Many wedding vows that couples use have a long tradition behind them; perhaps they have been mandated by the church or another institution for establishing marriages. Perhaps they have been passed down from one generation to the next within a family. Or perhaps they have been specifically formulated for the particular couple who are getting married – the couple may have formulated them on their own or with the help of someone who knows them well. And if all else fails, couples can even find commercial enterprises, over the internet or otherwise, who offer the service of formulating wedding vows for a minimal fee!
Whatever the procedure may have been for formulating a couple’s wedding vows, most wedding vows have in common that they are quite ambitious and romantic, and that they reflect certain ideals around the institution of marriage, which are cherished by the two people who are getting married. And so they should. Your wedding day is the time when you put into words your best intentions, both for each other and for your relationship. Intentions that will stand until the end of time. Or at least, sad as it may be, until the end of your time together…
Wedding vows with a difference
Statistics tell us that more and more often marriages don’t quite work as smoothly as the couple had intended, and that almost half of marriages end up in divorce. Yes, relationships can be difficult. And all relationships will confront us with challenges. So if your wedding vows are going to be of any use, once your wedding day is over, they need to reflect that you understand that your marriage will not always be a dance on a bed of rose petals. To be useful, your wedding vows need to have built into them a strategy for dealing with the challenges that you can expect to encounter up ahead.
The principle that your wedding vows need to reflect is that you are prepared to go about resolving any issues that come up in a way that leave you both optimally satisfied. Fundamentally, however you put it into words, they need to express the ultimate relationship success formula; “Whatever I want/need to do during our life together, I will make sure that I do it in a way that is okay for you as well as for me.”
What this formula reflects is a couple’s solid commitment to always be willing to negotiate, and to continue negotiating until the goal is achieved; that however they go about doing what they do, they will never do it in a way that is not okay for their spouse – regardless of anything and everything!
Over the many years of working with couples in relationship/marriage counselling, I have definitely found that, for a couple who truly care about one another, and who truly wish to find a way that they both can have their wants/needs sufficiently satisfied, solutions to conflicting wants/needs can always be identified, even if it sometimes may take more than a little bit of good will and lateral thinking!
How to make it work
There are several components that need to be in place, in order to make a relationship successful; the two people involved need to know their own wants/needs, and to be able to communicate those in meaningful and constructive ways. They need to know how to express themselves in a way that is not, and is not perceived as, an attack on the other person. Yet, most importantly, they need to be committed to always strive for mutually satisfying solutions, i.e. to never leave the negotiating table with, “well, that’s what I’m doing, you’ll just have to live with it whether you like it or not.”
The process in which the constructive negotiation takes place, and which is also at the core of the Fulfilling Relationship Approach, is called “Establishing Agreements that Satisfy Everyone” (EASE). I have helped couples apply this process to the most slippery of challenges, and seen them emerge as winners. If there is one thing I would recommend a couple to learn in pre-marriage counselling, it is this process! Fundamentally, it is all a matter of commitment to the right principles, so why not establish this commitment already in your wedding vows?