TO HAVE and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; until death do us part… the marriage vows.
Never do we realise on our wedding day how our vows will be tested. Sure, we may assume that testing will come, but rarely do we realise what it will cost or require of us. Rarely do we say, ‘I know it will take every ounce of my strength and more to get through some tests’. We may even say, ‘I love my spouse so much that I will do whatever it takes’. With divorce rates ranging from 70 percent (Belgium) to 43 percent (Australia), as indicative for the Western world, even accounting for legitimate divorce,* there are myriads of couples who find it impossible to keep their wedding vows.
For all of us, words are cheap. We inventively think them up and then speak them into creation. Then our vow stands for all eternity, somehow in future to be thwarted. Yet those marriage vows have, in theory, been long thought about and prayed over, reflected upon, and taken seriously. It’s why we’re reminded when we make them, that we make them before God.
Few if any married couples would keep their vows with 100 percent purity over their lifetime. It’s the same principle why God had to come in Jesus to save us; we could not keep ‘the law’ – i.e. the Ten Commandments. We needed help, and today we still need help. We need to forgive and be forgiven if marriage (or any realistic relational endeavour) is to succeed.
Marriage vows certainly should be kept. There should never be unfaithfulness or infidelity in marriage. But the fact is there so often is – whether it be a little ‘white’ lie we tell or a full-blown affair.
One of the greatest blessings in marriage occurs when both partners arrive at a place where they can accept the unlovable traits of the other (because we all have them, and we promised to do just that); where both display the capacity to accept faults, errors and mistakes in the other. These certainly need to be apologised for. But, for the reasons of our human frailty, forgiveness is a necessity in marriage.
My solitary point is this: marriage vows are a commitment to strive toward one day at a time over a lifetime, never to give up on, not a standard of perfection to hold our partner or ourselves guilty to that nobody attains faultlessly.
* Legitimate divorce for reasons of e.g. domestic violence, desertion, unreconciled unfaithfulness.