The vows I took when I got married at 27 were pretty standard. Love, honor and cherish, sickness and health, forsaking all others. You know the drill. Those are FINE. There’s a reason they are the boilerplate, right? I don’t have statistics on this, but I’m willing to bet more people write their own vows the second time around. Big picture promises are great, but there’s an argument for getting specific.
My cousin, Mary, and her husband have a saying they live by. A marital slogan, if you will. They say they are “always holding hands.” To them, it means they are a united front. I love that. I think ‘Til death do us part’ is a great goal, but it doesn’t help in the here and now. Death seems a long way off when you are standing at the altar.
If I ever get married again, I’d like to think it would be, “No matter what.”
My experience with my ex was a little different than a lot of newlyweds in that I was a single mom when we got married. We were friends first, and by the time we began dating we slipped naturally into mom and dad roles. That was an amazing thing in many ways, and I am profoundly grateful that my son had a man who loved him and committed to him in those early years. The downside to that is we never had a chance to fully flesh out our relationship as a couple before we were prioritizing parenthood. I think that balance is hard to strike even when you’ve had years together without kids, and even more challenging when you don’t. In my relationship now we both have children. Of course, our kids are still the priority for each of us, but we safeguard our relationship in a way that I didn’t before. We insist on time to ourselves. I see him as my partner first who happens to be an amazing dad, not the other way around. I promise to make our relationship a priority – no matter what.
I remember saying that my ex-husband was my best friend. I thought that’s what it was supposed to be and how I was supposed to feel. Even during the best of times that was never true. I think sometimes best friends serve a different purpose than wives and husbands do. Some people legitimately feel that their spouses fill that role for them, and that’s fine. But for ME? I need my best friend IN ADDITION to the man in my life. He cannot be that for me. I don’t even want him to. I think a best friendship, especially between women, is a sacred and necessary thing. Where I absolutely went wrong was in turning to my best friend time and time again in lieu of talking to my ex-husband about things. As I felt more and more unheard and disconnected, I stopped even trying to talk to him about my joys and my sorrows. If I was stressed, I called my best friend. If something funny happened, I called my best friend. She was my first and, more and more frequently as things got worse, only call. I promise to turn to YOU, to keep my heart open – no matter what.
In my first marriage I thought it was selfish to take time for myself, to pursue my own passions. I bought into the myth that selflessness was a requirement of being a good wife and mother. I think there are times when you need to put the needs of others before your own. But if you continuously put yourself at the bottom of the list, or not on the list at all, eventually you buy into the notion what everyone else wants and needs matters more. The thing is, you can’t give away what you don’t have. You need to fill up before you can pour out. If you feel taken for granted and unfulfilled, you can’t be the partner you want to be. I promise to take care of myself – no matter what.
I spent a lot of time in my marriage feeling like a killjoy. Where fun goes to die. My ex-husband was always better about seeking joy. He’s like his mom that way. He was more spontaneous and better at identifying opportunities for adventure and then seizing them. That is such a great quality to have, and one that I am consciously working on. He was the fun parent. I tended to think about the extra laundry those adventures generate. We got identified as “fun parent” and “un-fun parent.” I got to a place where I thought, “If I don’t think of these things, well then, NO ONE will.” After a while, from the outside that looks an awful lot like martyrdom. And NO ONE likes to be around a martyr – not even a martyr. I promise to be better about seeking joy – no matter what.
If my needs aren’t being met, you are going to know about it. I won’t expect you to intuit it – you’re not a mind reader and it isn’t your job to puzzle it out. I’m a grown-ass woman, I can advocate for myself. I promise that when you come to me with an area in which I am falling short in our relationship, I won’t view it as an attack. I’ll stay open. Our relationship is not adversarial. If I win, you win, and vice versa. I know you want to make me happy, and if that means spelling out what that looks like, I won’t view that as you not “getting it.” I promise to tell you what I need and listen to what you need – no matter what.
I promise to forgive you and not keep score. Today is today. Yesterday is over. If I say I’ve forgiven you for something, then it needs to be true – not just something I say to end a disagreement. Forgiveness means laying it down and moving on, not keeping tallymarks on my heart of other disappointments and letting the interest accrue so then when I finally blow up it’s REALLY about something that happened six months ago. We all fall down, every one of us. I expect you to. I know I will. I promise to trust in us enough to stay in the moment with you, and extend grace as needed. No matter what.
I promise to help you be the best version of yourself I can, and to continuously work on myself as well. The more inspired, fulfilled, healthy and happy we are individually, the better we are together. I promise to support you in your dreams, and nudge you when you need it. I know you will do the same for me. I want you to live big. I want the same thing for myself. I will tell you the hard truth, and be your soft place to fall – no matter what.
Even when it’s hard. Even when we fail one another. I’m on your side. I’ve got your back. I’m not going anywhere.
No matter what.