Vows with Power: Adding Commitments to Your Marriage After the New Wears Off
By: Summer Smith, LCSW
March 18th, 2018 was one of the most special days of my life. I stood in a beautiful chapel, in front of my family and friends, and exchanged vows with the man of my dreams. The week before, I took my time and wrote a paragraph full of meaningful promises that I felt were most important in the success of our marriage. As our very first anniversary approaches, I’ve learned that those promises were indeed meaningful, but I could have said so many more specific, purposeful things that might have drawn a clearer road map for our happily ever after. For example, I could have said, “I promise I will do the dishes when you cook the dinner”. I could have vowed, “I will take the kids to school if you will pick them up” or “I will hold your hand at every opportunity”. As I’m writing this, my knight in shining armor is in the kitchen, on his third, excruciating hour of assembling a filing cabinet for my new office. Perhaps one of his more constructive vows on our wedding day might have been, “I commit to assembling whatever you order on Amazon without cursing at it or destroying it in the process”. That one might have come in handy this evening, though I must say, the filing cabinet is in tact and I never heard any four-letter-words that weren’t printed on the instructions. I’m so proud!
It’s no secret that marriage in reality is drastically different than the expectation we had at the altar. However, if we approach it the right way, it can be far better than we imagined! Here are some ideas for updating your vows and renewing your marriage, no matter how long you’ve been in it!
Identify Your Problem Areas
If you’ve got even a few months of marriage under your belt, chances are you’ve already noticed some problem areas. Perhaps your spouse has an annoying habit that used to be cute but is now overwhelming. Maybe you’re learning that when your husband is upset with you, he shuts down or that your wife uses critical language to influence the behavior she wants from you. It’s possible one of you has inadvertently taken on the role of initiating sex, but is starting to feel resentful that the sex is never initiated by your spouse. Whatever the less-than-ideal areas in your partnership, big or small, identify them with your spouse and then begin open discussion with ideas for improvement.
Replace Vague with Specific
On our wedding day, we said “For better or worse, for richer or poorer”, but what exactly does worse mean for you and your spouse? What is rich in your book and what is poor in hers? As you begin to identify the problem areas in your marriage, explore very specific strategies for improvement. Instead of saying, “I will try to touch you more often”, say “I will kiss you every morning before I leave and hug you every day when I return home.” Instead of, “I’ll be more mindful of our budget”, try promising, “I will not make a purchase over $300 without consulting you first.” Specific, measurable commitments give us a clear path to follow and leave less room for interpretation. These types of promises are easy to execute and make it easy to know whether you did or did not deliver!
Some Templates to Get You Started
If a blank slate seems too daunting, consider some of these pre-written promises to get your wheels turning. I surveyed multiple married people who shared some of their current problem areas. From those, I created some phrases that might give rise to resolution. Some of these are from my own marriage and have been incredibly helpful. It’s so refreshing to have some specific, measurable rules for navigating this love game we play together every day! Feel free to adopt any of these or get creative with your own!
I will pray out loud with you every day before we leave for work.
When you are talking to me, I will put my phone down and give you my full attention.
I will communicate when I’m angry or hurting instead of shutting down or shutting you out.
I will not argue with you in front of our kids.
I will initiate sex with you at least once a week.
When I need or want help with a task, I will ask for help out loud (and specifically) instead of expecting you to pick up on my cues and read my mind.
I will not watch pornography, because our sex life is sacred and even visual images of others is a violation of what we have.
Even though I’ve taken the role of bill-paying, I will discuss our budget and financial status with you every week (on this scheduled day & time).
I will not put myself in a high-risk situation, because our marriage is a treasure that must be protected and cherished. (Discuss what you each believe to be “high risk” situations.)
I will not make big plans or decisions that affect our household without at least a phone call or discussion with you.
I will give you two compliments or affirmations per day, because I know that is important to you.
I will reach out and touch you a minimum of three times per day, no matter what mood I’m in.
I will make a point to participate in things that are important to you, even if they are of no interest to me.
If I’m going to be late, I will call you.
I will ask you on a date every single week.
If I’ve had a bad day at work, I will stop at the front door and say a prayer before I come inside, asking God to restore my positive attitude so my family doesn’t suffer the consequences.
Say Your New Vows Out Loud
After you’ve discussed your problem areas and settled on some specific strategies for improvement, schedule some alone time with your spouse and say these new promises out loud. Take each other by the hand and sincerely declare your commitment to changing these things. Take an additional step and write them down somewhere, so that you can revisit them regularly and make sure they remain in the front of your mind! Even better, consider posting them somewhere that you’ll see them every day, like the dash of your car or on your bathroom mirror. (Those folks who created the wall art that says “Always kiss me goodnight” were on to something!)
Consider Professional Help
If you set out on this journey with good intentions, but suddenly the discussion about problem areas turns into an all-out brawl about why you even got married in the first place or “If you think I’m so critical, then I’ll just stop talking to you altogether!”, then it’s possible you could benefit from a mediator of sorts. Often times in relationships, our personal insecurities, emotional “baggage” or past trauma make it difficult for us to accept constructive feedback because it invokes shame or triggers subconscious issues we didn’t even know where there. We are a product of our experiences. Our childhood relationships, no matter how healthy, can shape the way we interact with our spouse. Past, unhealthy romantic relationships can play a role in our interpersonal functioning as well. The same goes for long-term patterns of unhealthy behavior in your current relationship that have gone unchecked. If any of these things are interrupting your ability to productively renew your relationship, then don’t hesitate to call a professional marriage counselor. A third party navigator with expertise in human behavior and relationships can be a game-changer! If you’re not yet married, but plan to be soon, call a marriage counselor for pre-marital counseling. This is an amazing way to set specific rules and expectations before you even get started!
Treat Your Marriage Like a Treasure
Finally, remember that your marriage is sacred. It is important. It deserves protection. Matthew 19:6 says, “They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate”. Specific rules and procedures should be in place to prevent the loss or destruction of this treasure of yours. You place your valuables in a safe and your money in a bank. How will you protect your most sacred union? Write the procedures for that today!