Why Marriage Vows?

by admin

I saw a friend share a short piece on how to tell if you are with the right person.  The piece got me thinking, so I dug around Google to find out the source of the article.  I found it on this blog.  So go ahead and read it – it is a solid bit of writing that points out, if I can so cheaply summarize, that the question, “Am I married to the right person?” is the wrong question.  It is a common question but it only gets asked because the person who asks it has failed to answer this question: When the initial infatuation wears off, am I
Happy Couple
willing to learn to love the person I am with?

This insight is brilliant.  Because in my humble opinion (and I say this with a great deal of sensitivity), barring extreme situations of abuse or massive cataclysmic events in your relationship, most marriages that fail or struggle do so because of that question.  We seem to forget the vows we spoke before God and witnesses that we committed to love that person for the rest of our lives.

We confuse the physical hormonal responses of infatuation with love, and then fail to do the basic logic necessary to realize that you can’t command your dopamine receptors to shower you with pleasure signals at the mere presence of that person – because you can’t command glands to secrete anything into your body.   If love is being “in love”, then it will end.  And therefore it is simply wrong and an outright lie to marry anyone.  If you believe that being “in love” is what marriage is all about, then you will break your vows and divorce.

But the vows we say are predicated on a different understanding of love.  We say, “Do you promise to love… until death do you part…” because inherent in that statement is the understanding that you can’t promise to feel love forever.  But you can promise to choose to love.  Love is a choice.

And if it’s a choice, then there is no excuse to ever ask the question, “Am I with the right person?”  Because it is irrelevant.  You are with who you chose to be with.  You are with the one you chose, willingly, to love for the rest of your life.

Angry CoupleThis leads me to the biggest thought to come out of all this.  That is another truth about the nature of love.  The nature of love, the act of love is to put another’s needs before your own.  Can you think of another way to truly define love?  It isn’t “love is that feeling that makes me feel good.”  It isn’t “love is that feeling that makes me like being around another person.”  Those are both outcomes of putting another’s needs first.  When someone does that to you, your response is to reciprocate.  That’s love.  And if it’s love, then what could that mean to your marriage?  Think about that.  How many problems would go away in marriages if we took that truth seriously?  I say this not because my marriage is perfect and I am absolutely selfless.  I say this because I suck at this.  I realize this is THE root of every fight I have had in my marriage these last 15 years.

Some common statements that show that someone is trying to ask the “Am I with the right person” question:

“I love you, but I am not IN love with you.” = “I want the hormonal response.  I am willing to throw away my life with you and everything we have together to seek out the fleeting rush of emotions that come from infatuation.  I know that I will find them again, and then they will leave again.  I am resigning myself to a life of hopping from one person to another, enjoying a few months, maybe a few years of dopamine, then throwing it all away and starting over.  I am resigning myself to abandonment when I am no longer physically, socially, or emotionally appealing, and expect to spend my twilight years alone, so that I can experience a few more shots of dopamine now.”  Suddenly it’s not so appealing when it’s fully understood is it?

“I’ve/you’ve changed.  I am no longer attracted to you.” = “I need that hormonal rush to desire to be with you.  I can’t set aside my needs for you anymore.  My needs are more important than your needs.”  Doesn’t sound like love anymore does it?  Commonly followed by, “I still love you…” see above.

“I’ve found someone else.” = “I decided it is easier to throw you away than to make any effort to care for you the way I promised.”  In other words, I’ve decided to break my vow to you.  Actually, I decided to break my vow to you, to choose to love you, some time ago.  I’m only telling you now because I am tired of feeling guilty.

Some responses to these thoughts are likely to be:

“Are you saying that my feelings don’t matter?” – yes, actually.  We can choose to love someone – Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”  He said we can choose to love even our enemies.  The one you are married to is in most cases not your enemy.  Even if your relationship has degenerated to where this can seem like reality, you can still choose to love them.

“What if we’re just staying together for the kids?” – This is because you, somewhere along the way, stopped doing things together.  Nobody falls in love with someone who doesn’t share interests with them.  Maybe today is a good day to sit down and reminisce together.  What DID you like to do when you first got together?  Why did you stop?  Are there any things you could learn to enjoy that your spouse likes?  Remember, love is setting aside your own needs for your spouse.  Surely not EVERYTHING your spouse does or is interested in is hateful and disgusting to you.  Surely there must be something you might enjoy and could share.

In my marriage, there are certain TV shows we enjoy together.  We have very different taste in music, movies and TV but there are a few “crossovers”.  We focus on those.  But there are things that each of us likes that the other never did before.  One was sushi.  I have loved sushi for years but she couldn’t stand it.  A year ago though, she realized she had many symptoms of celiac disease, and sushi restaurants were some of the few that had a good selection of gluten-free foods.  She has since become a sushi fan, and now we have sushi dates.

In conclusion, I’d argue that most marriages fail not because one or both people are evil.  Most marriages fail because we forget our vows.  Because we start putting ourselves before anyone else. That’s not what we promised.  Before your marriage goes the way of the dodo, remember your promises.

2 Responses to “Why Marriage Vows?”

  1. Gene says:

    Good one. Think I’ll make it required reading for my couples.

    • admin says:

      Thanks! That’s high praise, as your writing continues to inspire me to think deeper and harder.

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