There are two words you will never see in a legal contract: Always and Never. And there is good reason for this—“always” and “never” are words that simply cannot be guaranteed.
Now, think of your wedding vows. In their most basic form, your vows are the verbal and written contract between you and your spouse. They are the things that you promise to one another, and your officiant signs your marriage certificate as a witness to these promises. It’s a big deal.
Many couples who come to me for help with their vows are at the height of wedding planning. Yes, they are stressed, but they are bubbling with excitement, hope, and optimism and see nothing but a future filled with endless possibilities. It’s the perfect time to revel in these emotions, to let them wash over you and fill you with abundant happiness.
However, it’s important to ensure that the realities of life are acknowledged during the vow-writing process. As you grow into your marriage, you will face many trials, including family issues, the introduction of children, role changes, illness, etc. The unpredictability of life is just that: unpredictable and impossible to plan for.
Yet, many clients come to me with “always” and “never” vows that simply aren’t feasible. For example, “I promise to always present as a united front” sounds great, in theory, but what happens when you and your partner reach a fundamental disagreement on an important topic? Can you genuinely promise to present as a united front if your opinions differ significantly? Another one I hear a lot is, “I promise to always put you first.” But what happens when you must choose between your spouse and your child? Or, quite frankly, what if you are in a situation where you really do need to put yourself first? Suddenly, you’re filled with guilt because while you promised to “always” put your partner first, you’re now in a situation that calls for a different outcome.
Another word that comes up a lot in vows is “never.” For example, “I will never go to bed angry,” or “I vow to never miss an opportunity to show you how much I love you.” Again, these vows sound amazing, and they are so common that most people don’t give them a second thought. However, can you genuinely promise that you’ll never go to bed angry when you can’t predict the outcome of arguments in the future? Can you really promise to never miss an opportunity to show your spouse you love them when there are infinite opportunities to do so?
Now, I have had clients push back on this thinking, mainly because the essence of these messages is meaningful and purposeful to their relationship and the marriage they are trying to build. The good news is that these types of “always” and “never” vows can be written in a way that captures the essence of the message without setting you up for failure later in your marriage. Often, it’s in the adjustments to these “always” and “never” vows that we truly see the love, meaning, and devotion between couples.
For example, we can change “I promise to always present as a united front” to “I promise to present as a united front and work through our differences at times we do not.”
We can change “I promise to always put you first” to “I promise to work alongside you to put the love between us and our family first.”
We can change “I vow to never go to bed angry” to “I vow to be proactive when I see disagreements on the horizon and keep my heart and mind open during our discussions.”
We can change “I vow to never miss an opportunity to show you I love you” to “I vow to pay attention to the ways in which you prefer to be shown love and seek out opportunities to show you just how devoted I am to your heart and your needs.”
Before, the promises felt almost empty and whimsical. After the revisions, we can see the action, effort, and work that goes into keeping a marriage strong, and the promises are about the work, not the outcome. In this sense, the vows are much more meaningful because they require action, growth, and commitment. And because you do have control over your actions, these promises are now something you can honor throughout your long and happy marriage.
P.S. Yes, you can say "I promise to always love you." Still, you can always make that more meaningful by revising it to be more action-oriented!
Need help with your wedding vows? Let’s talk!