Originally published on johnpavlovitz.com
Serving as a pastor for the last seventeen years, I’ve had the privilege of getting a front row seat to many people’s marriages; sharing in the expectant hope of preparation, working triage in the bloody trenches of conflict, helping grieve in the stunned aftermath of failure.
Recently I was talking with a young, bright-eyed couple who will soon begin life as husband and wife, and the conversation turned to the vows they would exchange on that day.
My advice was to throw out half of them.
The classic traditional marital vows are a juxtaposition spanning the breadth of possibility: sickness and health, richer or poorer, better or worse. They are intended to be a measurement of the great expanse of the love and commitment being celebrated at the ceremony.
The only problem is, as couples prepare to get married and even as they speak those very vows on the day of their wedding, no one ever really thinks about the worse.
They don’t consider just how bad or unpleasant or painful it might get, or they may not be so quick to profess their intentions. Rarely do young couples allow their minds to drift toward the more difficult, damaging, heart scarring stuff that their relationship will almost certainly have to weather, should it hope to endure for their lifetimes.
As a result, most people go into married life blissfully unaware of the dangers and woefully unprepared for the pitfalls of a permanent partnership. It’s why so many fail to withstand the storms that surely come.
I want those preparing for marriage to know its brutal downsides and emotional potholes as they begin, because that is where the real riches are mined; in maneuvering the rough terrain of regretful acts and thoughtless words, of financial struggles and career disasters, of broken trust and shelved dreams.
It is holding on and coming through all that unexpected hell; weary, wounded, and bruised—but together. That is where a beautiful marriage is truly made beautiful.
Yes, great family vacations are nice, traveling is a blast, holidays are wonderful, and moments of ease and prosperity and lightness all have their place, but the true mark of a union is how it navigates darkness. Growth happens, intimacy deepens, and love is refined there in the trials.
When talking to students about the people they surround themselves with, I often remind them that everyone shows up for a party, because that doesn’t require work. Most people don’t stick around afterward to clean up the mess. You want friends like that. Love and marriage work this way too. The fun stuff is the easy stuff. What you need is someone who stays when things get far less fun.
So for those more difficult days that will certainly come, some real world wedding vows for the long haul might be:
Do you take this person . . .
in daily annoyances,
in preexisting damage,
in unmet expectations,
in emotional distance,
in sexual incompatibility,
in profound imperfections,
in careless words,
in unexpected differences,
in financial failure,
in physical deterioration,
—as long as you both shall live?
If you’re preparing to make eternal vows to another person or if you already have, intentionally dwell on the adversity and pain that will come, because ironically that is the only way that the far better things can come too.
When it comes to marriage and love, in so many ways worse is often for the best.