When we marry, promises are made. A commitment is made, often before family, friends, and an officiant, and promises are made between bride and groom “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, forsaking all others, ‘til death us do part…”
We mean these words when we say them. Most often, we are so filled with love and excitement as we join our lives with our spouse, that we couldn’t possibly imagine life without them, nor think of neglecting or harming them in any way. We imagine enjoying an everlasting love with our chosen one and growing old by their side. We believe we will be one of the successful couples who will defy the odds and defeat divorce and other hardships.
But, vows and hearts get broken every day.
It seems that when we hear of someone “breaking their marriage vows” we immediately dissect the entire list of promises made on a wedding day and assume the vow to “forsake all others” was the one offended. The promise to forsake all others means that a pledge was made not to engage in sexual relations with anyone outside of the marriage. It’s definitely an important vow to maintain in a committed relationship; but, certainly not the only vow of importance or value!
Infidelity is a wrecking ball to many marriages, but I would contend that just as many marriages suffer from the fracture of other important vows.
How many marriages fold because spouses fail to uphold their promise to “love and cherish” or to hang in there “for better or worse”? How many marriages conclude with an affair that was prompted by years of no longer being loved and cherished by their spouse?
Why is it that when we announce our divorce or find out someone we know is divorcing that questions automatically roll around to “who cheated?” What about all the partners who stopped loving, respecting, communicating, supporting, caring, and otherwise living out the expectations of a husband or wife?
My marriage was characterized by a complete and utter breakdown of loving and cherishing. I still wonder how it could be such a shock to him that I finally left him after being completely emotionally neglected for years? Day-after-day he wouldn’t talk to me. I was almost invisible to him as he watched TV and did his chosen activities while I took care of everything around him. He didn’t pay attention to me or want anything to do with me unless he wanted sex. I felt like a piece of meat and a maid- nothing else!
When I left him, I faced a barrage of accusations from him, his family, and everyone we knew about why I was leaving. What had I done? Was I leaving him for someone else? How could I leave my marriage? No one thought to look at him and wonder what he did to contribute to the situation. Did he love me? Did he show me that he loved and cared about me? Did he do his part for our home and marriage? Did he support my goals and dreams? Did he help me and treat me as his valued life partner?
The answer to all of those questions was “no!” He gave up on me, and he gave up on us long before I ever pulled the plug on our marriage. I pulled the plug because he let me down in every conceivable way and I couldn’t take it anymore! I didn’t think that being noticed, talked to, and given a basic level of respect as a fellow human being was too much to ask from my husband; but, it was. There’s only so many times you can beg someone who promised to be your other half to interact or connect before it’s over!
True that in doing so, I am probably guilty of breaking my vow to be there “for better or worse.”
I experienced worse, and worse just kept growing beyond my wildest dreams. “Better” was nowhere to be seen, and very unlikely to make a reappearance based on the direction our marriage was headed. I couldn’t be the only one trying or giving a damn if our marriage survived. I couldn’t be the only one willing to try to live up to our vows!
Vows are sacred. We’re meant to keep them when we speak them. It’s important for us to recognize that when we marry, we make a whole list of promises that we are expected to keep. It is a tragedy that so many of these vows are considered to be optional or insignificant, then pushed to the side to be forgotten before long. Marriage vows are not to be cherry-picked so that we only select the ones that are convenient, beneficial, or appealing to us. We are supposed to accept the good with the bad and stick it out.
It’s important to note, though, that there should ideally be some good to go along with the bad. It’s not fair to only give our partner our dirty socks and bad attitude when they deserve our devotion and best efforts, as well. Just because our wedded partner pledges to be there until death doesn’t mean that we have a right to take them for granted, take advantage of them, and neglect them. Marriage should be a blissful connection, not a death sentence.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, so if our spouse breaks vows, that doesn’t mean we are fully justified in evening the score by breaking some of our own. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with reminding our spouse that vows were made that extend beyond sexual fidelity and that we have a right to expect them to keep their precious promises. Should you be forced to remain in a bad marriage where your spouse refuses to fulfill their vows? I don’t think so, as long as you have done your very best to be faithful to yours and to get the marriage back on track, a marriage made of broken promises is not a marriage at all.
Some vows are broken, and with them, the marriage will fall.