Dec 14 2012

The Thing About Marriage Vows…

When you get married and you say, “I do,” that’s a response to a “yes or no” question.  Are you in this thing ’til death do you part, or not? It’s not conditional.  You are typically not given the option of saying, “I do, as long as she keeps all of her vows perfectly and as long as she doesn’t get fat. Otherwise, I can jump ship if I want.”

No, each of you affirms vows to each other, but independently of each other.

So, what happens when one of you breaks your vows?  Does the other one have the right to leave? I don’t think so.  They have no more of a right to leave than if their spouse never cheated. Why? Because of their own vow not to leave.

If my husband cheats on me (which he has), that’s one issue, but I made my own promise to him never to leave. That’s sort of what that “in good times and bad, for better or worse” part was about.

I know there are lots of folks out there who believe that infidelity is sufficient reason to break that vow and take off. Heck, even the Bible says it’s o.k. to get divorced over infidelity, not that you have to, but you can if you want. Clearly, though, I don’t believe in that tit for tat perspective, especially when it comes to marriage, families, and children.

To those people who use the argument that if a spouse cheats it’s o.k. to divorce them because they broke the vows first, I ask you this: What about the other vows? Most marriage vows include a promise to love,  honor, and cherish your spouse.  Well, I have seen many men (and women, for that matter) treating their spouses in a way that is demonstrating that they clearly don’t honor and cherish them.  It should be o.k. to get out of the marriage because that was a break of the vows, right?

No?  Where are the Marriage Vow Police when you need them?

Apparently, it’s only that pesky sexual infidelity issue that gives you a “Get Out of Marital Jail Free” card. But only in the minds of those who are unwilling to accept responsibility for their own actions and their own promises. I wonder if they operate that way in the rest of life.  Is the value of their word always contingent on the behavior of others?

Human beings are just that – human.  We don’t always “cherish” our spouses as we should. We’re not always faithful. But families stay together because we depend on our spouse to honor the “‘Til death do us part” part of the vows even when we fail, and our spouse hopes that we’ll do the same when they fall short.

My belief is that the contingencies should have been reviewed prior to the marriage, at least for those things that could reasonably happen. If she becomes permanently disabled, will you stay? If she cheats, will you stay? If not, maybe you shouldn’t get married. Or add that to your vows.  Make a promise to stay with her ’til death do you part, unless she’s unfaithful.  Say that while you’re in the church, in your tux, in front of your friends and family. No?  You don’t want to do that?  Huh.

Now I’m not finding fault with anyone who is divorced.  People get divorced for all sorts of reasons and they usually think their reasons are good enough. That’s not my business. But to the folks who think that infidelity is a no questions asked release valve, please tell yourself (and your spouse and your children) the truth – regardless what your spouse did or didn’t do,  you made a vow that you’re not willing to honor, and that’s why you’re leaving.

As for me, the “’til death do us part” vow was, and is, the most important one.  It means that I’m in it for the duration. It means that Hubby knows I’ll be there for him when he falters, intentionally or not. When I found out about Hubby’s cheating, I knew I wouldn’t be leaving, and that’s the first thing I told him in response. I said, “I’m not going anywhere.  This will all be o.k.”  When he found out about mine, that’s what he said to me. You’re either in this thing together or your not.

Someone who is looking for an excuse to leave the marriage will find one, regardless of what his spouse has or hasn’t done.


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  1. Anonymous

    Have to say, you have given me great deal to ponder over. I have never looked at the marriage vows in the light you present them. Really, really smart writing and more importantly thinking. The cynic in me would say that you are presenting an argument to assuage your own illicit behavior. I find it surprising how much thought and reflection you put into this. 🙂


  2. HK

    You raise excellent points, Kat. Perhaps the best among them is this very pragmatic statement:

    “My belief is that the contingencies should have been reviewed prior to the marriage, at least for those things that could reasonably happen.”

    I will never completely understand why couples preparing to enter into potentially lifelong partnerships routinely fail to hash out their expectations and the conditions that must be met for those partnerships to thrive. It wasn’t the most romantic of our shared memories, no, but my wife (then fiance) and I did take the time to plainly spell out what either of us was willing to tolerate from the other. Infidelity and abuse are our agreed upon dealbreakers.

    Another good point that you raised:

    “To those people who use the argument that if a spouse cheats it’s o.k. to divorce them because they broke the vows first, I ask you this: What about the other vows? Most marriage vows include a promise to love, honor, and cherish your spouse.”

    As we (my wife and I) see it, our dealbreakers are determined by the degree to which we fail to honor our vows. We are each human, yes, and we will always fail to properly love, honor, and cherish our spouses in the way that they deserve, but our consciousness while falling away from the ideal is everything. I can tolerate my wife temporarily taking me for granted. She can tolerate me briefly neglecting her through the absence of quality time or date nights. We have not divorced because we have acknowledged that these were not intentional breaches of the marital contract.

    Infidelity is intentional. It is a deliberate taking of another party into what was originally a contract between two. That cannot be abided.

  3. Ryan Beaumont

    Cherish – to protect and care for (someone) lovingly. To hold dear.

    Sometimes you have to get right down to where the rubber meets the road and check on your definitions.

    You are right if you are not cherishing one another then you are breaking vows and already cheating on your spouse in a spirtual way that will likely lead to the very actionable way an affair is manifested.

  4. HK

    I will also add that adopting a position of no divorce under any circumstance can needlessly endanger the well being of either spouse. Having a partner who sticks by your side no matter what is a comforting ideal, but it simply cannot withstand human frailty. Some of us are far too broken to merit that kind of sacrifice from our significant others.

    If I were to begin beating my wife on a daily basis, and she failed to divorce me, then she would be essentially telling me that I can pummel her without fear of losing her and all that she brings to our marriage. It’s cliched, but you really do have to teach other people how to treat you.

    You may be thinking (and rightly so) that as her husband my moral code should keep my violent impulses at bay rather than the fear of divorce. Yes, this is the ideal. I should refrain from hitting my wife (or if I’ve already made that mistake I shouldn’t compound it) at the urging of my own conscience, but if that personal responsibility fails then my wife must seek to influence my behavior for the better by withdrawing from me.

    If her efforts fail, if I prove too broken to stop on my own and I continue to abuse, then her withdrawal has the secondary effect of protecting her from me, of allowing her to disengage, to make certain her safety, and to move on from our toxic union.

  5. Jurgen

    If you look at it in the pure catholic form: your love and faithfullness are unconditional. It does not matter what the other person does, you should still love him and be faithfull.

    For the catholic a maariage should be unconditional, undividle by man and fertile. The priest who married me said; If you are not planning to have children, don’t marry before god. Marry before the law. I’d rather marry you if you’re not believing in god than marry you if you are not planning on having children.

  6. Kat

    Wow! Great insights from all of you. Thank your for responding so thoughtfully.

    HK, I would never advocate that anyone put themselves (or keep themselves) in harm’s way. If there is physical abuse in a marriage, of course the abused party should leave to be safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean divorce. In extreme cases it may; I can’t be the judge of that. But most situations are not the extremes.

  7. the naked lady

    Sometimes, it’s knowing that neither spouse will actually walk that enables spouses to keep treating each other shitty over and over again.

  8. the naked lady

    Not that I’m accusing YOU of anything, Kat…just sharing personal experience. Didn’t mean to be unclear.

  9. HK

    “If there is physical abuse in a marriage, of course the abused party should leave to be safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean divorce.”

    Interesting. What if the marital strife revolved around infidelity rather than outright abuse? Would you still condone separation (physical, legal, or both) for the psychological/emotional safety of the betrayed spouse?

    Also, what are your thoughts on the naked lady’s post?

  10. Kat

    HK – No, I wouldn’t condone separation in the case you describe.

    nakedlady – I don’t thin it’s knowing that the other won’t leave that makes people treat each other badly repeatedly. That’s more about lack of character and just being plain mean. Sure, sometimes people need a wake-up call to realize how fortunate they really are, but that doesn’t have to be divorce.

    The bottom line is this: Sometimes marriage sucks. Sometimes you look at your spouse and can’t stand him. Sometimes you feel more disconnected than you thought was possible. Fortunately, that’s not how it is all the time, but that’s what the “better or worse” part means. If you’re going to keep redefining what’s acceptable on the “worse” half of the equation, you’ll always find an escape clause if you’re looking for it.

    (I’m not referring to either of you when I say, “you,” by the way.)

  11. HK

    “Sure, sometimes people need a wake-up call to realize how fortunate they really are, but that doesn’t have to be divorce.”

    What would such a wake-up call look like, Kat, if not divorce?

    I’m trying to wrap my mind around your reasoning, but it, no offense intended, seems ill equipped to tackle the realities of human nature. If for example I ask my wife to stop cheating, and still she cheats, what is her incentive (we will again assume that her morality has already failed to curtail her behavior) to respect my wishes? Why would she honor my needs in the marriage? I’m giving her no consequences for her actions by staying.

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