traditional British format has remained largely unchanged within the law and Christian church communities. Historically speaking, it’s believed that vows had already been established in France before travelling to Britain and becoming integral to the ceremony of marriage, as recorded in The Sarum Rite of 1007CE.
When something has such ancestral integrity, it’s probably worth examining. In my research, I was drawn to the specific wording of the pact in order to reveal how just a few words can hold such immense value and, ultimately, to gain insight into the binding union of marriage.
Alexa PoppeThe traditional marriage vows according to the Book of Common Prayer:
‘I, (name), take thee, (name), to be my wedded 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 us do part,
according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.’
Here, the wedding ring is placed on the finger:
‘With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my
worldly goods I thee endow: in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’
The vows according to the service in Common Worship – followed since 2000 – are as follows:
‘I, (name), take you, (name), to be my 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 us do part,
according to God's holy law. In the presence of God I make this vow.’
Mike (34) didn’t want to commit.
“I loved Justine so much, but the
thought of saying ‘till death do us part’ was overwhelming.” It
literally left him in a cold sweat. “The thought of promising a lifetime
of faithfulness and devotion to one woman, without opt outs… I
genuinely believed it was a recipe for utter failure. I would fail. I
just knew it.”
One autumn day, they sat down and talked honestly, eye to eye, about the
why. That conversation was brave, gutsy, unselfish… And it turned out,
as they talked that underneath the panic, Mike feared that he would
break Justine’s heart in the same way his own father had broken his
mum’s heart, when he was only ten. “It was a scary thing to say out
loud, and in some ways it felt really silly, but it really, really
helped.” Justine understood that his resistance wasn’t rejection.
Mike and Justine shared their revelation with a trusted friend, who told
him, ‘Mike, you don’t have to be faithful for forever, just one day at a
time.’ That one little sentence unlocked hope. Mike proposed, feeling
“terrified…and excited!”, and they adjusted every sentence of their
wedding vows so that they ended each line with “one day at a time.”
Having and holding, in the good stuff and the grim, faithfully loving
and cherishing. “We’ve been married for twelve years now…just one day at
Ross TallingRebecca (28) describes herself as ‘waking up’ in the middle of her
“As I looked into his eyes, I heard myself saying
these epic, life-altering words. It was at that moment, when I spoke
them out loud, that I actually thought about what they meant.”
Surrounded by family and friends, Rebecca had spent a year in the run up
to her wedding picking over details; making sure that the yellow of the
invites tied in with the hue of the napkins; that guests had clear
directions to the reception… “but I genuinely hadn’t thought about what I
was actually promising until I said it out loud.”
She was distracted during her honeymoon, thinking about those vows.
“When we got back, I sat Joel down on the sofa and we talked those
promises through, one by one… with all the logistical implications.”
Rebecca describes that time as the most real and intimate experience of
their marriage to date. “Every now and then we still ask each other
‘will you marry me?’ It’s a silly, tender thing, but I think we’re just
checking that we’re still committed to keeping our promises.”
Jess PetrieAt their core, it turns out that the vows hold the mother-load of relationship wisdom.
I, (name), take you, (name),
- I am separate from you. You are different from me. I independently choose you as a separate, different person to have in my life. I will not always understand you or your differences, but I choose to join you in a future together, regardless.
to be my wife (or husband),
- We belong to each other. We will be known by our community as individual people in relation to one another as a distinct unit. There is something cohesive, harbouring, protective and treasuring in this mutual change of identity.
to have and to hold,
– Because of our commitment, we have access to one another in ways no one else has. This is precious. Our invisible together life is to be a mentally and physically satisfying and honouring experience.
from this day forward,
- This new beginning. There is a new normal that is not what it was. I can never deny the choice I have made to have you as part of my life. My life and yours will be marked by this moment.
for better, for worse,
- Changes in our circumstances (family, friends, work and weariness) will come. Some of it will be great. Some dreadful. None will change that I’ve committed myself to you and our life together.
for richer, for poorer,
- Finances will flex: we may have more than enough, we may have nothing. We will be stretched. No excess or deficiency of money will change that I’ve committed myself to you.
in sickness and in health,
- Illness, accident, health and longevity – there are no guarantees. Our bodies will not always serve us as we wish. Regardless, it won’t change that I’ve committed my whole self to a whole life with you.
to love and to cherish,
- This is my purpose, to choose to put your best interest ahead of mine and treat you as the treasure you are. This will be the best lifelong competition we could ever enjoy.
till death us do part,
- I am committed to you till the end. Even when times are challenging, my faith in us won’t waiver. For life.
according to God's holy law, - Somehow, my humanity responds to something bigger than simply me and what I want. What we do here is connected to a far bigger picture and this moment is a bright shining pixel in that image.
in the presence of God and these witnesses I make this vow.
– I am responsible not just to myself, or just you, to keep my vows. I am responsible to the greater good, to love, to life, to our community. If ever I struggle to keep these promises, they have every right to remind me of this life-changing moment.
Whatever words you decide to promise each other at your wedding ceremony, it’s worthwhile taking an evening or two to talk them through. After all, it’s not your wedding that will hold you together. It’s the two of you. Legally and spiritually, your vows are the bedrock on which your marriage will be built.
Albion Row Photography
words Christine Jensen
Copyright Wed magazine 2015