And yet, while tradition may still rein in what people wear, what people say is a’changin’. Remember "’til death do us part?”. Your grandchildren may not. Today many write their own vows, which can be very meaningful and quite lovely. But I get a little concerned when I hear things like this: "for as long as we continue to love each other”, "for as long as our love shall last”, or "until our time together is over”. Why not just say what you mean? "For as long as you satisfy me”, "until you blow up like a balloon”, or "until I can find a better model”.
What effect do vows like this have on a marriage? Let me tell you about Roger and Linda, who have been married for almost forty years. They finish each others' sentences. They joke about each others' foibles, complain to no end about who does more work, and could not live without each other if they tried.
And yet it was not always this way. Early in their marriage both almost left numerous times. The fights weren't part of a well-choreographed mating dance, the way they are now, but instead were hurtful and catastrophic. She felt that he wasn't paying enough attention, that he wasn't a good enough dad, and that he was a rather large jerk. And she was probably right. He thought that she was a nag, that she was too consumed by the children, and that she wasn't appreciative of what he did, and he was probably right, too.
Marriage can be really hard. There are times, especially in the first decade or two, that the other person is a jerk, that you are misunderstood, and that you feel like life would be better if you just left.
But in most cases that's an empty promise. If you left, you have to start over again, and that's not easy. And you would miss out on the playful banter that Roger and Linda now have down to an artform. You see, an amazing thing happened in their marriage. They started adjusting to one another. He's not nearly the jerk he once was. She's much more fun than she used to be. And they're quite happy now. But what if they had spoken those wedding vows—more like wedding wishes—that said "for as long as we feel like it”? They would have split up, for many couples have split for far less. What would their lives be like now?
They wouldn't share grandchildren in the same way. They wouldn't face health concerns with someone who has known them intimately for forty years, and who will stick with them. But most of all, they would miss the inside jokes, the intimacy, and the comradeship that has come by meeting that sacred challenge which we call marriage.
Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher conducted an interesting study on married couples a few years ago, and what they found was that 80% of couples who rated their marriage as downright lousy were likely to rate their marriage as "happy" or "very happy" five years later if they stuck it out, and were far more likely to be happy personally than the couples who split up in those five years. In other words, if your marriage is in the toilet, like Roger's and Linda's was plenty of times, it's not necessarily time to flush it.