By Shonnie Lavender and Bruce Mulkey
Editor’s Note: Shonnie Lavender and Bruce Mulkey are the authors of I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook, a step-by-step resource for creating wedding vows that are uniquely yours.
If you’re like many couples—gay and heterosexual alike—you probably think of your vows simply as the words you speak to one another on your wedding day. Even if you and your partner write your own vows, chances are that you’ll pack them away with other wedding keepsakes after the big event is over. We strongly encourage you to take a different approach. . .one that will help you keep your relationship running smoothly years into your future.
The significant difference between wedding vows and marriage vows
First, let’s clarify how we think “wedding vows” differ from “marriage vows.”
In our book, I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook, we use the term “marriage vows” because we believe that:
• Marriage vows express a “lived intention,” the way you will be with one another—now and through all your years together.
• Wedding vows represent words that are merely spoken once on the wedding day, then stored in the wedding photo album or the shoebox of memorabilia. (If you don’t believe this is true, take a quick survey of your friends, family, and colleagues and see how many of them can tell you what specific vows they made on their wedding day.)
Marriage vows, when revisited on a regular basis, can serve as a relationship compass—a tool to keep you moving in the direction that you envision for your partnership. By reviewing your vows and assessing your faithfulness to them, you make it easier to change course when you find yourself headed in an unintended direction.
If, for instance, I (Shonnie) read my vow, “I will be your partner. Treating you with respect and equality . . .” and realize that I’ve been withholding information about our finances (a role I’m responsible for in my marriage), then I can say that I’ve not kept this vow because I don’t view withholding information as a respectful behavior. In that moment of rereading the vow and realizing my misstep, I can acknowledge it and recommit to my vow to treat Bruce with respect and equality. Such action restores me to integrity with my word, builds trust, and reunites us as I reaffirm my stand for how I will be with him in our marriage.
Create your own marriage vow support system
To fully experience the benefits of having marriage vows, you need to stay connected to them. In The Marriage Vow Workbook and our relationship coaching, we help couples design a ritual they will use to reconnect with their intentions, their inner wisdom, and their partner. Below are several tips you can use in creating your own marriage vow support system. . .whether your wedding is yet to happen, is just past, or happened years ago.
• Review your vows at least monthly.
• Read them aloud to each other, taking time to look into your partner’s eyes. This can be one of the most connecting and loving actions you take with each other.
• Remind yourself that the vows you wrote are as much for your benefit as they are for your partner’s. They are reminders of how you want to be in this relationship.
• Make recommitting to your vows part of a larger relationship-deepening practice.
• Keep your vows visible. Both of us have copies in our day-planners. We had our original relationship commitments (the vows we created when we were dating) printed in calligraphy onto poster board. They are now displayed prominently in our bedroom.
• Acknowledge yourself for having fulfilled your vows as best you could. Even if you’ve fallen short of your commitments, give yourself credit for what you have done.
• Be gentle with each other as you use your vows to strengthen your marriage.
• Remember to bring love and compassion into the process along with your introspection and honesty.
• Recognize that revisiting and recommitting to your vows is not about being “right” or “wrong.” It is simply an opportunity to check in and see if you’re fulfilling the promises you made on your wedding day and to change course if you’ve strayed from your intention.
We have revisited our vows at least monthly since we married on May 30, 1999. Our reconnection ritual is one of our favorite times as it fully connects us to the same depth and intensity of love that we felt on our wedding day.
It’s as if we return to the honeymoon stage of our relationship every time we recite our vows. We know that writing our own vows and revisiting them on a regular basis has helped us create one of the most solid and loving relationships we know. We want you, and all couples, to enjoy such a relationship.
© 2006, Shonnie Lavender and Bruce Mulkey
Shonnie Lavender and Bruce Mulkey are the authors of I Do! I Do! The Marriage Vow Workbook, a step-by-step resource for creating wedding vows that are uniquely yours. They offer additional no-nonsense resources for creating ideal relationships, including tips for a successful wedding and marriage, personal samples of wedding vows, and the I Do! I Do! podcast.
By Shonnie Lavender and Bruce Mulkey