Traditional wedding vows have stood the test of time historically as a meaningful pronouncement of commitment to one’s chosen spouse. The history of using vows started as long as 1500 years ago along with the recognition of marriage as a ceremony, agreement and celebration. However, at the beginning it may not even have been the bride and groom making the commitment,but the fathers of those involved and sometimes just as a declaration more than a ceremony.
More formal compiling and standardization of vows happened sometime in the 16th century. The words are not always the same in every tradition or religion but usually they are an oath to commitment to the significant other for a lifetime. The pledge is usually decreed by both parties so that the sense of commitment is mutual, without either partner facing a greater stake in the commitment.
Common marriage vows in the Christian and Jewish religions are quite similar, and surprisingly do not focus so much on religion. The focus during the actual vows is focused on the couple, though surrounded by religious ceremony.
The general idea of the scripts can be summarized by some common elements in the following:
I take you, [spouse name], to be my [husband/wife],
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,
Until death do us part.
The words are a solemn verification of the commitment, both a declaration and admission into a “club” which has for many generations enlisted these words as a statement of sentiment and trust. The historical reverence for the sanctity of the institution of marriage depicts commitment and contract of one soul to another, and the tradition helps to hold fast couples who join in the bond.
The words embody inherent doubt about the future and a theme that states the commitment isn’t scalable based on potential woes. That is, in speaking the vows it is evident that you are not just there for a joy ride. “Worse,” “poorer,” “sickness,” and “death” do something to mar any unfounded optimism with the reality of what it is to live a mortal life.
Even so, the strength of the words is intended to define a sense of comfort in creating a serious commitment to the new spouse, vowing to be a protector, confidant and ultimate champion. Essentially portraying that “even in the worst of times, I will stay by your side.” It is a romantic and altruistic message.
To compare with another large religious group, the Muslim faith does not necessarily include individual vows in the ceremony. It is an option. The main pronouncement is in agreeing three times to accept their marriage in accord with the guidelines of the traditional marriage pact and following other standard practices.
If optional vows are used, the common rite is different from the perspective of man and woman.
Woman: “I offer myself in accord with the instruction of the holy Koran and Prophet, peace and blessings be upon them. I pledge honesty and sincerity to be an obedient and faithful wife.”
Man: “I pledge in honesty and sincerity to be a faithful and helpful husband.”
There is something to be said for being brief and direct. The woman pledges under the oath of the Prophet while the groom’s pronouncement lacks mention of a higher power, but it seems apparent that the intent is not to make light of the groom’s position. Rather the pronouncement falls immediately after the woman’s words and mirrors them and the umbrella of the religious commitment and sensibility. At the same time, the words are quite a bit more upbeat and pleasant while making a statement with similar intent to Christian and Jewish vows.
The point here is that when pledges are used as part of a ceremony the goal is to pledge faith and love in isolation from adversity. The reassurance is a statement of dedication that is to be unbroken regardless of circumstance and fate.
While other options exist, such as writing one’s own vows and making other personal statements, the vows should not be considered as merely something to ‘get through’ as a part of ritual, but felt, expressed, desired and cherished as well in making a statement to one’s life partner. If this were the case, perhaps fewer marriages would end before they do.