Basic Wedding Vows: They May Look Basic, But They Are Packed With Meaning

Basic Wedding Vows: They May Look Basic, But They Are Packed With Meaning

We’ve heard them so many times, in movies, on television and of course at weddings, that we can recite them by heart: the basic wedding vows.

“I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife), 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.”

Most of us don’t realize that there is no legal reason to include these canonical words in the wedding ceremony. But they have become part of the marriage “performance” and are the expected script. There’s something touching about generations and generations of people saying the same set of words to each other, words that link them to all the couples who have, since medieval times, recited these same promises with the same hope in their eyes that they will, indeed, be with their partner until death do them part.

These vows, which are actually known as “consent” in the Christian ceremony, look simple, don’t they? But they contain a world of meaning. Let’s unpack them and see what sort of messages they truly convey.

I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband

In today’s language, “take” is used more in the sense of “choose”, since you have made the deliberate choice to commit to this person only. The idea of choice is empowering, and one to hold onto when you hit the inevitable rocky moments that can crop up in any marriage. Remind yourself that you chose this partner, among all the people that you have dated, to spend the rest of your life with. He was not selected for you, nor forced upon you. Several years down the line, when you are looking at your spouse doing something you’ve told him a million times not to do, remember all the wonderful reasons that you chose him as your life partner. (It will help you calm down!)  

To have and to hold

What a beautiful sentiment. The splendor of married life is summed up in these four words. You get to “have” this person that you love as your own, to fall asleep and wake up next to, for the rest of your days together. You get to hold this person close to you, whenever you feel the need, because he is now yours. Hugs guaranteed, whenever you need one! How lovely is that?  

From this day forward

There is a universe of hope in this line. Your intertwined lives start now, from this wedded moment, and extend out towards the horizon of the future. The expression of moving forward, together, holds so much promise for what two people can accomplish when they join together in love, facing the same direction.

For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health

This line describes the solid foundation upon which a great marriage sits. It is a promise of providing the emotional, financial, physical and mental support for your partner whatever the future may bring. Without this reassurance, a marriage cannot blossom into the safe and reassuring space a couple needs in order to give and receive deep emotional intimacy. It would be difficult to grow a relationship if you don’t have the trust that your partner will be there with you, through thick and thin. This is one of the most important expressions shared in the context of wedding vows, as it is a pledge to be there to nurture the other, during not only the good days, when it is easy, but also the bad, when it is tough.

Until death do us part

Not the happiest line in the vows, but an important point to cite. By including this, you are sealing the union for life. You are showing to all who have come to witness your union that you enter into this marriage with intention, and that intention is to build a life together for the rest of your days here on Earth. Stating this line tells the world that no matter what the future holds, no matter who or what might try to break you apart, you have pledged to remain with this person whom you will love until your last breath.

It is a worthwhile exercise to take apart these vows and look closely at what lies beneath this simple language. It’s almost a shame that the rich meaning may be lost because we are so used to hearing the lines. If you have decided that you want to use these traditional basic wedding vows, it might be nice to consider adding your own interpretation, based on the expanded version here, of what each line means to you. In this way, you not only have the classic structure kept intact for your ceremony, but you also add a more-personal note that you and your partner can share with those that have come to celebrate your union.

The very purpose of our life is happiness, which is sustained by hope. We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better. Hope means keeping going, thinking, ‘I can do this.’ It brings inner strength, self-confidence, the ability to do what you do honestly, truthfully and transparently.

This quote is from the Dalai Lama. It is not specifically about marriage, but can be understood as a reflection of these basic wedding vows. Ultimately, these vows are about what the Dalai Lama describes: Happiness, hope, moving towards something better, the assurance that you and your partner “can do this,” and the confidence that with honesty, truth and transparency, your love will grow stronger, from this day forward.