Vows: False Promises or Sacred Wisdom?

What are vows and what role to they play in our marriages? I recently read an article by a couple’s therapist who said that vows are false promises and set us up for disappointment later in marriage. I was stunned. I couldn’t disagree more! When I think back to writing my vows with my husband before our marriage, I remember a very sweet time in our relationship. We were connected and hopeful and we were being conscious of the steps we were taking to solidify our commitment to one another. We sat down with pen and paper and open hearts and we wrote our vows together. And when we spoke those vows we were surrounded by our friends and family and so much love. And our vows were and are still lofty! But that’s not because we were setting ourselves up for disappointment. That’s because we didn’t like what we saw around us. The majority of the marriages we witnessed didn’t look healthy or growth-oriented….they looked like domestic imprisonment. I didn’t want to sign up for that and neither did Eliot. So we dreamed big and we put our dreams into words and we spoke them publicly. So – how are we doing? Have we fallen into a pit of despair in our marriage? Have we ended up in domestic prison like so many before us?


I’m putting words in his mouth, but I believe we are more in love than we were when we wrote those vows 18 years ago. Of course life is different now. We have 3 kids of our own and his 2 kids who were younger when we married than our kids are now, are adults. We have been through illness together and some rough times where we didn’t feel 100% connected. But we had our vows to support us. Each year on our anniversary I take a print-out of our vows off of the altar in our bedroom and we read them. Each year I’m stunned by the wisdom of those vows. How did we know so many years ago what we would need to get through these years? We knew because we listened to the deep wisdom that all of us have inside of us. We listened to what had worked and what hadn’t worked in the relationships we had experienced before. We talked extensively about our dreams and how we could weave them together. And we took our vows as a sacred commitment to bringing our best selves into our relationship every day.

I’m going to keep writing about our vows in the future, but I will tell you what one of our vows was not. We did not say, “Until death do us part.” We decided not to say this because that felt like a false promise. How in the world could we know that? We vowed to bring our best to ourselves and to each other and to always support each other’s growth. So what if supporting his highest good meant that we shouldn’t be together anymore? Or mine? We were open to that possibility and we still are. I have chosen to stay with him every day since we married in 2000 and he has done the same. And we both know we are free to change our minds. That means that the doors of our house are open and neither of us is locked in. We choose to stay here because it’s a place where love lives. And our vows hold me accountable for bringing my best self to our home and to our relationship. And when I feel out of alignment with my best self, I talk to him or I get help reconnecting. I don’t ever assume that my unhappiness or disconnection is just what happens when you’re married for X number of years.

Last night we were finishing dinner and we both offered to clean up. I gave my reasons why I should clean up and he gave his reasons why. I then gave more reasons why I should do the dishes before I started laughing. I said, “Most couples fight over who does more in a relationship. With us we are fighting over who is allowed to do more.” The generosity we show one another every day is priceless to me. And we promised that in our vows.

Do you need help shifting the culture of your relationship? Do you need help setting up the culture of your relationship? It’s never too late in a relationship to create, review, or update your vows. And if you and your partner can’t agree on your vows or can’t agree that making a commitment is important to both of you, you might not be on the same page for a long-lasting relationship. Please consider coming in for an individual or couples session. Big changes can come from small changes in our actions and our words.

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